I. We live with a sacramental view of the world.
1. We integrate a commitment to the common good with respect for the individual.
1. We are committed to forming stable relationships in community.
Catholic, Benedictine Values
Application. Our schools have long been noted for the friendly welcome that they extend to prospective students. This sense of welcome is surely largely due to the dedicated work of many people. Our physical plant staff keep the grounds and buildings clean and in repair, enabling the campus to be welcoming. Faculty spend hours with prospective students, helping them to think creatively about a college education. The coaching staff meets with students to give newcomers a realistic sense of what it means to be student-athletes at CSB/SJU. Current students share their time and energy in giving tours to prospective students and parents.
Questions for discussion and reflection:
1. How have I experienced hospitality at these institutions?
2. What are some examples of our failures to practice hospitality on our campuses?
3. How open are we to differences?
4. How might I/we become more welcoming to people of different races or religious beliefs?
4. We are committed to practicing simplicity and frugality.
In our Benedictine communities there is a great yearning to live more simply and contemplatively. A desire for simplicity and holy leisure touches the heart of the monastic vocation. The theologian, Raimundo Panikkar has written:
The Benedictine virtue of frugality offers a vision of sustainable consumption, based on essential need. In our time, frugality has a negative connotation. What is often heard is stinginess, a loss of generosity, and a harsh attitude toward the things of this world. However, we want to speak of frugality from the perspective of reducing needless consumption. Based on the ascetical tradition of monastic life, RB is permeated with direct and indirect references to frugality. This is particularly true of the section governing the administration of the monastery and includes Benedict's teaching on private property (RB 33) and the distribution of goods according to need (RB 34). Elsewhere Benedict writes, "Frugality should be the rule on all occasions." (RB 39:10)
In writing these words on frugality Benedict is concerned to develop an understanding of stewardship in the community that will have a relationship of care and respect for material things.21 In the first place, he wants the community to combat avarice, that desire which can never get enough of the world's goods. When avarice is operating in individuals and communities, it is very difficult to distinguish "needs" and "wants." The second reason for Benedict's teaching is more positive. He wants peace among the members. This is not merely a psychological phenomenon but a genuine peace because each person has what he or she needs to live with the satisfaction of legitimate needs. This discernment of "needs" and "wants" is analogous to the kind of negotiation that goes on in a family, taking into consideration the needs of spouses and the differing needs of children. As any parent or anyone in a spousal or partner relationship knows, it can sometimes be a painful and distressing discernment to discover that one's want really runs counter to what is a true need to the other.
In recent years frugality has received renewed attention by a number of theologians and ethicists concerned with our environmental condition. The ecologist James Nash names frugality as one of the nine "ecological virtues."22 On frugality Nash writes: "Frugality connotes thrift, moderation, efficiency, simplicity of life-style, and stringent conservation.... It thrives on the control of consumption, the reduction of waste, and comprehensive recycling. It is the key to sustainability."23 Living frugally is an excellent contribution we can make to our wasteful, over-consuming society.
Application. In our time simplicity is difficult to achieve. Over many years our four communities have made a strong commitment to simple architectural design that will age well, that will be durable and serviceable over a long period of time. Secondly, the coordinate relationship between CSB and SJU minimizes the amount of duplication in facilities, personnel, and in departmental acquisition while maximizing the educational opportunities for our students. Students at our respective schools have full access to the resources of two colleges. A third example is our commitment to discover and match the appropriate teaching strategy/technology to learning situations. As computer hardware and software becomes ever more powerful and expensive, it will be increasingly important to attend to this issue. Finally, our institutions struggle to learn how to keep decision making processes simple while also being collegial.
It is an ongoing struggle to stay free of the consumption economy. Our institutions have been successful at recycling buildings such as the Main Building at CSB and the Quadrangle at SJU. In each instance, the building was transformed for a new set of purposes. Our recycling program goes on, though it needs constant support and it is always at the mercy of the market. There is an enormous educational challenge in the colleges because of the continuous turnover in students. We avoid wasting community resources when we purchase carefully and when we buy things that will last a long time. In addition, we make goods that are durable and simple with a good sense of design. Our students are committed to conserving light and paper, to recycling useful goods at the end of each school year, and respecting and caring for the beautiful campus grounds.
