Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

January 10, 2010

I’m still struck by that phrase from yesterday, “the leaven of divine justice.” What a wonderful image for those in leadership. We are called to gently “knead” the “leaven of divine justice” into those we lead and serve. 

Here is the reading from the Rule today, more on the Superior:

Let the Abbess always bear in mind 
that at the dread Judgment of God 
there will be an examination of these two matters:
her teaching and the obedience of her disciples. 
And let the Abbess be sure 
that any lack of profit 
the master of the house may find in the sheep 
will be laid to the blame of the shepherd. 
On the other hand, 
if the shepherd has bestowed all her pastoral diligence
on a restless, unruly flock 
and tried every remedy for their unhealthy behavior, 
then she will be acquitted at the Lord’s Judgment 
and may say to the Lord with the Prophet:
“I have not concealed Your justice within my heart;
Your truth and Your salvation I have declared” (Ps. 39[40]:11).
“But they have despised and rejected me” (Is. 1:2; Ezech. 20:27).
And then finally let death itself, irresistible,
punish those disobedient sheep under her charge.

It reminds of a homily given by Cardinal Hume when he was Abbot of Ampleforth. He was clothing monks in their habits and reminded them that being in the novitiate is like coming to a hospital. The difference with the monastery is that it is not only the patients who are sick. The doctors and nurses are also ill. Thomas Merton develops this theme when he describes the early years in a monastery as a “convalescence.” I remember when I was a novice reading Dorotheus of Gaza, a book I loved and still have with me. The section on the role of the infirmarian is deeply inspiring, I will save it for when Benedict talks about the same role. For more on the wonderful Dorotheus please read this.

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