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Leadership in the Monastery

by Fr. Boniface Muggli, OSB
Leadership in monastic life has two sides. First, we are people called to follow God, to serve God and make God present in every corner of our lives. Our leadership must be godly and spiritual. Indeed, we call the abbot by that title, because as abba, “Father,” he “takes the place of Christ” (RB 2). This spiritual dimension is visible in every official in the monastery: the infirmarian is to be sure that “care be taken of the sick, so that they will be served as if they were Christ in person”—and the sick in turn must “on their part consider that they are being served for the honor of God, and let them not annoy their brothers who are serving them by their unnecessary demands” (RB 36). Similarly, the cellarer or business manager - an office that surely is most concerned with practical, not spiritual, details of life - is to be “one who is … a God-fearing man who may be like a father to the whole community…. Let him keep guard over his own soul…. Let him take the greatest care of the sick, of children, of guests and of the poor, knowing without doubt that he will have to render an account for all these on the Day of Judgment. Let him regard all the utensils of the monastery and its whole property as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar” (RB 31). Besides our dedication to God, we are also men and women, human beings, not angels, and so our leadership must be human, practical, taking into account earthly needs and concerns, such as food and clothing, buildings, heat and water. All of which leads to budgets and work assignments, how to pay for doctor visits and gasoline, who will be able to handle which jobs. Saint Benedict therefore provides principles on how to choose our leader, what qualities to look for, and repeated reminders to the various officials of the spiritual dimension as well as their practical, mundane concerns. So the abbot is warned, Let him [the abbot] understand what a difficult and arduous task he assumes in governing souls and accommodating himself to a variety of characters. Let him so adjust and adapt himself to everyone—to one in gentleness of speech, to another by reproofs, and to still another by entreaties, to each one according to his bent and understanding—that he not only suffer no loss in his flock, but may rejoice in the increase of a worthy fold…. Above all else, the abbot should not neglect or undervalue the welfare of the souls entrusted to him, he should not have too great a concern about fleeting, earthly, perishable things; but let him always consider that he has undertaken the government of souls, of which he must give an account (RB 2). Even while his primary task is the care of souls, the abbot must have some care for earthly details: Let the abbot appoint brothers, on whose life and character he can rely, over the property of the monastery in tools, clothing, and things generally, and let him assign to them, as he considers proper, all the articles which must be collected after use and stored away. Let the abbot keep a list of these articles, so that, when the brothers in turn succeed each other in these trusts, he may know what he gives and what he receives back (RB 32). Another consideration of monastic leadership is that our leaders are chosen from the community and for the community. Our monastic spirituality of work is that every form of work has its proper dignity, so that the intellectual or the administrator is not superior to the laborer. In Benedict’s day, this attitude was shocking—and some today still cannot fully accept it. Surely a monk and a priest is not to get his holy hands dirty fixing cars, repairing plumbing, or working out in the dirt like a peasant! (And, perhaps the worst part of field work is that he is outside, where any passer-by can see him dirty and sweating.) At the same time, each job is worth doing, and doing well, with proper attention to detail. Leadership is such a necessary job. For the good of the community and the growth of the members, we are generally willing to accept these burdens. We accept being leaders because that is our way of serving one another. A family is a good example of monastic leadership in a different setting. In a family, each child grows up to take on responsibility of self, and eventually leadership of a new family unit, of a job or even a corporation or community somewhere. Part of becoming adult is learning to accept the responsibility to lead when it is needed. Which brings us back to serving God and one another: we are called to lead because others need us, because they have a claim on our gifts.
Spiritual Reflections Spiritual Reflections

Leadership in the Monastery

by Fr. Boniface Muggli, OSB
Leadership in monastic life has two sides. First, we are people called to follow God, to serve God and make God present in every corner of our lives. Our leadership must be godly and spiritual. Indeed, we call the abbot by that title, because as abba, “Father,” he “takes the place of Christ” (RB 2). This spiritual dimension is visible in every official in the monastery: the infirmarian is to be sure that “care be taken of the sick, so that they will be served as if they were Christ in person”—and the sick in turn must “on their part consider that they are being served for the honor of God, and let them not annoy their brothers who are serving them by their unnecessary demands” (RB 36). Similarly, the cellarer or business manager - an office that surely is most concerned with practical, not spiritual, details of life - is to be “one who is … a God- fearing man who may be like a father to the whole community…. Let him keep guard over his own soul…. Let him take the greatest care of the sick, of children, of guests and of the poor, knowing without doubt that he will have to render an account for all these on the Day of Judgment. Let him regard all the utensils of the monastery and its whole property as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar” (RB 31). Besides our dedication to God, we are also men and women, human beings, not angels, and so our leadership must be human, practical, taking into account earthly needs and concerns, such as food and clothing, buildings, heat and water. All of which leads to budgets and work assignments, how to pay for doctor visits and gasoline, who will be able to handle which jobs. Saint Benedict therefore provides principles on how to choose our leader, what qualities to look for, and repeated reminders to the various officials of the spiritual dimension as well as their practical, mundane concerns. So the abbot is warned, Let him [the abbot] understand what a difficult and arduous task he assumes in governing souls and accommodating himself to a variety of characters. Let him so adjust and adapt himself to everyone—to one in gentleness of speech, to another by reproofs, and to still another by entreaties, to each one according to his bent and understanding—that he not only suffer no loss in his flock, but may rejoice in the increase of a worthy fold…. Above all else, the abbot should not neglect or undervalue the welfare of the souls entrusted to him, he should not have too great a concern about fleeting, earthly, perishable things; but let him always consider that he has undertaken the government of souls, of which he must give an account (RB 2). Even while his primary task is the care of souls, the abbot must have some care for earthly details: Let the abbot appoint brothers, on whose life and character he can rely, over the property of the monastery in tools, clothing, and things generally, and let him assign to them, as he considers proper, all the articles which must be collected after use and stored away. Let the abbot keep a list of these articles, so that, when the brothers in turn succeed each other in these trusts, he may know what he gives and what he receives back (RB 32). Another consideration of monastic leadership is that our leaders are chosen from the community and for the community. Our monastic spirituality of work is that every form of work has its proper dignity, so that the intellectual or the administrator is not superior to the laborer. In Benedict’s day, this attitude was shocking—and some today still cannot fully accept it. Surely a monk and a priest is not to get his holy hands dirty fixing cars, repairing plumbing, or working out in the dirt like a peasant! (And, perhaps the worst part of field work is that he is outside, where any passer-by can see him dirty and sweating.) At the same time, each job is worth doing, and doing well, with proper attention to detail. Leadership is such a necessary job. For the good of the community and the growth of the members, we are generally willing to accept these burdens. We accept being leaders because that is our way of serving one another. A family is a good example of monastic leadership in a different setting. In a family, each child grows up to take on responsibility of self, and eventually leadership of a new family unit, of a job or even a corporation or community somewhere. Part of becoming adult is learning to accept the responsibility to lead when it is needed. Which brings us back to serving God and one another: we are called to lead because others need us, because they have a claim on our gifts.
Spiritual Reflections Spiritual Reflections
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