Questions for reflection:
1. What do you understand as the meaning of the word frugality? simplicity?
2. Does the practice of frugality necessarily conflict with the practice of hospitality? Explain.
3. Simplicity calls us to simplify all aspects of our lives. What changes do you need to make to simplify your life?
4. How might our institutions better model environmental responsibility through the practice of frugality and simplicity?
There is no formal treatment of justice in the RB. Nevertheless, the practice of justice is pervasive in the Rule's articulation of how to make community life work, and of how to create an environment where each member is treated fairly. In most instances, leaders such as the abbot (prioress) or the cellarer are charged with ensuring just conditions for community members. For example, Benedict instructs the abbot to avoid all favoritism in his relationship with community members, and he is not to give a freeman a higher rank than someone who was a slave (RB 2:16, 18). The abbot is to show equal love to everyone (RB 2:22). In the context of discussing community rank, Benedict admonishes the abbot to avoid thinking that he can do anything he wants, and reminds him that he will be ultimately accountable to God for what he does (RB 63:2). In a striking passage, the abbot is told that "he should realize that he has undertaken the care of the sick, not tyranny over the healthy" (RB 27:6). There is to be peace in the monastery because procedures and practices minimize the potential for grumbling and murmuring. Thus, in the chapter on setting the time for the daily meals, Benedict advises the abbot to "regulate and arrange all matters that souls may be saved and the brothers may go about their activities without justifiable grumbling" (RB 41:5).
In RB 31:6-7, the cellarer is told to treat community members with fairness, not withholding what is needed. If the requested item is not available, he is to give a kind word (31:13). Furthermore, he is to be constantly aware of the needs of the sick, the poor, guests, and children (31:9). In a later chapter, the artisans of the monastery are advised to charge a fair price for their goods and services (RB 57:4). There are many other texts that have already been addressed that contribute to justice in community life such as respect for persons, setting community rank, and receiving according to one's needs.
Application. How might we make the translation of these insights into our own situation? A key area is that of evaluation. All faculty, staff, administrators, and students need to have a clear articulation of how they will be evaluated, whether the evaluation is towards tenure or promotion, towards a continuing contract, or a course grade. In addition, there needs to be trust, respect, and candor in our everyday interactions. For example, the faculty and staff need the skills to give helpful feedback.
Compensation (salary plus benefits) is another area where issues of justice are keenly experienced. We have recently adopted a market basket approach to setting salaries for all employees. This approach reflects the concern of the institutions to give a fair compensation to all employees. This issue is a crucial measure of justice that will demand ongoing attention.
Faculty, staff, and administrators work hard to give an excellent education to students at an affordable price. As the cost of that education has increased, so has our financial aid to students. One expression of our commitment to justice to students is the way we allocate financial aid fairly across all four years of their enrollment. This is an important commitment to a fair treatment of students. Another manifestation of a commitment to justice is to develop the tools to continuously improve the educational process at our institutions.
In the larger societal context, making an education financially accessible to students who have the academic ability and the desire to earn a college education is an important justice issue. Changing demographics show an increasing number of students from a variety of cultural and educational backgrounds. As in the past, these students will need assistance in developing the fundamental skills for doing college work and a welcoming, affirming environment. We need to steward our resources to give these young men and women an opportunity to become an integral part of our society. More than an issue of hospitality, this responsibility is a matter of justice.
Questions for reflection:
1. What practices will contribute to greater justice in our communities?
2. What tensions exist between the needs of the institution and individual needs? Explain.
B. We seek stability and community life.
For monastics, Benedict also requires a promise of stability that is the foundation of community life. In what follows we discuss the meaning of stability for our schools in terms of a commitment to community relationships, to a specific place, and to fostering an environment for the good of all creation.
