White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

Cleric and Abbot-Bishop Relationship:
Presence and Service

Peace be with you.

Thank you for considering the possibility of incardinating with the White Robed Monks of St. Benedict.

We offer you the following information for your appreciation and background of the relationship between a non-monastic cleric and the Bishop-Abbot of the White Robed Monks of St. Benedict. One might consider the following Pastoral Instruction with its intent and purpose being to delimit false expectations.


Preliminary Considerations

In most non-monastic jurisdictions, the Bishop serves as the head of the jurisdiction, the top rung of the ladder so to speak. In the Benedictine tradition, a Bishop-Abbot serves as Abbot in the center of the community-jurisdiction. The Abbot, in turns, functions as Bishop.

Given the nature of the Abbot-Bishop, the Abbot-Bishop does not serve as either a Spiritual Director, Confessor or much less a psychotherapist. Our understanding of Spiritual Direction is:
Personalized attention is the particular work of spiritual direction. It is the art and skill of Christian conversation and listening carried out in the context of a trusting relationship. That relationship may be a pastor, close friend, or trained spiritual director. It takes place in a confidential setting of care giving and prayer. It means giving our fullest attention to the meaning of the request, "Please, pray for me," and listening to our inner experience with an ear for discerning the gracious movement of the Holy Spirit to the end that we may reach the faithfulness, freedom and place of God's leading.

But spiritual directors don't direct. Direction is about the Holy Spirit as the director not the pastor, friend, or trained director. Direction is about God not us and requires a discipline of complete ego surrender on the part of the director. The human director's role is like a midwife to assist others in noticing and cooperating with their inner voice of God never to impose our inner voice of God. A director is primarily interested in our experience of God and how we can follow the Spirit's call. That process is a spiritual journey into the truth about ourselves, our relationships, our work and world.

Ref.: Spiritual Direction
Or explicated in other terms:
Spiritual direction is a formal covenant arrangement between a director and his/her directee for the purpose of enabling the directee to find the spiritual path to which God is calling him/her. The one being directed, who has sought out a director, engages in this effort as a means for him/her to grow spiritually as he/she is helped to discern God's will for him/herself. In someways, spiritual direction resembles psychological counseling, but it is not. It is spiritual counseling, but not. Spiritual direction is a walking with, a journeying together. It is one pilgrim helping another to find the path of righteousness. It is soul-walking, hand-in-hand. The one called "director," is not the director, but an instrument in the hands of The Director, the Holy Spirit. The human director, with some gift of discernment, is a fellow traveler, who has become sensitive to the traveling of other journeyers to lead, to prod, to entice, to "push," to yank from briars, to help up stumbled ones, to see God standing before them. The director is Balaam's donkey (Numbers 22: 21-35) who speaks because he/she has been given the gift to help others to see God or some adversity standing before the journeyer for him/herself.

The director is a mentor, but at the same time is being mentored by his/her own director. He/she is a soul-friend to whom one's very soul may be revealed without fear or consequence of judgment. The director is a loving, gentle, but probing and challenging sounding board, allowing one to hear oneself and that "still, small voice" of God calling one into God's eternal future.

Ref.: Spiritual Direction

The term psychotherapy, we understand to mean:
Psychotherapy is the treatment, by psychological means, of problems of an emotional nature in which a trained person deliberately establishes a professional relationship with the patient with the object of (1) removing, modifying, or retarding existing symptoms, (2) mediating disturbed patterns of behavior, and (3) promoting positive personality growth and development.
Ref.: Definition of Psychotherapy
In other terms:
Psychotherapy is a selected form of psychiatric treatment which employs specialized communication techniques practiced by a properly trained physician for the purpose of curing or reducing the psychiatric disability of the patient. In psychiatric practice, psychotherapy is usually carried out at intervals, for a definite time duration, most often an hour or a fraction thereof.
Ref.: Definition of Psychotherapy
And:
Psychotherapy is a treatment that tries to eliminate or control mental symptoms through talking. It is a relationship between a therapist and a client. Different types of therapy are used. Each is based on different principles, structure, and methods. The therapist may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, nurse, or other counselor.

