Saturday, March 29, 2014

St. Benedict on Sharing Our Burdens

Spring seems to be an unusually busy time of year in many professions and vocations.  Farmers are preparing to plant in the fields.  Teachers are in the middle of the spring semester, administering tests and grading papers.  People who work in the financial sector are in the middle of tax season, as the April 15th deadline looms.  And, during Lent and Holy Week, clergy are overloaded with extra services and other responsibilities when compared to the rest of the year.  However, we shouldn't have to do it all alone.

1,500 years ago, St. Benedict recognized how dangerous it is to put too much of a burden on one person.  So, he wrote about how abbots of monasteries should share their burdens with people who can be trusted:

"The kind of people with whom the abbot can confidently share his burden should be chosen deans.  They should not be chosen for their rank, but for the merit of their lives and the wisdom of their teaching." (Rule of St. Benedict, 21:3-4).

In a commentary on this passage from the Rule, Terrence Kardong wrote:

"Even if the community is small and the workload is not heavy, it is not good for a religious superior to be alone. One of the occupational dangers of that position is isolation from the body of the group.  This can create a gap of understanding and even generate unwarranted suspicion on all sides.  Sharing the burden of office does not just mean delegation.  It also includes the opportunity for mutual support of a fairly intimate kind.  Benedict's deans are not mere functionaries.  They are people of real wisdom, capable of genuine spiritual leadership. This means that the Benedictine monastery is not a "one-man-show", where a guru is surrounded by disciples. Authority here is shared as broadly as possible, and spiritual leadership is constantly being fostered in many persons."  (From p. 54 of "Day By Day With Saint Benedict" by Terrence Kardong, O.S.B.).

The wisdom of St. Benedict does not just apply to the inner workings of monasteries, of course.  It applies to any religious community, parish, or congregation. Indeed, it also applies to organizations and businesses in the secular world - it is not good for leaders and professionals to do everything by themselves, alone and without help.

So, this Spring, don't carry your burdens all by yourself.  Allow others to share the workload with you.  Seek out those who seem to be bogged down with too much work, and offer to help.  As St. Paul wrote, we are called to "bear one another's burdens." (Galatians 6:2).

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