Commitment to stability is essential to Benedictine spirituality. Benedict addresses stability in the first chapter of his Rule where he discusses the four kinds of monastics (RB 1:8b). He observes that there are those "whose law is what they like to do, whatever strikes their fancy" (RB 1:8b) or those who "are always on the move, never settling down, and are slaves to their own wills and gross appetites" (RB 1:11). Thus, Benedict urges monastics to live in groups under a Rule and an abbot (or prioress). This commitment to a common life, to community prayer, the common table, recreation, and mutual service creates an environment for stable relationships in which community members can come to know and support one another. Benedict also refers to the good zeal which calls the monastics to support one another with patience, to love God, the abbot and each other (RB 72:3, 8-10).
1. We are committed to forming stable relationships in community.
As noted earlier, Benedict's vision of community is based on a deep love for and understanding of the variety of human beings. Throughout the Rule, often by a casual remark, he makes patient and respectful allowance for that variety. For example, he urges the monastics to wake up in silence for morning prayer, quietly encouraging each other, "for the sleepy like to make excuses" (RB 22.8). He knows that there can be stubbornness and a refusal to live up to one's commitment and so he provides a sequence of chapters for intervention (RB 23-28; 44). Although many other examples could be cited, the word patience best captures the spiritual meaning of stability for relationships in community. At the end of the Prologue, Benedict writes: "Never swerving from God's instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen" (Prologue to the Rule 50). Patience is urged upon those who are sick and upon those who care for them (RB 36:5). Sometimes it happens in community that monastics are asked to do a job they find overwhelming. They are urged to choose the appropriate moment to explain why they cannot perform the task (RB 68.2). Another way of manifesting patience is to avoid grumbling. Benedict cautions community members about grumbling a number of times (RB 5:14; 34:6-7; 40:8-9) and urges those in authority to act in such a way that there will be no cause for justifiable grumbling (RB 41.5). The key reference to patience occurs in RB 72:5, where Benedict urges monastics to "support with the greatest patience one another's weakness of body or behavior." It is Benedict's belief that by staying in relationship true transformation can take place.
Application. Creating an educational community with a commitment to stability certainly does not mean rigidity. Joan Chittister expressed the conviction that stability does not mean, "Alright, everybody, freeze!!"25 Instead, it suggests creating a residential community in which students are able to develop strong relationships that continue long after graduation. Stability impels us to build relationships with trust and depth sufficient to face together life's real issues and personal dilemmas. Such trusting and deep relationships foster personal growth, the habit of asking for more information before leaping to judgment, and a willingness to see other viewpoints. For example, candid conversations need to occur when a committee needs to make an enrollment decision on a potential student. Stability means that relationships among students, faculty, staff and administrators are truly integrative, emphasizing the education of the whole person. Another manifestation of stability is a high retention rate for students because of an experience that encourages students to continue to graduation. Among other things, it means creating a residential environment that encourages the use of weekends as times for study, reflection, and relaxation. Finally, students encounter another dimension of stability when they graduate and discover themselves to be members of a large group of welcoming, supportive alumnae/i.
Questions for reflection:
1. How do you experience these dimensions of stability at CSB/SJU?
2. How might we enhance commitment to these institutions? to the department? to colleagues? to students?
3. How do we nurture and celebrate community here? How do we diminish the vitality of the community?
4. What are the main values you experience at CSB/SJU?
2. We are committed to stability of place.
Another manifestation of stability is the development of a relationship with a place. By coming to know a place deeply--knowing the set of overlapping ecosystems--the delicate balance between the number of creatures and available nourishment, and the patterns that play themselves out year after year, our communities will make decisions with an understanding of their consequences. In the event of a serious environmental mistake the community will be around long enough to recognize it and respond. This is not an argument against change but an argument for environmental knowledge. It is a knowledge that will lead us to recognize the habitats that are necessary for different kinds of wildlife. It will draw us to learn something about the forest that was originally in a place, to review topography and soil and climate conditions, and reforest if necessary. It is an argument for wildness: for creating places where there are tall grass, fallen trees, and piles of leaves for animals to dwell. To sum up, stability can help us elicit wonder and respect for creation and it nurtures a humility that makes us aware that we are part of creation.
