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Reflection on Leadership by Senior Collin Limp

Father Augustine invites faculty, staff and students to offer personal reflections based on passages from the Rule of Saint Benedict at the all-school Wednesday morning prayer assemblies. Senior Collin Limp recently shared his thoughts on leadership, a timely reflection in this election year.

Chapter 2: What Sort of Man the Abbot Should Be

When a man is elected abbot, he should govern his disciples by a twofold teaching; namely, he should show them all that is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words… Let him so adjust and adapt himself to each one according to his character and understanding–that he not only suffer no loss in his flock, but may rejoice in the increase of a worthy fold. And let the abbot always bear in mind that he will be held accountable by God Himself for both his own teaching and for the obedience of his disciples.

Amongst all people, religious and non-religious, clergy and laymen, there are leaders. Leaders exemplify qualities necessary to the fields in which they lead. Leaders are people who demand respect, and—in the cases of abbot, teacher, and parent—obedience.

There are an infinite number of ways in which to categorize leaders; but perhaps the best way to do so is to sort leaders into two groups: those we elect, and those we don’t.

For those we elect, there is a lot of give and take. These leaders have a great deal of accountability to those who elect them. We choose these people. There are a lot of examples of this kind of leadership: we elect the President of the United States; we elect mayors, councilmen and school boards; we even elect members to the most glamourous and important position of all, Priory Student council. Since we choose these people, we expect them to perform to our satisfaction. When they don’t, we’re able to express our displeasure with their performance through measures such as petition and impeachment.

Even when these leaders inevitably disappoint us in some way, we still owe them our respect. On the most basic level, respect is something that should be shown by and to all people. That being said, we owe our elected officials more respect than just acknowledging their basic rights as people. Being responsible for and accountable to others is a huge job, no matter what level of governing it takes place at. And while we have every right to disagree with what that person says or how that person acts, we still have to respect their authority. For example, look at President Obama. Personally, I disagree with him on a lot of his policies and opinions; however, I completely respect his authority as the leader of this country, and I don’t question his right to believe and impose those policies, even though I think he’s dead wrong.

What we do not owe elected leaders, though, is obedience. Not only are these leaders very prone to error, but they have sought this leadership out—they have “run for office.” To quote Thomas Jefferson, elected leaders “are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” We give them the authority they hold. We can also take this authority away from them. Because of this, we are not and should never be obedient to this type of leader.

There is, however, a second kind of leader. This person is not elected. He is not chosen, voted for, or even asked for. While with unchosen leaders—people I will refer to as superiors—there is in some ways slightly less give and take than with those who are elected. They in return owe more to their followers. As it says in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 783-786, Jesus calls us to serve as Priest, Prophet, and King. When it says King, it means “not to be served, but to serve.” If a person is in a position of authority that is thrust upon him, that person owes it to his followers to truly serve to the fullest of his ability. Some examples of superiors would be teachers and parents.

Does this call to service mean that these people will be infallible? Of course not. Our parents will make mistakes. Our teachers will make mistakes. Even the monks will make mistakes. However, as with elected officials, we still owe them our respect. The difference is, with superiors, we also owe them obedience. You are to obey your parents, and your teachers. Why? Because their authority is derived from something higher than just a democratic process. Their authority comes from God. From a Catholic perspective, all you have to do is look at the Fourth Commandment for proof of this. And, in a classroom, “Honor thy mother and Father” extends to teachers as well. But even in a secular sense, obedience to parent and teacher is part of the natural order of human interaction, and can be explained by Natural Law. Now, does “obedience” mean do everything that this person tells you, even if you know it is intrinsically evil? No. Obedience means heeding the direction of those superiors, even if you disagree, because those superiors are still being held accountable, but not by you—by God.

The position of Abbot doesn’t fall perfectly into either of these categories. The abbot is elected; I cannot tell you exactly what that election process entails, but regardless, there is a great deal of choice by the rest of the monks as to who their abbot will be. However, the abbot commands obedience; perhaps even more obedience than is commanded of all of you by your parents and teachers. On the surface, this is somewhat frustrating, as I am someone who likes for things to fit into categories whenever possible. But instead of being an outlier, the Abbot position is a union between the two categories of leadership—in the same way that Christ is the union between two categories: God and Man. As Father Augustine stated in a previous reflection, “For a monk, the abbot takes the place of Christ in this world.”

This connection with Christ that the abbot shares is also shared by the rest of us to some extent. We are all called to be Priest, Prophet, and King. We are all called to be Christ to others. Frankly, we are all called also to rise above the mundane and simple system of elected leadership. There are more important things than being President, than being mayor, than being on Student Council. There are even more important things than being parents and teachers and abbots. Showing respect and obedience to Christ is chief among them.

As you are all undoubtedly aware, we are in the midst of the most bizarre and comical election season in decades. This is a prime example of the first kind of leadership. I’m not here to offer my opinion on who you should support; especially this time, since both answers seem like wrong answers. What I will encourage you to do is to be mindful of your conscience when choosing who you want to lead you. And more importantly, whoever turns out to be our next President, I implore you to remain respectful of that person—but not obedient.

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Prologue, 1

“This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.”

Prologue, 1

“First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.”

Prologue, 4

“If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim. (Ps 33[34]:13)”

Prologue, 17

“Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his kingdom (1 Thess 2:12).”

Prologue, 21

“If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds.”

Prologue, 22

“What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.”

Prologue, 41

“Therefore, we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service.”

Prologue, 45

“The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.”

Prologue, 47

“The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.”

Chapter 3, 3

“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.”

Chapter 4, 20-21

“Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.” –Chapter 4, 25-26

“Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue.”

Chapter 4, 27-28

“Place your hope in God alone.”

Chapter 4, 41

“Respect the elders and love the young.”

Chapter 4, 70-71

“Pray for your enemies out of love for Christ. “

Chapter 4, 72

“If you have a dispute with someone, make peace with him before the sun goes down.”

Chapter 4, 73

“The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all.”

Chapter 5, 1-2

“Speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen.”

Chapter 6, 6

“The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes (PS 35[36]:2) and never forgets it.”

Chapter 7, 10

“Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels, and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.”

Chapter 19, 6-7

“On arising for the Work of God, they will quietly encourage each other, for the sleepy like to make excuses.”

Chapter 22, 8

“Every age and level of understanding should receive appropriate treatment.”

Chapter 30, 1

“Above all, let him be humble. If goods are not available to meet a request, he will offer a kind word in reply, for it is written: A kind word is better than the best gift (Sir 18:17).”

Chapter 31, 13-14

“Let all the rest serve one another in love.”

Chapter 35, 6

“Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.”

Chapter 43, 3

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.”

Chapter 48, 1

“The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.”

Chapter 49, 1

“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35).”

Chapter 53, 1

“Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims.”

Chapter 53, 2

“(B)ecause wherever we may be, we are in the service of the same Lord and doing battle for the same King.”

Chapter 61, 10

They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10).”

Chapter 63, 17

“We wish this rule to be read often in the community, so that none of the brothers can offer the excuse of ignorance.”

Chapter 66, 8

“Trusting in God’s help, he must in love obey.”

Chapter 68, 5

Never to do another what you do not want done to yourself (Tob 4:16).”

Chapter 70, 7

“No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else.”

Chapter 72, 7

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”

Chapter 72, 11-12

“What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?”

Chapter 73, 3

“What book of the holy catholic Fathers does not resoundingly summon us along the true way to reach the Creator?”

Chapter 73, 4


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