March 6, July 6, November 5
Chapter 29: Whether Brethren Who Leave the Monastery Should Be
If a brother
who through his own fault leaves the monastery
should wish to return,
let him first promise full reparation for his having gone away;
and then let him be received in the lowest place,
as a test of his humility.
And if he should leave again,
let him be taken back again,
and so a third time;
but he should understand that after this
all way of return is denied him.
There are variant readings of the first line of this chapter among
manuscripts. Some authorities accept the additional phrase "or is
expelled", though the RB1980 translation does not. As with so many
things this ancient, it is hard to tell who is right (and sometimes,
if that matters!) I checked in the library downstairs, but I can't
find our autographed first edition of the Holy Rule anywhere... LOL!
However, let's err on the side of mercy if we are to err at all.
Since most modern translations omit the phrase, let's take a look at
the other possibility: what if it really was what St. Benedict had in
If so, it reveal a mercy and love and tenderness beyond anything we
have ever seen in the Holy Rule. If, even after all the hassle that
can occur before one actually gets thrown out, one could STILL be
forgiven, and up to three times, that is verging on divine mercy to
say the least.
Still, it is a very consistent reading with the penal
code that precedes it. If the only reason for Benedictine punishment
is reform and conversion, then even the ultimate punishment of
expulsion ought to have a hook of possible conversion to it.
From this perspective, let us look at ourselves for a moment. How do
we "punish" people or banish them from our lives and hearts? I use
quotes around "punish" to stress the lunacy that very often
such "punishments" harm no one but ourselves. We decide, once and for
all that this or that person has had it. End of story. Well, if one
reads the Holy Rule carefully, there MAY be an "end of story" point
for Benedictines, but it does not come as often or as early or as
readily as some of us might think!
Face it, a lot of us think of punishment as about US, not the
offender. It is OUR "justice" that gets fed, that makes demands, that
says to hell with the problem person. Whoa! If God's ideas are
anything like that (and we daily ask Him to use our standards of
mercy in the Our Father,) we are in deep, deep trouble. Our
punishments must have an eye to reform, not revenge, to conversion,
not conclusion. Permanent rifts, as even the Rule allows, may
sometimes occur, but then our attitude should be sadness, not joy.
Love and prayers,