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Assignment of Impossible Tasks

Monday, August 26, 2024

Monastics may be assigned a burdensome task or something they cannot do. If so, they should, with complete gentleness and obedience, accept the order given them. Should they see, however, that the weight of the burden is altogether too much for their strength, then they should choose the appropriate moment and explain patiently to the prioress or abbot the reasons why they cannot perform the task. This they ought to do without pride, obstinacy or refusal. If after the explanation the abbot or prioress is still determined to hold to their original order, then the junior must recognize that this is best. Trusting in God's help, they must in love obey.

An old Jewish proverb teaches, "When you have no choice, don't be afraid." A modern saying argues, "There's no way out but through." The straight and simple truth is that there are some things in life that must be done, even when we don't want to do them, even when we believe we can't do them. Is the rule cruel on this point? Not if there is any truth in experience at all. The reality is that we are often incapable of assessing our own limits, our real talents, our true strength, our necessary ordeals. If parents and teachers and employers and counselors and prioresses somewhere hadn't insisted, we would never have gone to college or stayed at the party or tried the work or met the person or begun the project that, eventually, changed our lives and made us more than we ever knew ourselves to be. Benedict understood clearly that the function of leadership is to call us beyond ourselves, to stretch us to our limits, to turn the clay into breathless beauty. But, first, of course, we have to allow it to happen.