Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
10 Jan. 11 May. 10 Sept.
Let the Abbot be ever mindful that at the dreadful judgment of God an account will have to be given both of his own teaching and of the obedience of his disciples. And let him know that to the fault of the shepherd shall be imputed any lack of profit which the father of the household may find in his sheep. Only then shall he be acquitted, if he shall have bestowed all pastoral diligence on his unquiet and disobedient flock, and employed all his care to amend their corrupt manner of life: then shall he be absolved in the judgment of the Lord, and may say to the Lord with the Prophet: “I have not hidden Thy justice in my heart, I have declared Thy truth and Thy salvation, but they contemned and despised me.” And then at length the punishment of death shall be inflicted on the disobedient sheep.
Wisdom Not Only for Abbots
This is one of the chapters of the Holy Rule that is most helpful to bishops and priests who, like the Father of a monastery, are charged with the care of souls. Parish priests who are Benedictine Oblates will find in this chapter a synthesis of incomparable pastoral wisdom, and matter for an excellent examination of conscience.
The Abbot knows that when he appears before the judgment seat of Christ, it will be as the father of a family, charged with responsibility for the souls of his sons. He will be held accountable for all that he has taught, not only by word, but also by the example of his life, for an Abbot teaches in every word he says, and in his every action.
The Obedience of the Disciple
Saint Benedict says that the Abbot will held accountable not only for his own teaching, but also for the obedience — or disobedience — of his disciples. There are some superiors who make obedience sweet and easy; and there are other superiors who make obedience burdensome and difficult. The difference lies in the Abbot’s personal response to Our Lord’s words: “Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Yoked to Christ
An Abbot who, in his labours and burdens, allows Christ to refresh him, will know the secret of offering refreshment to his sons in the labours and burdens of their obedience. An Abbot who is yoked to Christ will go forward, not in frenzy and stress, but, rather, in meekness and humility; thus will he find rest and refreshment for his soul. An Abbot refreshed by his personal union Christ, and who, at every moment, rests in His Heart, will have the gift of making life restful and refreshing for others. An agitated man, on the other hand, will generate agitation and stress around himself.
Of One Mind
A monk is yoked to his Abbot by the vow of obedience, even as the Abbot is yoked in obedience to Christ. Just as the Abbot finds rest for his soul by abiding in union with the Heart of Jesus, so will a monk find rest for his soul by seeking, at all times, to remain of one mind with his Abbot. This is the constant teaching of the Apostle: “Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind one towards another, according to Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5); “For the rest, brethren, rejoice, be perfect, take exhortation, be of one mind, have peace; and the God of peace and of love shall be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11); “Fulfill ye my joy, that you may be of one mind, having the same charity, being of one accord, agreeing in sentiment” (Philippians 2:2). And Saint Peter says likewise: “Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest, humble” (1 Peter 3:8).
Saint Benedict requires the Abbot to bestow all pastoral diligence on his flock, especially when the flock is unquiet and disobedient. There will always be the temptation or an Abbot to indulge in self-pity, or even to seek escape, if not geographically, then mentally and emotionally. The Abbot who runs away from his flock because it contains unruly sheep is like the hireling who “flieth, because he is a hireling: and he hath no care for the sheep” (John 10:13).