Related stories, pages 1, 13-28; editorial, page 4

On Monday, Sept. 24, it was my privilege to bless Benedictine Abbot Nathan Zodrow as he solemnly inaugurated his ministry of leadership at our 118-year-old monastic community on Mount Angel's hilltop. As the 10th abbot, he succeeds Abbot Joseph Wood who retired in June. Abbot Nathan was elected Friday, July 6, by his confreres.

Oregon continues to offer me some firsts. Last year, for the first time, I was privileged to ordain a bishop when Most Rev. Robert Vasa became the chief shepherd of the Diocese of Baker. Now Abbot Nathan gave me another new opportunity by inviting me to preside at his abbatial blessing.

Abbot Nathan became a member of the monastic community back in 1975. He has served both the abbey community and Mount Angel Seminary in a variety of capacities. Just this past year, he served as the seminary's chief administrator after the rector had resigned.

The blessing of an abbot is usually celebrated by the bishop of the diocese in which the monastery is situated. Mount Angel Abbey contributes solid support to the life and mission of our archdiocese. Hence the abbey deserves a bishop's special attention and care. The Ceremonial reminds a bishop that he is not to interfere in the internal governance of an abbey. Fear not! My plate is full.

St. Benedict provided a very detailed Rule for the members of his monastic communities. The monks at Mount Angel continue to live in the spirit of that ancient Rule. In that Rule, the abbot is advised not to disturb the monks by any arbitrary use of his power. He is reminded of the fact that he must give an account to God of his stewardship.

An abbot is cautioned about being particularly solicitous in his concern for troubled members of the community. St. Benedict says, 'Let the abbot know that what he is undertaking is the care of weak souls and not a tyranny over strong ones.'

The abbot is also reminded that his table should always be with the guests and the pilgrims. As you know, the Benedictine community takes very seriously the call to welcome every visitor as one would welcome Christ. I myself have marveled at the gracious hospitality I have received whenever I visit Mount Angel.

In the second chapter of the Rule, St. Benedict talks about the kind of person an abbot should be. Since the abbot holds the place of Christ in the monastery, his teachings should all be according to the mind of Christ and the church. An abbot speaks frequently to his monks, and the community takes his teachings very seriously. In fact, the abbot is reminded that on the day of judgment he will be examined in particular on two matters: his teaching and the obedience of the monks. When the community fails to live up to its ideals, the abbot has failed. But the Rule also consoles the abbot by reminding him that if he has tried everything he can when the community is restless or unruly, he will be acquitted on the day of judgment. St. Benedict reminds the abbot and the community that death itself, irresistible, will punish the disobedient members of the community.

The abbot is described as the representative of Christ in the monastery. There he acts as father, teacher and model of the Christian and monastic life. The word abbot is derived from Abba which means Father. He is called abbot not for any pretensions of his own, but out of honor and love for Jesus Christ.

Like all people in church leadership, he is to be more concerned about serving than ruling. He should lead with both moderation and firmness.

In that regard, I was intrigued by a story involving an old abbot from long ago. Some of the monks came to see him and said to him: 'Tell us, when we see brothers dozing during the sacred office, should we pinch them so they will stay awake?' The old abbot said to them, 'Actually, if I saw a brother sleeping, I would put his head on my knees and let him rest.' Moderation clearly comes first, and firmness moves in where moderation fails.

The blessing of Abbot Nathan began after the Gospel reading. After the abbot-elect had been presented, it was my privilege to address the people, the monks and Abbot Nathan about the office and duties of an abbot. Abbot Nathan was then questioned about his willingness to assume these awesome responsibilities. The Litany of Saints was sung. Then Abbot Nathan came before me and I offered the prayer of blessing.

An abbot, like a bishop, receives symbols of his office. He is presented with the Rule of his community and also a ring, a miter and pastoral staff. The ring reminds him of his commitment to God and the community. The miter is a sign that he is the high priest of that community. The pastoral staff invites him to give the monastic community a shepherd's care.

Abbot Nathan, on behalf of the people of the Archdiocese of Portland, I assure you of our prayers and support for your challenging ministry. You and the entire Benedictine community which the Lord has provided for our well-being and inspiration are a special blessing to all of us. You are a holy, wise and delightful monk. Your brothers on the hilltop are pleased with their choice. And so are we. God bless.