There are several types of psychotherapy. Some focus on the present, others on the past. The therapist decides the type of therapy based on the nature of the problem. The person's personality, culture, and experience are also used to help choose the type of therapy. Sometimes, more than one type is used. Examples of types of therapy include:
  • psychodynamic therapy, to help people better understand themselves
  • interpersonal therapy, to improve the quality of the person's relationships
  • cognitive therapy, to help a person recognize and change his or her ways of thinking that are harmful or not useful
  • psychoanalysis, to examine a person's childhood and conscience to help figure out current problems
Each of these types of therapy may be done one-on-one or in a family, couple, or group setting.
Ref.: Definition of Psychotherapy
Given the history of Benedictine spirituality, it is commonly understood that the aim of monastic presence is to give one the information and/or space to come to terms with The Father, which more often than not means coming to terms with one's own human father and mother. Very often, how we relate with God, a boss, superior, supervisor is how we related with our parents. This is commonly known as transference. God does cannot engage in counter-transference, whereas a boss, superior, or supervisor, given the all-too human condition, might. This element of the human condition is the heart of expectation, and all expectations in the human domain are false in the end yet, only true as expectations. Often times Monks come to the monastery seeking parental nurturing that they found lacking in their family of origins. Specifically, they come seeking acceptance, attention, appreciation, acknowledgement, and understanding.

The Abbot-Bishop, practicing the first word and the essence of the Rule of St. Benedict, continually practices Listening. What the Abbot-Bishop listens to often times is not what the monk wants the Abbot to hear. The monk is often times listening not to the Abbot-Bishop but to one's own obsessive thinking. Please understand, these words are not to suggest that the Abbot-Bishop is always listening to the monk nor is such listening always 100% accurate. Hence, the practice of Benedictine
Humility. The Benedictine tradition has long recognized that we use various defense mechanisms such as repression, denial, projection, rationalization, intellectualization, and isolation to serve to preserve, protect, promulgate (one's) self-image and self-importance in the face of spiritual truth*.
*Ref.: Care of Mind/Care of Soul

Often times, the function of the Abbot is to simply let the monk grow-up and be responsible for his or her act of existence and hence be able to experience God as God is rather than holding onto to some fantasy as to what one might think, hope, or wish God to be (often times simply a fantasy of an idealized parent). As will be explained the function of Bishop is similar: to teach, to govern, and to sanctify — the what of the function. How this function takes place we will find explained below from the Chapter 15 of The Rule: the Relationship between Abbot and Monk.

To further appreciate Listening, the key and first word of our Rule, we refer you to
The Prologue of our Rule for further contemplation and appreciation. Often times when we, as noted above, interpret that another is not listening, it is we ourselves who are not listening. Often times we are caught in our own obsessive thinking from which we desire escape, a quiet mind, peace.

In an effort to balance the dynamic between non-monastic cleric and Abbot-Bishop, the Chancellor is not a monk. We attempt to balance our way of serving our clerics so they always have an ear, if not from one person, then the other. Please know we are always growing and learning in our relationship with each other so that we may all better serve The People, the reason, given reasons, for Being.

The Bishop from Scripture

New American Bible (St. Joseph Edition)
Titus 1:7-9
For a bishop as God's steward must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled, holding fast to the true message so that he will be able to exhort with sound doctrine and refute opponents.

1 Timothy 3: 2
Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity, for if a man does not know how to manage his own house, how can he take care of the church of God?

Instruction on The Bishop (Lumen Gentium)

.... Sent as he is by the Father to govern his family, a bishop should keep before his eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who came not to be waited upon but to serve (cf. Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45) and to lay down his life for his sheep (cf. Jn. 10:11). Taken from among men and oppressed by the weakness that surrounds him, he can be compassionate those who are ignorant and erring (cf. Heb. 5:1-2). He should not refuse to listen to his subjects whose welfare he promotes as of his very own children and whom he urges to collaborate readily with him. Destined to render an account for their souls to God (cf. Heb. 13:17), by prayer, preaching and all good works of charity he should be solicitous both for their welfare and for that too of those who do not belong to the unique flock, but whom he should regard as entrusted to him in the Lord. Since, like St Paul, he is in duty bound to everyone, he should be eager to preach the Gospel to all (cf. Rom. 1:14-15), and to spur his faithful on to apostolic and missionary activity. As to the faithful, they should be closely attached to the bishop as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, so that all things may conspire towards harmonious unity,[61] and bring forth abundant fruit unto the glory of God (cf. 2 Cor. 4:15).
Ref.: Lumen Gentium

The Office of Bishop

What are bishop's responsible for?

Bishops have three main responsibilities as adapted to an abbatial setting:
  1. To Teach. A bishop is the principal teacher in the diocese/community and has a responsibility to preach the Word of God to The People. The bishop must ensure that those delegated to teach in the bishop's place, namely priests, teachers, catechists and others, teach the truth.

  2. To Govern. This refers to meeting the needs of the local community (material, social, personal and spiritual) as well as ensuring that The Law of Compassion is observed. The bishop is ultimately responsible for training and supplying priests for parochial needs, for the finances of the diocese/community and for all church property as such may be. A bishop has the power to make church laws, be a judge in church matters and to enforce observance of these laws. These laws generally relate to worship, preaching, administration of the sacraments, safeguarding the faith and morals of the faithful and religious instruction.

