I asked Dom Damian’s permission to post the exhortation he delivered to us immediately before the election. I think it can speak to all of us in monastic life, and not just at an election, and may speak to anyone who draws inspiration from monastic spirituality.
As you know, brothers, the election of an abbot is a significant and enriching moment in the life of any monastic community. At the time of an election the members of a community, in a special way, look to the Holy Spirit to be their guide. Hence the celebration of the Mass of the Holy Spirit. The election of an abbot requires of you, brothers, among other qualities, a real faith-filled vision that enables each one of you to see what you are doing and to see the process that you are engaged in as your work and God’s work. It will culminate in your faith-filled choice of the one who will be the sacrament of the presence of Christ among you and for you. This is astounding! Here is where your faith vision really focuses. In St. Benedict’s Rule, the abbot is seen as Christ’s representative. Not in the sense that he takes the place of Christ or substitutes for Christ. But someone in whom and through whom God’s presence in Christ is made available in a special and unique way. And sometimes not in the most comfortable way. But always in a way that calls forth your free obedience. It is important to see that there is a considerable difference between the free obedience that is envisaged here and “executive” obedience. A more civil, executive form of obedience is directed to getting a job done. St. Benedict’s concept of obedience is much more a matter of a listening ear and a ready heart. Benedict situates his obedience firmly within the Christian, baptismal vocation, linking it closely to the Paschal Mystery itself. That is, with the redemptive obedience of Christ and with our adoption as God’s sons and daughters through the gift of the Spirit. I believe that any Christian who is called to work out his or her baptismal vocation in a religious community, obedience and its correlative–authority–must always be seen from within this perspective or else it doesn’t make sense.
Hopefully it is evident that for anyone in response to the invitation of the gospel to work out their obedience and their filial relationship to God through effective obedience to Christ, there must be in the particular way of life to which God calls them, scope for doing so in faith and in a fully human manner. Our obedience to Christ must be an affair of love and trust and it must be incarnate. For a Christian there is no room for a disincarnate love. This is what St. John addresses in his First Letter where he exposes the fallacy of a completely disincarnate love of God. How can anyone say that they love God and not love their brothers and sisters? They are liars. Because if you don’t love your near and visible brothers and sisters, how can you love the invisible God? God’s love must be incarnate in earthly love of one’s brethren or it is bogus. I think we could validly substitute “obedience” for “love” in these verses from John and it would be equally true. The heart of Christian prayer and the heart of following Christ is free, loving, personal surrender to the whole will of God. But if such obedience remains in the realm of theory, if it is merely a matter of protestations made in prayer and never becomes incarnate in daily life and real relationships, its authenticity is suspect.
Outside of this faith vision, or put differently, unless one is within the “enclosure” of this faith vision, to say that someone is a special sacrament of the presence of Christ makes no sense whatsoever. All the sociological and human means one may use to get to the point of an election can take you only so far. Only such a faith vision will enable you to believe that someone can be a special representative of Christ for you. And such a faith vision is pure gift. If there is any encouragement that I would want to offer you this morning, brothers, it is this: I want to encourage you to appreciate this faith gift that is yours. Have confidence in this gift. Have confidence in yourselves and in the Spirit of Jesus Christ living within and among you.