Tuesday, December 24, 2013

CHAPTER 21: Of the Deans of the Monastery

     If the monastery is large, let brethren of good repute and holy life be appointed Deans of the community; and let them take care of their deaneries in everything according to the commandments of God and the directions of their abbot. The abbot, for his part, should choose men that he can trust to share his burden. Let them not be chosen for their rank, but for the merit of their life, their wisdom, and their knowledge.


    The name “dean” comes from the Latin decanus, an ancient military term for a soldier who commanded a unit of ten men.  In a very real sense, all Christians are milites Christi—soldiers of Christ.  But monks and nuns are, in the words of a close friend of mine “the special forces.”  We make certain sacrifices that others aren’t willing to make and we fight battles that others aren’t necessarily prepared to face.  Therefor, this sort of military vocabulary is uniquely appropriate to our vocation; and since the stakes are so high, the officials and the chain of command must be very carefully determined.
     Monastic leaders are not, however, chosen on the basis of rank or age or even competency, but rather for their holiness.  Remember that Christ’s priorities are very different than those of the World at large, and the qualities that might make for good leadership outside the monastery walls (qualities like strength, ambition, charisma…) don’t necessarily make for good leadership inside the monastery walls.
     Merit, wisdom, and knowledge are what count for most in the monastery. But these are good qualities to keep in mind whenever you are looking for spiritual advice.  They are also very good qualities to keep in mind when you are choosing your friends.  Sadly, though, what’s cool and what’s virtuous aren’t always the same thing.  Rock stars and athletes may be admirable in many respects, but I am always astonished when they are called upon to speak about political or social causes.  Just because some guy may be a good actor doesn’t mean he has any authority to make pronouncements on social issues.  Nonetheless, we seem to give extraordinary weight to their opinions, even when they prove themselves utterly unworthy of our esteem.
     Remember this when you need to make important decisions.  Don’t let disk jockeys and television personalities form your conscience. Instead, seek out wise, knowledgeable people, and listen to them.