In the third chapter of the Rule, Benedict discusses the need to take counsel with all the members of the community. Having said that all community members are to be heard, Benedict reminds us of how each person is to participate in that conversation.
“In all things, therefore, let all follow the Rule as guide, and let no one be so rash as to deviate from it. Let no one in the monastery follow his own heart’s fancy.” (Chapter 3: Summoning the community for counsel)
We live in a culture that is often both self-centered and impulsive. But in this chapter Benedict waves a cautionary flag about both of those qualities in life. He says take the time for counsel, and consider your approach to the discussion.
In our culture of individuality, we need to pause and think a little about what it means not to “follow his own heart’s fancy.” Our culture might talk in psychological terms about narcissism defined as ‘extreme selfishness, a craving for admiration.’ Or ‘Excessive interest in oneself.’
Benedict is calling us away from that individual focus. He calls us to consider a balance of the needs of the community, rather than my own self-interest. It is not about denying my personal gifts. God gave each member of the community unique gifts. Used properly those gifts will benefit the community. Rather it is about being considerate of the larger community beyond myself.
As we bring our individual contributions to life in community, I think we are protected and guided by four timeless concepts.
- The larger community – It brings with it, both the wisdom of experience, and a specific set of needs, unique to this moment in time.
- The Gospel- It is our example of Christ in the world, and our call to follow Christ.
- The Abbott or Prioress –We must give respect and consideration for those bringing the experience, and bearing the burden, of leadership responsibility.
- The Rule of Benedict – It is a timeless guide protecting us from the fluctuations of current fads in all our decisions.
So today I ask a series of questions that seem to apply to most situations.
- Are my actions and desires consistent with the guide of the Rule of Benedict?
- Are they consistent with the Gospel?
- Have I considered whether the timing of my desire is the best?
- Am I listening to the wisdom of the experience of the community over time?
- Who will benefit from what I bring to the discussion?
- Am I speaking and acting in a way that is respectful of the Abbot or Prioress and the years of experience that he or she brings to the conversation?
- Am I mindful of the burden of responsibility for the community that comes with a given position of leadership?