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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

RB, Chapter 3: Summoning the brothers for counsel


Summoning the Brothers for Counsel

Verse 1 - 6
1As often as anything important is to be done in the monastery, the abbot shall call the whole community together and himself explain what the business is; 2and after hearing the advice of the brothers, let him ponder it and follow what he judges the wiser course.
3The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often revealswhat is better to the younger. 4The brothers, for their part, are to express their opinions with all humility, and not presume to defend their own views obstinately.
5The decision is rather the abbot’s to make, so that when he has determined what is more prudent, all may obey. 6Nevertheless, just as it is proper for disciples to obey their master, so it is becoming for the master on his part to settle everything with foresight and fairness.
Reflection
Saint Benedict now turns from the abbot to the community. But it is still clearly a relationship between the abbot and the community. The abbot must call the brothers together and listen to them. He must seek their advice about the things that must be decided in the monastery.
Listening to advice is not so bad! But then, the abbot must ponder that advice, praying over it, and decide finally what is to be done. He must share that decision with the community because they are waiting for his decision.
He must be able to tell the community how he came to his decision, even if they disagree with it. The rule for the abbot is clear: he must follow what he (the abbot) judges in the wiser course or what he judges is more prudent.

The abbot needs to know from the beginning that his monks will sometimes disagree with him. He must have courage and strive to make decisions based on wisdom, not on what will please the community.
Today it is not always easy for the abbot to insist that he must have time to pray first, then to ponder the decision and then finally to make the decision.
Monks often want a decision immediately. But the monastic life keeps telling us that the abbot must take his time, must pray, must ponder and then finally make a decision.
So the monks should encourage their abbot to take his time. They must encourage the abbot not to rush to decisions.

Then the monks must obey the decision. This is not the kind of obedience that we find in a modern corporation, where people do what they are told because they know that otherwise, they would lose their job. No, this is an obedience of faith, in which the monk waits to hear the word of the abbot and then, according to the Rule, hastens to live out that word because he knows that God's presence and will is encountered in the word of the abbot.

Verse 7 - 13
7Accordingly in every instance, all are to follow the teaching of the rule, and no one shall rashly deviate from it. 8In the monastery no one is to follow his own heart’s desire, 9nor shall anyone presume to contend with his abbot defiantly, or outside the monastery.
10Should anyone presume to do so, let him be subjected to the discipline of the rule. 11Moreover, the abbot himself must fear God and keep the rule in everything he does; he can be sure beyond any doubt that he will have to give an account of all his judgments to God, the most just of judges.
12If less important business of the monastery is to be transacted, he shall take counsel with the seniors only, 13as it is written: Do everything with counsel and you will not be sorry afterward (Sir 32:24).
Reflection
This teaching is for all of us, for the abbot and the monks: we all follow the Rule. This teaching implies for all of that we are all faithful to the Catholic Church. Just as we follow the rules and regulations of the Church, we follow the Rule.
In Saint Benedict's time there was no Code of Canon Law and their were no constitutions. In one sense it was more simple life. In other ways, perhaps not as simple.

So often we must wonder how an abbot can ask others to be faithful to the teachings that he gives if he himself is not faithful to the teachings of the Church?

Saint Benedict does not want the monk to contend with his abbot defiantly or outside of the monastery. This surely implies that the monk can question the abbot, can disagree with the abbot, can have an opinion different from his abbot.
This is important in monastic life because such a life is not a sect nor an attempt at brain-washing the monk.
Call the brothers to counsel is a delicate matter because it implies a true freedom on the part of the brother. It also recognizes that the Holy Spirit works in all of us, not just in the abbot. Yet the abbot still has a special role in the community.
Even though the Holy Spirit works in all, it is the abbot's task to decide finally what that Holy Spirit is saying. This kind of dynamic in a community is a call to a deep maturity. We must all speak and yet we must all trust that the abbot is listening and that what the abbot finally decides is God's will for the community.

This type of obedience and acceptance does not sit well today with many people. It should be clear in any community that the abbot is not the only wise person, that the abbot is not always blessed with the best thinking, that the abbot has no monopoly on God.
Yet we cannot get around Saint Benedict's teaching: when the abbot speaks after listening to counsel and after pondering what has been said, his decisions are God's will for the community and God will work through them.
Finally, in today's selection of the Rule, it is clear that the abbot does not have to consult the community on every matter. Ye the abbot must always take counsel and so in lesser matters, the abbot consults his Council.

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