Ask a Sister About... Messing Up

Sister Edith Bogue (on the left) communicates a Sister's perspective. Photo credit to federationsaintbenedict.org

Sister Edith Bogue (on the left) communicates a Sister's perspective. Photo credit to federationsaintbenedict.org

By Sister Edith Bogue, O.S.B.
(Have a question? I'd love to answer! Send to ebogue@css.edu)

        A student from last year stopped by. "What do Benedictine Sisters do when they really mess up?" she said, "I've dug a pit!" Projects undone and behind-schedule, roommate hassles, demanding professors, and romance on the rocks.
        "Never lose hope of God's mercy," I replied, quoting St Benedict. Not a "Stop! Don't shoot!" mercy, but the quiet support of someone who listens and cares. Benedict tells us to look for God's helping hand from the people around us - especially in crisis. Compassion is mercy's other name.
        "It's hopeless," she said as she sat down. "How does compassion help with overdue projects I can't finish? How can I even begin?" I smiled: she began when she decided to ask for help.
        Benedict likes to take inventory, to make an honest appraisal: what do I have, what's missing? As a constant practice, it prevents big problems. When one arrives anyway, a long loving look at reality is the first step to changing it.
        Making that list of due dates was painful but quick. Reality was better than expected: only one truly disastrous course. "But it's Prof Hartberne. So strict! 'No late work'!" Her face sagged. "Benedict can't help with that."
        Wrong. He writes instructions for it. "If someone commits a fault... he must, of his own accord, admit his fault and make satisfaction." She looked up; I continued: "If it is made known through another, he should receive a more severe correction." Wide-eyed, she said, "So... I should email Prof Heartberne? Not wait to be called out?" We talked about what she might say.
        "Thank you!" she said, pulling papers together. "I feel so much better." My surprise showed on my face. "What? There's nothing else I can do now... is there?"
        Tender territory, I knew. "You still have to deal with whatever got you into the pit." Tears overflowed, and her inventory expanded: classes, distractions, jobs, family, procrastination. Too much to tackle together. "Benedict would say, 'Take it in steps.'" Now she was surprised. "He wrote twelve steps to learn humility. Gave monks two or three attempts on a task. Told leaders to try one approach, then a second and even a third until things improved."
        She thought a moment. "Did he spell it all out?" I couldn't decide which answer to give her:
        No. Benedict knew that any list of solutions would soon be outdated. His Rule has lasted 1500 years because it gives us principles, not prescriptions.
        Yes. When Benedict assigns a big task, he writes, "Let him be given helpers." For problems "hidden in the conscience," he directs them to seek out wise people who "know how to heal wounds... and not make them public." Everyone in the monastery has been told, "Never turn away when someone needs your love."
        We talked about how to find help at CSS - from professors and advisers, but also at the Writing Center, Library, CAS, SCHAWB. "Who knew that St Benedict could help a messed up college student!" she said. "If only she knew," I thought, "Benedict had to drop out of school to get this wisdom."