January 13, May 14, September 13
Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be
In her teaching
the Abbess should always follow the Apostle’s formula:
“Reprove, entreat, rebuke” (2 Tim. 4:2);
threatening at one time and coaxing at another
as the occasion may require,
showing now the stern countenance of a mistress,
now the loving affection of a mother.
That is to say,
it is the undisciplined and restless
whom she must reprove rather sharply;
it is the obedient, meek and patient
whom she must entreat to advance in virtue;
while as for the negligent and disdainful,
these we charge her to rebuke and correct.
My first reaction is always “No way, Jose”, none of those beatings, whippings and other things my society considers abusive. And then I trip over the “my society” bit and have to remind myself that Benedict is not a product of my time but his so I have to work that much harder to see through what I don’t like to try to see what is the main theme of today’s reading.
Another thing about “my society” is that we have somehow got to a place where it is so fashionable to believe that none of us has any business judging another, it is also “wrong” to take action based on any judgment.
An example: one Saturday a few years ago, The San Diego Knit Together met in Balboa Park. At a distance to the west of off were three men smoking marijuana. We knew this because the prevailing westerly winds blew the smoke in our direction. They had a huge bag of the stuff which they were busy rolling into joints. I asked for a cell phone to call the police and no one would loan me one because “it’s only dope. It’s not like it’s crystal meth.”
Silly me. Here I thought breaking the law was breaking the law and don’t get me started on the horrible things i have witnessed as a result of smoking “only dope.”
What we have in this day’s reading, I believe, is not a passage about physical punishment so much as it is about standards of conduct. I daresay few of us who read this are an abbess or abbot. But have we among us parents? Teachers? Supervisors or management at the office? Maybe some of what is said here is really applicable to our own lives?
So far we have seen that something Benedict stresses is the judgment of God, fear of the Lord, which we are told is the beginning of wisdom. “Fear of the Lord” does not mean crouching in terror. The Hebrew word translated as fear, or so I have been told by those who actually know Hebrew, has many meanings as do all Hebrew words.
Among the possible translations of the Hebrew phrase translated as “fear of the Lord” are: ” awe at immense grandeur”; ” feeling small in the face of something much greater than our minds can conceive”; “love/wonder/joy” all rolled together that creates within us a very complicated feeling, such as Job had, that before such a Mighty One, we are but dust and ashes but the surprise of the story is that this Mighty One, Master of the Universe, loves us and wants us.
I can only think that when they were working on the King James Version of the Bible, “fear” might have had different connotations that communicated the above other possible translations to the good folk of Jacobean England.
What we have going in this passage, I believe is just this: how do we accommodate ourselves to this God? How do we conform ourselves to His will? What do we need to do?
Hard questions, but thanks be to God, Benedict’s Rule provides simple, concrete, practical ways of doing just these things.