March 24, July 24, November 23
Chapter 44: How the Excommunicated Are to Make Satisfaction
One who for serious faults is excommunicated
from oratory and table
shall make satisfaction as follows.
At the hour when the celebration of the Work of God is concluded
in the oratory,
let her lie prostrate before the door of the oratory,
saying nothing, but only lying prone with her face to the ground
at the feet of all as they come out of the oratory.
And let her continue to do this
until the Abbess judges that satisfaction has been made.
Then, when she has come at the Abbess's bidding,
let her cast herself first at the Abbess's feet
and then at the feet of all,
that they may pray for her.
And next, if the Abbess so orders,
let her be received into the choir,
to the place which the Abbess appoints,
but with the provision that she shall not presume
to intone Psalm or lesson or anything else in the oratory
without a further order from the Abbess.
Moreover, at every Hour,
when the Work of God is ended,
let her cast herself on the ground in the place where she stands.
And let her continue to satisfy in this way
until the Abbess again orders her finally to cease
from this satisfaction.
But those who for slight faults are excommunicated
only from table
shall make satisfaction in the oratory,
and continue in it till an order from the Abbess,
until she blesses them and says, "It is enough."
OK, you have to get beyond the details here. No one I have ever known
has laid prostrate at the door of the oratory, nor do I imagine that
has been done in living memory. Regardless, it is obviously a body
language means of begging pardon that, even if it may still have some
meaning, is no longer used in our world and society.
But there is one of the keys, one of the wisdom points of this idea:
a body language cue, agreed upon by all, that says: "I'm sorry." Some
people, good people in many ways, cannot, for some reason or other
say "I'm sorry." Just can't get the words out. I have no idea why,
but I have lived with several such. They have to do it another way,
usually by just going back to business as usual. Those of us who live
with them have to accept this limitation or end the relationship. My
own experience is in favoring of just accepting the limitation. You
miss out on a lot of good stuff if you don't.
But body language apologies to all or to one are useful and
important, even for those who can say they're sorry without trouble.
We kneel when we are late to choir, for a verse or so, then bow to
the superior and go to our place. We kneel when we make an audible
mistake in choir or reading at Mass. Some of us have rather excepted
an old-fashioned sign for "Excuse me." Ah, shades of "The Nun's
Story." (Face it, a LOT of us saw that movie!) Strike the breast
twice and you have said "excuse me, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it." all
in one fell swoop, and it is usually answered by a smile!
I know those types of things are not popular with many houses, but,
truth to tell, when I am visiting somewhere and make a goof in choir,
I feel a little cheated that there is no way for me to apologize to
everyone at once nonverbally. No fuss, no nonsense, I'm sorry, I'll
There is yet another bit of wisdom to be gleaned here that has
nothing to do with body language 1,500 years old. St. Benedict
establishes a system for the contrite one to actually make amends, to
ask for forgiveness and receive it. Sad to say, I have known, both in
my own monastic life and in the lives of others, people who would not
forgive or forget. "There is NOTHING you could do that would ever
make me forgive you!" This is a horrible thing, but truthfully, after
a certain point, it is no longer the fault of the one who originally
goofed, but of the monastic who refuses to forgive, who bears a
grudge. This is a much more serious issue than kneeling or not
kneeling in choir, more detrimental to community than stretching out
by the door for a week or so. This is cancerous.
Nobody is asking anyone to be so purblind stupid as to hold their
hands firmly on the same hot stove twice, but if Christians don't
forgive, our common life cannot go on, and common life is the very
root of Christianity. People confuse forgiveness with total memory
block. Total memory blocks are impossible for most people, maybe not
even very healthy: we received the gift of memory from God for a good
reason. I can assure you that there are people in my life who will
never make me cry the second time. Some added protection has been
afforded by me that precludes that.
But we still have to live with
such people. Maybe we will never be able to be as vulnerable with
them again, but we have to establish at LEAST civility, and hopefully
even more than that. And, who knows, maybe, in time (long time!) even
most of our original innocence and vulnerability will return. Maybe.
But those things do take time. To refuse outright to forgive is to
guarantee that the good things about reconciliation for both parties
will never happen at all. We are denied the "luxury" of such refusals
by both Gospel and Rule.
One more really important point here. Especially in the really major
offenses, it is quite likely that more monastics are involved, not
just the Abbot and the offender. Still, St. Benedict does not include
them in the decision to forgive. This is strikingly useful. The terms
of forgiveness are NOT in our hands, but in those of the Abbess.
There is someone who has the authority and right to say: "This is
finished, we've got to move on!" Wow! Now that's the sort of umpire
or referee we could use in many areas of life. It may not be
available at your place of work (unless you are the boss,) but it
surely can be a big help in any family when a parent assumes this
Love and prayers,
St. Mary's Monastery Petersham, MA