“Benedictine communities cannot be pictured correctly by either the pyramid or the circle. Benedictine communities are not meant to be either hierarchical or egalitarian. On the contrary. Benedictine communities are better pictured as a wheel with a hub and spokes. In the Benedictine community, there is a center to which all the members relate while they all relate to one another.” Joan Chittister “Wisdom from the distilled”
Last night I had the privilege to share a bottle of good Spanish wine with the Novice Master of the Monastery. He is of Swiss-American descent, and I identify with his love for Germany without forgetting his own history and roots in the USA. We talked about formation of new students since the Monastery here has several new novices and a group that just made their first profession. The youngest one arrived when he was 18 years old, he is now 20. Most of the new Monks are in their early 30’s. We talked about the role of the Novice Director, the Parent, the Elder, the Priest and Pastor, the Abbot, the Prior, and the Dean or Rector of a Seminary. They are all roles of authority.
We live in a time when authority is not only questioned (which is not always a bad thing) but frequently ignored (a very dangerous thing).
“We have to learn not to be authoritarian with one another. We have to learn to discipline our constant urges to license. We have to learn, in other words, to listen to others and hear their truth.”
The Monastic system is neither a dictatorship, nor a democracy. It is a woven fabric of human beings all connected to one another in mutual obedience. There are those who have authority (Abbot, Prior, Deans, Novice Masters and Mistresses.).
But we live in a day and age when any leader from politician down to parent has to listen attentively to those for whom they are responsible to. No one has license any more to just dictate their decisions if they cannot back it up with reason and some consensus building in the process. A perfect example is the hierarchical structure of the church when any Bishop or Priest makes decisions without consulting their leadership and constituents before they make a decision.
“The Rule of Benedict does not call for dependence. Monastics are to “listen with the ear of the heart” and then “labor” to do what is required of them (RB Prologue). Obedience, in other words, lies in listening and in laboring and in knowing what is required of us.” JC
Listening and then Laboring takes a huge amount of time and energy. It is always easier to make a unilateral decision whether you are a parent or a priest. But it barely ever results in a clean and tidy outcome. Someone gets hurt, and there is always a heavy price to pay following. Coming to the truth of any issue takes real questioning, discernment, discussion, and then decision making. Time is needed to let the truth make itself known and discovered by not only the one person responsible, but by at least a simple majority.
Real Obedience reminds us that we are deeply linked and connected to each other and that all decisions have consequences for all.
“On the public level, likewise, “My country, right or wrong . . .” is not patriotism. It is abdication of the responsibilities of citizenship. It allows politicians to make decisions about the welfare of this generation and of generations to come without the benefit of my experience and concerns. It says, let someone else be blamed.” JC
Sadly, black and white thinking, and extreme views on subjects is what is ruling our society today. We look for Presidential Candidates that will fix everything with one order or execution. We abdicate our responsibility to participate, to vote, to discuss,and to engage. We want the answer or the solution NOW! Uninformed decision making, be it in our homes, or our workplaces, our churches or our capitols, are always dangerous and have heavy consequences.
“The definition of authority in the monastic mind, then, is accountability and responsibility. A good many marriages, a good many businesses, a good many families, a good many nations could use this same definition.” JC
In my 25 years as a priest I have had many experiences with living out my own vows of obedience. I have weighed in on both sides of the obedience scale. The One who gives orders and the one who receives them. Long gone are the days of ‘Yes sir!’ And ‘No ma’am!’ I have defied my superiors at times, knowing that my conscience is the authority of the moment to which I must obey. I have also accepted many times over the greater wisdom and knowledge of those in authority over me, even if it is difficult.
“The role of the authority in monastic spirituality is clear: Authority is meant to call. Authority is meant to enable. Authority is meant to raise questions. Authority is meant to convert. Authority is meant to shape us in the values of Christian life.” JC
The German word for Obedience is Gehorsamkeit, very clearly a link to the root word To Listen To….(the verb Horen). .and in English from the Latin words “audiat/obedio” also To Listen to….
In the end our absolute obedience and listening is to God. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done..” It takes real time and effort to listen to and hear the ONE who speaks in the silence of our hearts, and in the lives of others around us.
PIC Today: We had a beautiful morning The Day dawned bringing with it plenty of sunshine and fresh air. The monks opened all of the windows of the Monastery on every floor, to let in the light and fresh air. It was glorious.
Obedience is like that in many ways. It is opening ourselves up to new ideas and possibilities and allowing the freshness of truth to enliven our lives.