Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23 – Of Abbots and Abbesses

Did you know that, while it is critical in the monastery that the postulants and novices submit to the authority of their superiors, the abbots and abbesses are bound by kindness to them? Fascinating!

In the Rule of St. Benedict, the superior of the monastery is admonished to remember always “not to crush the bruised reed.” (Isaiah 42:3) While the rules of the order are severe toward cutting away selfishness and oversights of reverence and devotion, Benedict tells the superior to “strive to be loved, not feared.” Again and again in his little “rule,” Benedict teaches leaders how to teach others to love, and how to encourage growth and transformation.

One of my “nun books” tells of a Mother Abbess tending at the bedside of a dying Sister, old enough to be her grandmother. The Abbess smoothes the linens and plumps the pillow, and takes the old woman in her arms to feed her, asking, “Are you comfortable, my child?” It is a very touching scene.

Again and alas! We have neither Abbess nor Mistress of Postulants, neither Abbott nor Bishop watching over us, treating us as beloved sons and daughters, allowing a little laziness here and addressing a little foolishness there, and somehow getting the job done as the weeks and months go by. One nun wrote that within two months in the monastery, she began to feel very nun-like in deportment, and all that was left to be accomplished was – Christlikeness!

We haven’t got what they have! Not monastery, not superiors, neither habit nor Rule. We shall have to work with what we do have . . . hearts for God, and the Comforter Who has come to usher us fully into the Presence of Christ and the image of His Likeness. We have garments of praise and righteousness instead of habits, pre- or post-Vatican II. We have not the Rule of Benedict, but we have the law which God has placed within our hearts.

If we loved our own souls as the righteous superior loves those in his or her care, how would we treat them this day? If they, our souls, had come to us to beg admittance into the very nature of Jesus Christ, what might we do for them? Would we answer the call of our own hearts? What is the greatest kindness we might do for these trembling depths of yearning within,where our longing is for Jesus, our risen Lord, returned to abide with us and in us? May we not now, today, and henceforth, show great and effective kindness to our own lives as we patiently, cheerfully, honestly, humbly, and irrevocably lead on into the promise of God. As the Father has given us to be conformed to the image of His Son, our souls cry out for this vocation; who will have the watch-care over them if we ourselves will not?

We are the abbots and abbesses of Cor Unum, the monastery of the heart.

"Pleterje Gotska"
by permission

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