Above all, they must not show too great a concern for the fleeting and temporal things of this world; neglecting or treating lightly the welfare of those entrusted to them. Rather, they should keep in mind that they have undertaken the care of souls for whom they must give an account. That they may not plead lack of resources as an excuse, they are to remember what is written: "Seek first the reign and justice of God, and all these things will be given you as well. (Mt 6:33)" and again, "Those who reverence the Holy One lack nothing (Ps 34:10)."
In an age of great institutions and unending development campaigns, Benedict makes a statement in this paragraph that stretches the modern mind to the extremity of disbelief. Benedict instructs the abbot and prioress to be more concerned about the spiritual needs of the monastery than its physical ones. You have to wonder how long a group will last like that. You also have to wonder whether or not a monastery that is not like that should last at all. The implications are profound.
A monastery does not have to be wealthy, Benedict implies, a monastery does not have to be large, a monastery does not have to be popular. What a monastery must be, without doubt and without fail, is holy. The role of the abbot or prioress, therefore, is not to concentrate on the physical development of the community, on the "fleeting and temporal things of this world." The role of the abbot or prioress is to direct their energies to bringing the community to the white heat of the spiritual life, after which no challenge is too great and no effort is too much because we know for certain that "those who reverence the Holy One lack nothing."
In monastic spirituality, then, leadership is not intent on making things right; leadership is intent on making life right. The number of families who have succumbed to the notion that giving their children everything that money can buy assures their happiness need this insight from of monastic spirituality. The number of business people who have put their entire lives into developing their businesses instead of their quality of life, need this insight from monastic spirituality. The number of young people who have learned to believe that success depends on having it all, may need this monastic lesson in life. The Rule of Benedict teaches us that nothing, not even a monastery, is worth the loss of the development of the important things in life, the spiritual things in life.
The prioress and abbot must know that anyone undertaking the charge of souls must be ready to account for them. Whatever the number of members they have in their care, let them realize that on judgment day they will surely have to submit a reckoning to God for all their souls--and indeed for their own as well. In this way, while always fearful of the future examination of the shepherd about the sheep entrusted to them and careful about the state of others' accounts, they become concerned also about their own, and while helping others to amend by their warnings, they achieve the amendment of their own faults.
The word here is clear: abbots and prioresses are responsible for the community, yes, but they are responsible for the quality and integrity of their own lives as well. Being an abbot or prioress, a president or corporate tycoon does not put people above the law or outside the law. On the contrary. It may instead create a double burden. In being concerned for the spiritual well-being of others, the caretaker will have to be alert to the demands it makes on her own life. Any leader knows the litany of emotional responses: anger with those who resist, frustration with things that can't be changed, disappointment with things that showed promise but never came to fruit, hurt because of rejection by the people you tried to love, grief over the failure of projects that you counted on to succeed--all tax the soul of a leader. "Thought breaks the heart," the Africans say. Thought also robs the leader of confidence and energy and trust. Despite it all, though, Benedict counsels leaders against the sin of resignation, despair, depression and false hope. Monastic spirituality teaches us that everything we want to do will not succeed, but monastic spirituality also teaches us that we are never to stop trying. We are never to give in to the lesser in life. We are never to lose hope in God's mercy.
People looking for a spirituality of leadership have substance in this chapter for years of thought. Benedict's leaders are to birth souls of steel and light; they are to lead the group but not drive it; they are to live the life they lead; they are to love indiscriminately; they are to favor the good, not to favor the favor the favorites; they are to call the community to the height and depth and breadth of the spiritual life; they are to remember and rejoice in their own weaknesses in order to deal tenderly with the weaknesses of others; they are to attend more to the spiritual than to the physical aspects of community life; and, finally, they are to save their own souls in the process, to be human beings themselves, to grow in life themselves.
In this chapter, monasteries become the image of a world where leadership exists for the people it leads and not for itself. It is a model for businesses and families and institutions that would change the world. It is also a model for leaders who become so consumed in leadership that they themselves forget what it means to live a rich and holy life.