Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…
Right now I’m preparing some personal instructions to my feline sisters and brothers here in our cloister and it relates to this—“Mirror, mirror on the wall; who’s the fairest of them all.” I hear these words of the wicked queen in “Snow White” oft mewed in our cloister. I really don’t think admiring oneself in the mirror is appropriate for followers of The Rule of St. Benedict, be they human or animal. In Chapter 4 – The Tools for Good Works – Benedict says, “You must not be proud.” RB 4.34
Let me explain. A few months ago Prior John moved a very large, old mirror from the garage into our feline cloister. This looking glass has created
endless opportunities for the exercise of vainglory and pride. I’ve seen Brothers Ricky, Rudy, Target and Sister Charlotte in front of that mirror, staring at themselves, turning this way and that with looks of appreciation and, horrors, pride. “God forbid!” – Benedict’s favorite phrase for something that should never be done.
Br Randy Researches Monastic Sources
In order to back up my view with solid research on monastic practice I checked my favorite source, Why The Rule of St. Benedict is Not Just for Humans. In this excellent study Sr. Scholastica Muffin, OSB-F (that’s the Order of St. Benedict-Feline) includes pithy words about the dangers of pride and vainglory
written by John Cassian (360AD – 435AD). FYI, St. Benedict highly respected Cassian. In the last chapter of the Rule, Benedict lists Cassian’s Conferences and Institutes amongst the “tools for the cultivation of virtues.” (RB 73.5-6)
Cassian wrote that we “must not do anything at the behest of vanity.” Add even more scary – “Every soul that has been possessed by swelling pride is given up to evil spirits.” Not good ! But let me tell you, the evil spirits are just whizzing around our cloister, nabbing their easy targets!
Randy Takes Action
I meowed a report of these incidents to Abbess Jane, really concerned that the mirror was a temptation that must be removed from our area. Well, deaf ears ruled. Jane explained that first of all, she had seen me looking in the mirror. She showed me proof – a picture of me at the mirror which she insisted
on including in this article! (Hiss, hiss – it must be a phototshop fake!)
Then, with great superiority unbecoming for a superior and ignoring Benedict’s instructions against pride, she explained with condescension that we felines really don’t recognize ourselves in the mirror. We think the feline image we see is another cat! Excuse me! What does she take us for anyway?? Buffoons??
But just in case to make sure that she not “gloss over the sins of those who err” (RB 2.26), our Abbess then lectured us about the dangers of vainglory. A fan of Cassian, Amma proclaimed that, with God’s help, we pitiful feline sinners can “avoid the snares of this most wicked spirit.” But beware, she continued in dramatic voice, “When this [vice] has been thrown down it rises again to fight more violently, and when it is thought to be destroyed it recovers, all the more alive for having died.”
Amma and the Mirror
My ears twitched. It’s the pot calling the kettle black. The large mirror used to be in the garage, right? I have it from a reliable source that when Amma Jane would go into the garage she would look in the mirror to “check and see if everything looked alright.” Undoubtedly, this was to admire herself before she popped into her fancy car. Clearly un-Benedictine.
Such behavior ignores the caution against pride and arrogance (RB 4.69) and, thus, throws out the window the instructions that the superior must “keep the rule in every particular” (RB 64.20.) This is not a good example for the cloister. But, as Benedict says, we must still follow Jane’s instructions even when “her conduct—God forbid—be at odds with what she says.” RB 4.60
Randy’s Recommendation – Nix Looking in the Mirror
To counter this trend towards un-Benedictine behavior I gently purr a recommendation that Lent is an especially good time for all of us to notice any personal vainglory and pride in ourselves. As Benedict reminds us, we must keep careful watch over all that we do (4.48).
And so, whether it is or isn’t Lent I ask, do you look in the mirror to admire yourself?
Perhaps when we notice prideful actions we should take Benedict’s instructions to heart and “dash them against Christ and disclose them to our spiritual father” or mother or to a very good friend. (RB 4.50) I alerted Ricky, Rudy, Target and Charlotte that I am more than available to hear their confessions.
Trade Looking in the Mirror for Love
I hope this has brought something helpful to your attention. Remember that we can become free from pride little by little with God’s help and compassion.
One last thought. Maybe Ricky, Rudy, Target and Charlotte aren’t really confident of themselves. They may look in the mirror to feel better about who they are. I can help here. I can be kind and mew my appreciation of them in any way that I can. This takes the focus off me, too, so I won’t look in the
mirror as much. (Yes, yes. Amma was right about me and the mirror.) Maybe my care and concern for my feline sisters and brothers could help them turn away from the mirror to each other. Love goes a long way.
If it is Lent, make it a good one. If it isn’t Lent, also make it a good one anyway!
Knowing the importance of noting sources, dear Sr. Scholastica quotes 4th-5th century monk John Cassian’s “Institutes” published by The Newman Press, pp. 248 & 267. Jane borrowed ideas from pp. 259 & 243. I used Timothy Fry’s edition of the Rule, RB1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, published by The Liturgical Press.