The American Monastic Newsletter

        Volume 32, Nr. 2, June 2002             Richardton, ND 58652

Inside this issue:

A Relational Skill

ABA Conference Schedule

News Omnibus
   Essay Winners

Grant Opportunity

Ecumenical Conference

ABA Board Nominees

Book Reviews


AMN Online

ABA Index

Mentoring: A Relational Skill of Loving, Obeying

It's as clear to me today as it was that day in 1989, when recently arrived in Bismarck after quite a few years in Bogotá, Colombia, I was cornered by Stacy Herron, of the public affairs office at the University of Mary, for an interview for publication.

The first question: "Why did you WANT to come to U-MARY?" (From what she subsequently said I could imagine what was going through her mind: This is a "big catch" -- someone wanting to come from abroad to teach at this university. On paper it was a press agent's dream.) My answer: "I didn't WANT to."

I proceeded to explain a bit about Benedictine life and what obedience entailed. She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.

Long pause. The professional world out of which she spoke could not grasp the notion of "obedience." Finally she remarked, "Well, do you have something to say that we can publish?" I end this episode by noting only that no article ever appeared. (And, yes, the move was one of the hardest I ever had to make, but I add that it was also one of the best.)

Obedience often takes the form of mentoring. In the best of cases the relationship between a monastic and the prioress/abbot is one of mentoring-guidance in living the community life within the limitations of a given place. Mentoring is about respect and care for a person in the process of learning ("school of the Lord's service"). It will thus take a great deal of effort: It is the "work" of a monastic.

The task of mentoring, when consciously undertaken, demands facing and overcoming inertia and laziness. The Rule of Benedict underscores this dynamic. It uses "diligere" to highlight the relationship between its members. Diligere, from which we get "diligence," points up the work of loving. (Remember Augustine's "Dilige et quod vis fac": Love and do what you will.)

In RB the abbot is to love the brothers (64.11); the seniors are to love the juniors (4.71); all are to love their enemies (4.31; which incidentally means also that you are to have a list of enemies at hand!); monks are to love their abbot (63.10)-all cases of diligere. We're being told: It's going to be work. It'll take diligence.

The same goes for the Benedictine mantra of seeing Christ in abbot/prioress, guest, and sick. It'll take diligence to do so "because they're all trouble" as we heard in the last convention! "The labor of obedience," says RB's Prologue, "will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience."

I mention all this because, for some, mentoring conjures up romantic notions of people on the same wavelength. Yet, mentoring is not a relationship of friendship (i.e., spontaneous, mutual, equal, reciprocal), nor is it therapy. (In the best of cases, mentor and protégé might end up as friends, but that is a graced ending, not the beginning.)

Rather, mentoring is a relationship of trust with the need for appropriate boundaries. Mentors are in it to give, not to receive. They provide support (informational, structural, and emotional), coach, advocate, cheerlead, give feedback, and even rehearse strategies. In short, a good mentor is nothing short of a good host on the journey of life.

*    *    *    *

As president of the Academy it has been my privilege several times a year to address remarks to you, distinguished readers. It's been nearly two years since I started doing so.

As we gather in Bismarck for Convention 2002 to look at mentoring and monastics today, we have the chance to share a vital heritage in its many variations. It's sort of like dancing the same tune, even if we are not dancing cheek to cheek.

I look forward to seeing all of you again.

Valerian Odermann, OSB
President, American Benedictine Academy



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