Like a father to the whole community (XXXI)

CHAPTER XXXI. What kind of Man the Cellarer of the Monastery is to be
8 Mar. 8 July. 7 Nov.
Let there be chosen out of the community, as Cellarer of the Monastery, a man wise and of mature character, temperate, not a great eater, not haughty, nor headstrong, nor arrogant, not slothful, nor wasteful, but a God-fearing man, who may be like a father to the whole community. Let him have the care of everything, but do nothing without leave of the Abbot. Let him take heed to what is commanded him, and not sadden his brethren. If a brother ask him for anything unreasonably, let him not treat him with contempt and so grieve him, but reasonably and with all humility refuse what he asks for amiss. Let him be watchful over his own soul, remembering always that saying of the Apostle, that “he that hath ministered well, purchaseth to himself a good degree.” Let him have especial care of the sick, of the children, of guests and of the poor, knowing without doubt that he will have to render an account of all these on the Day of Judgment. Let him look upon all the vessels and goods of the Monastery as though they were the consecrated vessels of the altar. Let him not think that he may neglect anything: let him not be given to covetousness, nor wasteful, nor a squanderer of the goods of the Monastery; but do all things in proper measure, and according to the bidding of his Abbot.

Yesterday we completed the penitential code of chapters XXIII—XXX. Today, we begin a new section of the Holy Rule in which Saint Benedict will enter into the things that concern the monastery’s daily life and government. The abbot, holding the place of Christ, is the pontiff and shepherd, charged with “the things that appertain to God” (Hebrews 5:1) and with the care of souls. Saint Benedict has already treated, at length, in Chapter II, of the abbot’s charge of souls:

Above all let him not, overlooking or under-valuing the salvation of the souls entrusted to him, be too solicitous for fleeting, earthly, and perishable things; but let him ever bear in mind that he hath undertaken the government of souls, of which he shall have to give an account. And that he may not complain for want of worldly substance, let him remember what is written: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” And again: “Nothing is wanting to them that fear Him.” (Chapter II)

For Saint Benedict, the cellarer is no mere administrator of material goods. The cellarer shares in the paternity of the abbot, and collaborates with the abbot in the caring for the brethen. While the abbot concerns himself principally with the souls of his monks, the cellarer, with solicitude and charity, looks after all their bodily needs. Saint Benedict’s presentation of the cellarer does not, however, make him out to be a kind of quartermaster.

Saint Benedict recognises that the cellarer must be endowed with a particular grace when he says, qui omni congregationi sit sicut pater, “let him be as a father to the whole community”. It is the abbot’s responsibility, as father of the monastery, to generate other fathers, to foster in each one of his sons the full development of their manly potential. Only by growing into fatherhood does a man realise his God–given potential. A certain abbot in France said in an interview, “Do not call me Father; I am just a brother among brothers, even if I have been chosen to lead the community”. This is no more than a rehashing of the tired old slogan of the French Revolution —Liberty, Equality, Fraternity— that has infected and poisoned religious life for the past fifty years, rendering it tired, sterile, and degenerative. An abbot is not a brother among brothers; he is the Father among fathers. A monastic community must be generative  . . . or it will become degenerative. Without men who have grown into spiritual fatherhood, in any one of its many expressions, and assumed the responsibilities inherent in it, a community will wither, and die. Spiritual fruitfulness is intrinsically linked to fatherhood and motherhood in the order of grace.

I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth. (John 15:5–6)

By saying, “let him have the care of everything”, Saint Benedict is making an important distinction. The cellarer has the care of everything; the abbot, in contrast, has the care of everyone. The abbot of the monastery has the care of souls; it is his mission to look after the men in his care by providing them with the daily bread of godly teaching, with the sacraments, with spiritual food, drink, and medicine and, above all, with his blessings and intercessory prayer. The cellarer has the care of things. Saint Benedict does not minimise the value and importance of things. On the contrary, he would have them be handled “as though they were the consecrated vessels of the altar”. The cellarer carries out his mandate of administration in submission to the abbot, for here, as in all things, the material is at the service of the spiritual, the human at the service of the divine, the transitory at the service of what is eternal.

The Benedictine cellarer will look to the Blessed Virgin Mary who intervened at the wedding feast at Cana. He will place his administration in her hands, asking her to intervene so often as the monastery’s material resources begin to fail.

And the third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee: and the mother of Jesus was there. And Jesus also was invited, and his disciples, to the marriage. And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to him: They have no wine. And Jesus saith to her: Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come. His mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye. (John 2:1–5)

You know what followed: the waiters obeyed the word of Blessed Virgin and and the command of Jesus. They filled six waterpots of stone with water to the brim. When the water was drawn out and presented to the chief steward of the feast, it had become wine of the finest quality. Saint John concludes, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee; and manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). The turning point in this manifestation of the glory of Our Lord was the intervention of His Mother. It is always so. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the handmaid of Divine Providence and the most provident of mothers. Never does the Mother of God send away empty–handed one who turns to her in need. Her Magnificat is a glorification of the Providence of God: “He hath filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53).

A Benedictine cellarer cannot base his administration on mere human calculations. He must always take into account the workings of Divine Providence and the unfailing succour of the Mother of God. Saint Teresa of Calcutta had the reputation of always getting what she wanted for her works. Seemingly insurmountable problems resolved themselves in the most astonishing ways. Miracles happened around her every day. Saint Teresa of Calcutta was not one to take no for an answer. Her boundless confidence in God caused hierarchs, administrators, civil servants, and business people to roll their eyes and smile condescendingly. The little Mother would press forward undaunted. Father Benedict Groeschel recounts that the Memorare was one of her secret weapons. Mother Teresa had a profound and unwavering devotion Our Lady. She prayed the Rosary day and night; the beads were always in her hands. The rosary was her ceaseless prayer of the heart. Whenever she was confronted with a great need, whenever she found herself in an impossible situation, with no human solutions in sight, she prayed one of her famous “express” Novenas: nine Memorares followed straightaway by a tenth in thanksgiving. Her confidence in the Memorare became legendary. Whenever the cellarer begins to grow anxious over the monastery’s needs and over the details of its administration, he ought to take a lesson from Saint Teresa of Calcutta. The cellarer of the monastery ought to memorise the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount or, at least, have them written out, framed, and hung on the wall of his office:

Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:31–34)

The cellarer who keeps his beads at all times in his pocket has unlimited resources; he will learn that before, during, and after dealing with human agents, he can do nothing better than call ceaselessly upon the Mother of God. Doing this, he can expect miracles. The best business acumen cannot compare with trust in Divine Providence. There is no human instance that can resist the Mother of Jesus. The administration of the cellarer of the monastery will flourish in direct proportion to his confidence in Divine Providence and his childlike and persevering appeals to the Mother of Jesus.