March 1, July 1, October 31
Chapter 24: What the Measure of Excommunication Should Be
The measure of excommunication or of chastisement
should correspond to the degree of fault,
which degree is estimated by the judgment of the Abbess.
If a sister is found guilty of lighter faults,
let her be excluded from the common table.
Now the program for one deprived of the company of the table
shall be as follows:
In the oratory she shall intone neither Psalm nor antiphon
nor shall she recite a lesson
until she has made satisfaction;
in the refectory she shall take her food alone
after the community meal,
so that if they eat at the sixth hour, for instance,
that sister shall eat at the ninth,
while if they eat at the ninth hour
she shall eat in the evening,
until by a suitable satisfaction she obtains pardon.
Ever run over something unintentionally with a lawnmower? Most of us
have, and if you personally have never done such a thing, it would be
far less upsetting to me if you never said so... LOL! Think about it.
Who, in their right mind, would deliberately take a mower that is
costly to repair or replace and aim for an obstacle in the grass?
Face it, while there could be malevolence here, it is very unlikely.
Headline: "Yet Another Wave of Lawnmower Vandalism Cuts Through
Suburbia: Authorities Alerted to Suspects By Mowers' Noisy Sound."
Real sneaky one there!
Yet the only case of this lighter excommunication of which I have
personal knowledge was just this dumb. In the mid-1960's, a junior
monk I knew ran over a water sprinkler while mowing in the Grotto at
Saint Leo. (I have been visiting St. Leo since 1957, the Grotto is
one of my favorite places and I STILL could not tell you where all
the water sprinklers are. It is a wooded and confusing area.) The guy
didn't mean to do it and, as far as I know, admitted his guilt,
turned himself in. Sigh... he got this light excommunication for a
while as punishment.
That was one of the problems with "excommunication" (which, by the
way, refers only to communal life, not to the Church or its
Sacraments.) It was often used for silly, innocent mistakes,
unintentional accidents. In cases like the one I noted, it often
stressed the material above the personal. Obviously, the greatest
treasure of the monastery was the monastic, not the water sprinkler!
It could, as such, lack mercy and fall far short of the Gospel,
something the Holy Rule, rightly interpreted, will never call us to
do. Also, since it can be quite irrational punishment, it is hardly
constructive of healthy family bonds!
As so often happens, we abandon one lunacy only to flee madly to its
opposite extreme. We went from too much to too little, sometimes
nothing at all. In the last 35 years or so, I have heard of only one
threat of excommunication and it did not have to be carried out,
thank heavens. Still, we have abandoned the good that was in the
practice: a clear, codified way to let someone know they were out of
line, that something was wrong, that they needed help or reform or
We replaced this (allegedly,) with talking to the individual, a sane
enough response, except that some superiors find this hard, almost
impossible to do well. That's not surprising, given the monastic
aversion to conflict and confrontation. But it is CONFLICT we should
avoid, not confrontation. We're called to a lot of the latter. It is
the stuff of which reform and conversion is often generated. The
Rule's system, for all its faults, gave a "language" and idiom to a
superior who may not have been able to "say" it any other way. It
eased the road for the timid.
Take that away, and you have no means of correction in some settings.
Both these extremes are founded on the same false assumption. Both
ascribe to offenders more control over their actions than may
actually be the case. Small wonder neither extreme works terribly
Just talking to someone is fine as an alternative, but one HAS to
actually do it. Some problems in people will neither identify nor
repair themselves. It is folly to think that they will, to presume
that all people have a level of clairvoyance or maturity that many,
in fact, do not. Not only that, but as the Rule itself points out,
some people cannot understand or "hear" a verbal correction. Things
have not changed as much in the intervening 15 centuries as we might
like to think they have. Some still can't hear. We still need a
humane middle point between nothing and something very extreme.
Parents take warning. Embrace either of these extremes and your
children will be talking about you many, many years later, to
therapists or in bars, or both! Ditto bosses and superiors. Your job
is the exact and complete opposite of ignoring major flaws, of
letting things like that go. If your head is in the sand on any
significant count, everyone in the family suffers including,
Love and prayers,
jeromeleo@... St. Mary's Monastery