Application. Environmental knowledge can affect the kind of educational ambiance we create for students. Nature itself has much to teach about human limits, the seasons of a person's life, and the cycle of death and renewal. It may lead us to develop a major curricular theme of an understanding of our campuses' ecology and to integrate this dimension throughout the curriculum. Students and faculty might be involved in ongoing, long-term research of the interplay of the multiple ecologies present. Finally, as communities we may be moved to pray together in a new way so that the imagery from the natural world found in the psalms and the scriptures reinforces our commitment to the environment in which we live.26 We will come to know ourselves as part of the created world, not separate from it.
One of the potential advantages for leadership development within our environment is that Benedictines have instinctively taken the long view of history, change, and development. For example, in European monasteries a 200 year rotation for forest renewal is a common way to insure harvesting and re-planting to maintain biodiversity. A 1500 year history provides many examples of projects that took hundreds of years to complete, projects that developed organically and were allowed to emerge and change in response to an internal growth pattern. Our two campuses have developed forest and land management plans that have resulted in the restoration of prairies and wetlands and the planting of a full complement of trees. In addition, the Common Ground project, an organic gardening project dedicated to the production of vegetables, has been developed with and for the surrounding community.
Questions for reflection:
1. How well do you know the campus environments? Have you ever walked in the woods on either campus? Or out to the wetlands? If yes, describe your experience.
2. How could we improve the way we educate the members of our four communities on environmental issues?
3. What do we need to change in order to foster the continual practice of stewardship and awareness of environmental issues on our campuses?
3. We are committed to live the gospel according to the monastic way of life--conversatio.
Conversatio is another commitment that is closely allied with stability and unique to Benedictine monastics. This Latin word means a commitment to all practices oriented toward the search for God. By practices we do not mean a rote, rigid adherence to regimen. Conversatio includes disciplines such as commitment to a regular daily schedule of prayer and work, to silence, to lectio divina, community meals, and community of goods. Everything is oriented toward a faithful living of the Gospel. Over the process of a lifetime, one may penetrate the deeper meaning of a search for God lived out in this manner. One can think of conversatio in a marriage as a set of practices or skills (e.g., how to learn to disagree respectfully, how to come to a mutual decision regarding money, how to take care of household tasks fairly, how to practice religious traditions). All of these allow a couple to live their marriage commitment.
For monastics, a defining expression of the commitment to listen in community is found in regular participation in community prayer and Eucharist. As Columba Stewart, OSB, writes, "Prayer is the most fundamental of the spiritual practices that cultivate mindfulness of the divine presence, and the many forms of monastic prayer, communal and private, all center on the biblical word."27 Benedictines put high value on active involvement of the community in prayer, on creating a reflective environment, on making spaces for silence and solitude. In the fortuitous phrase of monastic historian Jean Leclercq, OSB, the community fosters a "love of learning and a desire for God."28 In the reflective, stable environment of the heart an individual's inner work can be accomplished.
A second dimension of conversatio evokes the process of conversion that calls monastics to deep personal and communal change. It is stability of the heart that nurtures such change by preventing us from avoiding difficult questions, strengthening us to walk through suffering and uncertainty, and drawing us toward a new integration. Here we confront our immaturity and lack of courage. Here we encounter our own weakness, insensitivity, and lack of vision. Here we discover hidden strengths and abilities which have been dormant, or that we have not trusted.29 Through inner work we integrate our inner and outer worlds; align our thoughts, words, and actions with our core values (that for Benedict were based on the Gospel); nurture the ongoing dialogue between the community of which we are a part and the larger world. At times we are nudged and at other times we are torn from the world of certainty. We can then begin to think in new ways and we may come to a new self-understanding. It is then possible to imagine a new future.30
The outcome of this conversion process for the monastic is humility. Monastic scholar Mary Margaret Funk, OSB, characterizes humility as "the virtue that places the [monastic] in truthful identity with [oneself], community and the world."31 Humility brings us face to face with our truest, deepest selves and often requires us to leave behind the baggage of cultural expectation as false. Shawn Carruth, OSB, argues that for women this understanding of humility
Application. Through listening and a gradual change of heart, deep personal change can be accomplished, making change in community possible. Genuine community is necessary for change to occur and is intensified and strengthened by positive change in individuals. Deep inner change strengthens our commitment to live the values of Christ. A committed Christian community will bring the Gospel more fully alive in its members. As Strange and Hagan have noted, communities who take this need seriously will "make provisions for the interior life, time to think and reflect, to wonder and imagine."33 To enable the process of listening and change of heart, students on our two campuses have the opportunity to learn how to do centering prayer. We intentionally build a reflective process into the spring break service trips, the service learning dimension of the curriculum, and into the Senior Seminar program. A number of courses include carefully designed reflective exercises based on readings and student experiences.
