I came across this story relating to Fr Benson, the founder of the Society of St John the Evangelist. SSJE, often known as the ‘Cowley Fathers’, after their Mother House in Oxford, was the first men’s religious community in the C of E after the Reformation.
As Fr Benson grew old his eye-sight started to fail. He had long since ceased to be Superior of SSJE. It was his practice to say Mass every day, and on Sunday night the brother who cared for him would go to the Chapel board and note the place and time of his private Masses for the week. Until the day came when, the Superior having decided that Fr Benson could no longer safely say Mass, there was no provision made against his name. His brother carer duly reported this, and Fr Benson said nothing. This happened again the following week, but on the third week Fr Benson did not ask again.
Now I have no doubt that Fr Benson grew greatly in grace and humility through his acceptance, but I asked myself what this did to the new Superior, who imposed this on him. Why did he not come to speak with the old man, and why did he provide no explanation? Did he feel that it was his responsibility to test the Father Founder – in which case could he be so sure of his own soul?
I suppose it would not happen in community life nowadays. Is this a good thing? As we approach Holy Week we surely ask ourselves about the nature of obedience, and how we may pattern ourselves on the Saviour. Is obedience always rational, and is it ever ‘blind’?