SINCE THE SPIRIT IS OUR LIFE LET US BE GUIDED BY THE SPIRIT. (Gal. 5: 25). At various times Jesus expressed the purpose of his mission and the meaning of his person in brief and memorable sayings. More than once he returned to the expression "life" as best suited to convey the significance of his person and of his mission. "I have come that they (my followers) may have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10)." And again: "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even should he die, will have eternal life (John 11: 25)."
His apostles grasped this teaching well and made it central to their manner of presenting the Gospel. In his Prologue John introduces the Word made flesh to the same effect: "In him was life and the life was the light of men." He later states explicitly the purpose of our Lord's presence in this world in similar terms: "thus it is necessary that the Son of man should be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John : 15)." St. Paul, who knew Jesus, no longer according to the flesh but in the Spirit, ascribes this life-giving function to the risen Lord on numerous occasions, as for example when he wrote that "we always carry about in our body the death of Jesus that the life of Jesus might be manifested in our bodies. " However, at other times he ascribes it not directly to the Lord but to the Holy Spirit. At the same time, he presents the Spirit as operating in complete harmony with Jesus, completing the work of his ministry. Indeed, he goes further in today's text, and identifies the Spirit himself as the very life that Jesus bestows on us: SINCE THE SPIRIT IS OUR LIFE LET US BE GUIDED BY THE SPIRIT.
Today, at this liturgy we prepare to elect an abbot for our community by seeking the guidance of the Spirit of Jesus. Discerning the truth of God's will is often a highly subtle task that depends radically on a measure of connaturality that is the fruit of the activity of the Spirit within us. For, while God has clearly revealed the general principles that are to govern our lives, yet the requirements of living the Gospel assume varying forms in the manifold circumstances of everyday life. According to St. Benedict, the role of the abbot is to represent the Lord in our midst, deciding and acting in his place. Accordingly, as St. Pachomius puts it, he is to be "the eye of the community", discerning God's will in things large and small. He soon discovers that discernment, however, is but a part of his duty, and in most cases, perhaps, the easier task. He must also see that the decisions made are carried out appropriately. For a monastery it is not enough to assure that practical demands of life are effectively met; more important is the manner in which they are carried through. The spiritual good of the community must be the primary consideration in establishing policies and in their manner of implementation if the monastery is to achieve its purpose of the inner transformation of its members, and the spiritual good of the local diocese and the church as a whole.
It is in view of assuring this primary function that St. Benedict desires that the monks decide who is the man best suited to fulfill the role of abbot in the monastery. The particular qualities he considers necessary in the abbot are so many ways of implementing this program, such as the ability to teach, knowledge of the divine law, pastoral concern and good judgment. He must have a sufficiently deep spiritual life that he remains at peace and is able to keep perspective so that he always gives primary importance to the good of souls rather than material matters or things of secondary importance.
As we prepare to vote we ask of the Holy Spirit at this mass first of all, then, the light and grace to act as we desire the abbot himself to act, that is to say, with the practical and spiritual good of the community as our aim. The choice of the abbot is, however, but the beginning of a process whose successful functioning depends as much on ourselves as on the way the superior exercises his office. Our preparation for the election and our prayer to the Spirit would be incomplete if it does not include rededicating ourselves to our search for God, and the firm determination to collaborate with the man chosen. Only with harmony of minds and hearts and the generous giving of self by all can the efforts of the abbot bear good fruit. Benedict himself learned this truth by sad experience, having failed in his ministry to the first community of which he was superior, due to the resistance of his monks. Even a wise and saintly abbot cannot succeed without the willing cooperation of his monks.
And so, at this Eucharist, let us ask the Lord for the gift of his Spirit so that we not only elect today the man according to his heart, but also that we all live out our vocation, day by day, seeking generously to work together for the common good and the glory of God. In this way we shall respond in all truth to St. Paul's words that we head in today's epistle: SINCE THE SPIRIT IS OUR LIFE LET US BE GUIDED BY THE SPIRIT. And may he brings us all together to that eternal life won for us by the Lord Jesus.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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