To be read: April 21, August 21-22, December 21-22
Once the Abbot has been elected, let him bear in mind how great a burden he himself has received, and to whom he must give an account of his stewardship (cf Lk 16:2); 8and let him be convinced that it is better to serve than to rule. 9He must, therefore, be versed in the divine law, so that he may have knowledge of when “to bring forth new things and old”(Mt 13:52). He must be chaste, sober, and merciful, 10and always exalt “mercy above judgment”(Jas 2:13), so that he also may obtain mercy. 11Let him hate vice, but love the brothers. 12And even in his corrections, let him act with prudence and not go to extremes, lest, while he rubs to remove the rust he rubs too harshly and the vessel be broken. 13Let him always keep his own frailty in mind, and remember that “the bruised reed must not be broken”(Is 42:3). 14In this we are not saying that he should allow evils to take root, but that he cut them off with prudence and charity, as he shall see it is best for each one. 15And let him aim to be loved rather than feared. 16Let him not be excitable, over-anxious, exacting, or headstrong; let him not be jealous or suspicious, because if he is, he will never have rest. 17In all of his commands, whether they refer to things spiritual or temporal, let him be cautious and considerate. 18He ought to be discerning and temperate in the tasks which he assigns, recalling the discretion of holy Jacob who said: “If I should cause my flocks to be overdriven, they would all die in one day”(Gen 33:13). 19Keeping in view these and other dictates of discretion, the mother of virtues, he must so arrange everything that the strong may still have something to desire and the weak may not draw back. 20Above all, let him keep this Rule in every detail, 21that when he has served well he may hear from the Lord what the good servant heard who gave his fellow-servants bread in due season: “Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions”(Mt 24:47).
In speaking of the type of person the abbot should be, Benedict gives us a portrait of a mature Christian. He provides a limited list of some of the virtues to which we should all aspire: “He must be chaste, sober, and merciful…let him hate vice, but love the brothers… let him act with prudence…” And as in chapter 21, in reference to the deans, Benedict says that the abbot should not be “chosen for their rank, but for the merit of their life and their wisdom and knowledge” (RB 21:4). Would that we all pursue merit of life, wisdom, and knowledge. In every respect, Benedict is drawing a portrait of the “faithful and wise servant” in Matt. 24:45, the one whom the Master has set over the household, to give them their food at the proper time.
Let us take notice of two things about this portrait of a Christian servant. First, he is the one whom the Master has appointed. As St. Paul indicates in his presentation of the spiritual gifts, “All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:11). Our place in the Body of Christ, and the ministry we are called to fulfill, is not of our choosing, but has been appointed by God. He places us, and gives us the requisite gifts, “as He wills”. It is important for us to accept and embrace our calling, and serve Him in the capacity He has chosen for us. Second, notice that the abbot is to be a man “at rest” (cf. v. 16). It certainly seems that the servants of Christ in His Church are overworked. We tend to be few in number and all-too-often not especially strong in the Spirit. As Jesus Himself said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matt. 9:37). But this chapter adds to that picture the awareness that the soul is also endangered when never at rest. In St. Augustine’s Confessions, he says, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” We find our rest, in Jesus. He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29). The abbot is to model for the community that being “at rest” can only come from singleness of heart and fidelity to God. The soul at rest is focused on the One Thing necessary—our relationship with Jesus. That is a goal that not only the abbot, but all of us in the Body should pursue.
Note: This meditation is designated for both December 21 and 22. There will be no posting tomorrow. Be at rest!