March 4, July 4, November 3
Chapter 27: How Solicitous the Abbot Should Be for the Excommunicated
Let the Abbot be most solicitous
in his concern for delinquent brethren,
for "it is not the healthy but the sick who need a physician" (Matt
And therefore he ought to use every means
that a wise physician would use.
Let him send senpectae,
that is, brethren of mature years and wisdom,
who may as it were secretly console the wavering brother
and induce him to make humble satisfaction;
that he may not "be overwhelmed by excessive grief" (2 Cor. 2:7),
but that, as the Apostle says,
charity may be strengthened in him (2 Cor. 2:8).
And let everyone pray for him.
For the Abbot must have the utmost solicitude
and exercise all prudence and diligence
lest he lose any of the sheep entrusted to him.
Let him know
that what he has undertaken is the care of weak souls
and not a tyranny over strong ones;
and let him fear the Prophet's warning
through which God says,
"What you saw to be fat you took to yourselves,
and what was feeble you cast away" (Ezec. 34:3,4).
Let him rather imitate the loving example of the Good Shepherd
who left the ninety-nine sheep in the mountains
and went to look for the one sheep that had gone astray,
on whose weakness He had such compassion
that He deigned to place it on His own sacred shoulders
and thus carry it back to the flock (Luke 15:4-5).
This is the chapter that makes the entire penal code (as it is
usually termed,) of the Holy Rule clear. Drop this one and it DOES
become mean. The Abbot (or parent or teacher or boss or spouse,) is
actually called to exercise super concern for the fallen. Hence, it
is clear that the whole purpose of punishment in the Holy Rule is
only to heal, to reform. It is an action of great hope, not a cop out
of exclusion, not simply writing a person off because of the
How often do we "punish" another, or even ourselves, as a means of
write-off, of abdication of our responsibility to love? Both the
Gospel and St. Benedict teach us that is wrong, it is not a
Christian response and not at all the way we should "conveniently"
unload ourselves of a troubled human being in our lives.
All of us charged with the care of others must pay close attention to
this chapter. It is so easy to love the "perfect" child or the whiz
kid student. It is so easy to heap acceptance and confident
affirmation on the types of employees who least need it, while the
strugglers and the strays have their feelings of inferiority
confirmed. People of any age quite often stoop to the level of what
others expect of them. We must offer them the best chance we can to
do and be all that they can.
The world will offer all of this empty praise that is necessary to
the successful. It is the shallow way of the world to do so.
Christians and monastics, however, are called to be OTHER than the
world. There has to be something topsy-turvy in the way we love that
becomes puzzlingly apparent. We have to love the underdog, even when
the underdog is driving us slowly nuts. This doesn't mean we don't
love the holy and good ones, it means we never, never fail to love
the plodders. It means that we always remember that we are plodders
in many ways ourselves.
Love and prayers,