Wednesday, September 15, 2010

People First, Things Later

Today, as I was reading Brother Jerome's reflection on the portion of the Rule of Benedict (of which I have commented other times), and worrying about two contractors arriving today to work in my house and yard, and the many things of being a homeowner, I was struck by the following:

"That third principle, enunciated here, is 'people first, things later; don't sweat the small stuff and things are ALWAYS small stuff by comparison to souls.'"

What a great reminder: It is not the checkbooks, mortgages, contractors, dirt and all the related hustle and bustle, but the people living in our house, the people we work with, the people we meet today, that are important. As I finished breakfast I gave thanks to our Lord for the new day, and for all the people I hold dear.

What regular habits of reading and meditation have you found to remind you of what is really important? How have these helped you today?


(In case you are interested I am attaching the mailing from Brother Jerome here)
Brother Jerome Leo's posting for September 15th

January 15, May 16, September 15
Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

Above all let her not neglect or undervalue
the welfare of the souls committed to her,
in a greater concern for fleeting, earthly, perishable things;
but let her always bear in mind
that she has undertaken the government of souls
and that she will have to give an account of them.
And if she be tempted to allege a lack of earthly means,
let her remember what is written:
"First seek the kingdom of God and His justice,
and all these things shall be given you besides" (Ps. 33:10).
And again:
"Nothing is wanting to those who fear Him."
Let her know, then,
that she who has undertaken the government of souls
must prepare herself to render an account of them.
Whatever number of sisters she knows she has under her care,
she may be sure beyond doubt that on Judgment Day
she will have to give the Lord an account of all these souls,
as well as of her own soul.
Thus the constant apprehension
about her coming examination as shepherd (Ezech. 34)
concerning the sheep entrusted to her,
and her anxiety over the account that must be given for others,
make her careful of her own record.
And while by her admonitions she is helping others to amend,
she herself is cleansed of her faults.


There are two beautiful lessons for us non-abbatial types in this
chapter. The first is a Benedictine view of material goods and the
second consoles us that teaching will hopefully also teach the

The Benedictine view of property is neither complete nor correct
without the principle invoked here. Yes, later on we hear that all
the goods of the monastery must be regarded as if they were sacred
vessels of the altar (and that includes our planet, folks!) We also
hear a lot of attentive prescriptions about poverty and ownership.
Either of these made dogma without the third principle will spell
trouble. That third principle, enunciated here, is "people first,
things later; don't sweat the small stuff and things are ALWAYS small
stuff by comparison to souls."

This adds a perfect balance to Benedictine theology of creation. Ours
is the organic permaculture of souls and bodies and the planet which
nourishes both. I would be the first to sadly admit that, both
corporately and individually, we have a LONG way to go before
realizing this perfect theology, even partially.

Nevertheless, it is there and it is our ideal. The Reign of God is of
necessity our only imperative for preserving all we can. We do so
because all things were created to further and serve that Divine
purpose: the salvation of all, willed by God and the towering human
dignity of each which is won by the creative act of God and the
saving act of Jesus' death for all.

Ecology stripped of true Christian personalism is as hopelessly
pathetic as a rampant materialism that sees every created thing only
in terms of exploitation for profit. It often piques me to see news
stories of people rushing to the beach in crowds to save beached
whales, when many of those so touched seem not to care at all
about the homeless who die on our streets every day. I'm no enemy of
whales, but caring for humans must come first. It is not an either/or
question, it must be the Zen mind of both.

One is not complete without the other. Loving life and living things
really is a seamless garment. Nothing less than the whole will do! We
care for and nurture things because they care for and nurture an intricate
web of which we are the prominent part. Caring for human life and
trashing the environment is a mistaken joke. But so is caring for the
environment while figuring human beings are pretty much on their own!

We must never support the lie that humanity is free to waste and
plunder, but we must never forget, either, that humanity, warts and
all, is undeniably the crown and apex and zenith of the Reign of God.
The feeling, loving heart of a right-minded ecology can only be found
in a right-minded love of humanity. Every divorce of these two is

A good Benedictine will go to careful lengths to avoid damaging or
breaking things, but will treat it lightly if someone else
does by accident: "Oh, that's no big deal. I'll tend to it later."
or "This I can replace, YOU I cannot. Don`t worry about it." See what
I mean? We must be personally very careful of things, but we must
never make others feel small, and least of all in the name of
temporal goods.

The other gem buried here is learning from teaching. Anyone who has
ever taught 5th grade science will tell you that it will teach you
more than the average person at a party knows about the topic.
(Unless the party is given at Massachusetts Institute of Technology!)
It will remind you of a great deal of basic information that you have
long forgotten. Teaching, ideally, keeps one up to date on a subject.
If teaching alone doesn't do that, the questions of the students
usually will!

Teaching, however, is nothing more than a lofty form of doing right.
Doing right by the created world around us will teach us in ways we
never dreamed possible. Hopefully, it will be the same with any of us
who are helping others on the road to spiritual growth. We will learn
by teaching, by doing, by helping. Hopefully, we will also be taught-
and maybe sometimes shamed- by our own words and deeds!

Love and prayers,
Jerome, OSB
Petersham, MA

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