  3. To Sanctify. A bishop is responsible for ensuring that the sacraments are administered and has the special authority to ordain priests and to confirm. It is usually the case, then, for a bishop to ordain the priests who are to serve in the diocese/community and to travel as need be and administer the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Ref.: Office of Bishop

The Relationship between Abbot and Monk

The abbot and monk acknowledge and accept as a simple statement of fact Christ's statement: Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to suffering, and those who go through it are many. But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to true life, and those who find it are few (Matt 7:13-14). The aim of this relationship is to realize one mind in Christ so that all may realize the kingdom of God, not necessarily as Christ said, but as it is. As the Lord said, The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is smaller than any other seed; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes the largest of shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky are able to make their nests in its shade (Mark 4:30-32). Where is the monk to find this kingdom? The kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17:21). The purpose of this relationship is attain a mature mind that can grasp this simple truth in all its nakedness.

Both the abbot and monk realize that all teachers have different teaching styles. Some may be like a high wall with no way of assent. Others may be open and friendly. Two extremes that include all the subtle variations of style that may be evident in between. All teachers, regardless of style, stimulate the student to discover what s/he is to do. The best instruction is often the most subtle. Thus, does the monk grow in awareness with the subtly of instruction, literal or figurative. In listening to the subtle instruction, both abbot and monk listen through the idiosyncrasies, personality, style and even intellect of each other. Both acknowledge and accept that sin is simply the capacity to make mistakes. Thus, the nature of the relationship is founded in forgiveness.

Ref.: Chapter 15. The Abbot and Monk Relationship

Homily: Consecration of a Bishop

Bishop then addresses the bishop-elect: You have been chosen by the Lord. Remember that you are chosen from among human beings and appointed to act for men and women in relation to God. The title of bishop is not one of honor but of function, and therefore a bishop should strive to serve rather than to rule. Such is the counsel of the Master: the greater should behave as if he were the least, and the leader as if he were the one who serves. Proclaim the message whether it is welcome or unwelcome; correct error with unfailing patience and teaching. Pray and offer sacrifice for the people committed to you care and so draw every kind of grace for them from the overflowing holiness of Christ.
Ref.: Consecration of Bishop

Summary

We are a community of monastic and non-monastic clerics spread far and wide. We serve much like our predecessors served in the Early Church where each community was its own and with little outside contact. Today, we are blessed with The Web and other mediums through which we may be in communication with one another. In any event, we serve pretty much independently and accept this reality as a fact of life. We are not highly centralized and leave on site decision making to the clerics. We do request that we be sent the names and addresses of the people a cleric has served sacramentally (Marriage and Baptism). Hence, our clerics evidenced a high level of personal responsibility for the integrity of their personal, spiritual, social, and clerical activities. (Periodically, we will seek an evaluation, available to cleric upon request, from The People regarding our individual service to The People to maintain our jurisdictional integrity within the domain of Presence and Service.) We are able to work alone, yet comfortable in so doing, knowing that there is a larger community (in the White Robed Monks of St. Benedict), albeit unseen, supporting our activities.

The Abbot-Bishop of the White Robed Monks of St. Benedict as pastor provides information, when needed, necessary so an individual can take responsibility for his or her own life. A pastor, in this sense, is both a mother and a father and hence someone who provides instruction (to build upon) to guide the other in a direction of personal responsibility and integrity. (Education, drawing out of the individual, is often times a function of Spiritual Direction or psychotherapy.) Although an ongoing ever present reality, it is not the Abbot-Bishop's function to fulfill a cleric's yet unmet needs for motherly or fatherly concern that were not satisfied in the individual's developmental years. When needed, the Abbot-Bishop may advise that the individual seek out a qualified Spiritual Director or counselor as may be the case to lift the current burden, more often than not only obsessive thinking. Such is the human condition that we each eventually surrender to, stop resisting, and move on.

Although present to clerics in their moment of need and/or trial, with compassionate guidance, the Abbot-Bishop leaves to each the personal resolution of these issues. As Bishop-Abbot, the primary aim and modus operandi is to meet the needs of The People. Please refer specifically to our
Mission Statement and our general predisposition. It is our common understanding that it is only through true service that we work our way through our own unmet developmental needs (acceptance, acknowledgement, appreciation, attention, and understanding). Through service, we come to realize that our needs are quite minimal and in fact, if we do not let them go, we let them get in our way of serving. We are about service.

If you have any further questions, insights, or comments, please feel free to address them to either the
Chancellor or Bishop-Abbot.

May we serve in a field of trust from wherein we are free from conflict, avoidance or cowardice so that we may share in open discussion. May we serve together in peace, respect, cooperation and forthrightness for the benefit of one and all.

May all beings be happy and at their ease.

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