Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be
Jan. 9 – May 10 – Sept. 9
An Abbess who is worthy to be over a monastery
should always remember what she is called,
and live up to the name of Superior.
For she is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery,
being called by a name of His,
which is taken from the words of the Apostle:
“You have received a Spirit of adoption …,
by virtue of which we cry, ‘Abba — Father'” (Rom. 8:15)!
Therefore the Abbess ought not to teach or ordain or command
anything which is against the Lord’s precepts;
on the contrary,
her commands and her teaching
should be a leaven of divine justice
kneaded into the minds of her disciples.
At first glance, this bit doesn’t seem to have much to say to us who are not in the monastery, does it? Abbess/Abbot are derived from the Hebrew “abba”, the word Jesus used when talking about the Father. It’s also a word He taught His disciples to use as in “Our Father in Heaven.” I’ve been told that a good translation of “abba” is “daddy”. I note that Benedict also refers to Jesus as Abba: “Being called by a name that is His.”
“Believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery” To me this says that true head of the monastery is our Lord Jesus Christ and the Abbess/Abbot is merely filling in. But what a responsibility to be as Christ to a bunch of All Too Human people! What is it that theAbbess/Abbot is to do? Everything must be in line with the Gospels.
But still, how does this passage apply to those of us not in a monastery? I’d welcome your thoughts. As I was trying to answer this for myself, it occurred to me that in my novice promises, I said I would obey my Bishop, priest (primarily Rector,) and spiritual director. The role of the abbess/abbot is to assist me to create the place within me where I hear the Holy Spirit’s voice quite clearly and will be moved to instant obedience to that voice of God. As Henri Nouwen wrote somewhere in Reaching Out, “A place is created within us where we entertain God.” Or words to that effect.
Then I thought about all the other people in my life who might also be such agents of the Holy Spirit. Fellow parishioners, family members, friends, Internet acquaintances, etc. Anyone of these might be used by the Holy Spirit to say something to me to which I need to pay attention. Maybe I won’t like it, maybe it will hurt me, but maybe I still need to hear and learn.
That is what I take from today’s reading. How does the reading sound to you?