The Synod on the Family is heading into the home stretch. Abbot Jeremias Schröder, president of the Congregation of Sant’Ottilia, is one of the Religious Superiors given voting delegate status at the synod. In an interview with Michael O’Loughlin of Crux, Abbot Schröder shared some insight into the Rule of Benedict and the challenges of a synod.
St. Benedict had a down to earth approach to community that acknowledged our human weakness. Monks are not an elite group of saints. Benedictines live diversity within community each day, acknowledging that the spiritual journey is unique for each monk.
“The rule of St. Benedict, in his wisdom, talks about encouraging the weak while not disheartening the strong,” he said. “In our tradition, it’s very clear that you take care of the needs of the individual, and at the same time, maintain the character of the community. Those two shouldn’t be played off against each other.”
He said it’s not true that “the moment you are lenient or merciful in the one instance, you weaken whole doctrine.”
“I think for a [member of a religious community], that it would be much easier to understand how these two do not harm each other,” he said.
During my years in leadership with the Marianist Lay Communities, I had the privilege of attending several Marianist General Chapters (Society of Mary and Daughters of Mary Immaculate. Both incorporate the Rule of Benedict into their Rules.) Chapters can be exhausting work, like synods. But, the Abbot believes that religious women and men have deep experience and wisdom gleaned from these gatherings.
“We have developed general chapters over centuries that are quite efficient in bringing positions together, fleshing out where the differences are, seeing what common ground there is, where we can move forward together,” he said, referring to the method of dialogue monasteries use to consider important questions about the life of the community.
One of the key differences between the synod and a monastery, however, is that monks pledge to live together for life, whereas a synod bishop will “go home afterward, and may not see his fellow synod fathers ever again,” he said.
“The fact that you know you’re bound together for life prevents you from going to the extremes. You don’t want to rock the boat, you’re aware you’re sitting in the same boat,” he said.
I experienced this in the three Chapters that I attended. Religious priests, brothers and sisters live in community unlike most diocesan priests and bishops. Community can truly be a “school for the Lord’s service” in the words of St. Benedict. It is one thing to have strong opinions, but living in community forces you to temper your opinions in seeking the common good.
As a Jesuit, Pope Francis knows the challenges of community. He also knows the importance of prayerful discernment. At the Santa Marta mass today, he preached on reading the signs of the times saying,
First of all, in order to understand the signs of the times we need silence: to be silent and observe. And afterwards we need to reflect within ourselves.
The first word in the Rule of Benedict is “Listen”. I hope that there was lots of prayerful listening both within and outside the synod halls.