Humility often has the connotation of passivity, meekness, and self-effacement. However, it really means coming to a true sense of oneself and one's gifts. For each one of us, humility includes stretching toward one's fullest self, being willing to take risks, including the risk of failure.
Questions for reflection:
1. How have you experienced the need for changing the way you act because your actions didn't reflect your values? Explain.
2. How might we better manage the need for ongoing reflection and change in our curriculum? in our pedagogical strategies and goals? in our processes for employee evaluation? in the way in which we set and live out institutional goals and priorities?
3. Robert Quinn uses the phrase "integrity gap" to talk about the distance between the values we profess and the values we actually live.34 When do you experience the largest gap between our stated values and our practice in these Benedictine institutions?
In this essay we relate the values expressed in the Rule of Benedict to the context of Catholic, Benedictine higher education. We have reflected on our own experience at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University so that we might use the essay for dialogue among faculty, staff, and students. We are confident that such reflection will help us deepen our commitment to these values in our mission as Catholic, Benedictine liberal arts residential colleges.
Please direct comments or questions to Abbot John Klassen OSB <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Continued from Part I
18CSB and SJU are in the process of finalizing a "Statement on Diversity" which says in part, "We commit ourselves to cultivate an inclusiveness and a respect that neither denies or exaggerates differences. Recognizing our Catholic and liberal arts tradition of respect for human dignity, [we] affirm our mission to teach and foster respect for diversity, to embrace the marginalized and break down the prerogatives that would exclude those who are different or disadvantaged."
19Haughton, Rosemary. Images for Change: The Transformation of Society (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), 145.
20Panikkar, Raimundo. Blessed Simplicity: The Monk as Universal Archetype (New York: Seabury Press, 1982), 30.
21Kardong, Terrence G., OSB. "Ecological Resources in the Benedictine Rule," in Embracing Earth (New York: Orbis, 1994). 163-173.
22Butkus, Russell A. "Sustainability and the Benedictine Way: An Eco-Theological Analysis," unpublished paper presented at the "Benedictine Perspectives on the Environment" Conference at Atchison, KS, on October 4, 1997.
23Nash, James. Loving Nature (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 206.
24Byron, William J. "Ten Building Blocks of Catholic Social Teaching," America, (October 31,1998), 9-12. Byron argues that Catholic social teaching is an element of the practice of the Catholic faith The essay can be a good catalyst for discussion.
26Olsen, W. Scott and Scott Cairns, eds. The Sacred Place: Witnessing the Holy in the Physical World (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1996. For a comprehensive review of current reflection on the relationship between Christianity and ecology see Dieter T. Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether, eds. Christianity and Ecology: Seeking the Well-Being of Earth and Humans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).
27Stewart, Columba, OSB. Prayer and Community, 31.
28Leclercq, Jean, OSB. The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, 187-308.
29Crysdale, Cynthia S.W. Embracing Travail: Retrieving the Cross Today. New York: Continuum, 1999, especially chapter four, "Gaining a Voice: The Discovery of Discovery," 69-95.
31Funk, Mary Margaret, OSB. "What is the Work of the Monastery? A Case for Silence, Humility, and Obedience." Proceedings of The American Benedictine Academy Convention. Ed. Renée Branigan. August 1992, 100.
33Strange, Carney and Harry Hagan, OSB. "Benedictine Values and Building Campus Community," Cresset Trinity, 1998, 7.
| Fr. John Klassen OSB <email@example.com>