April 29, August 29, December 29
Chapter 71: That the Brethren Be Obedient to One Another
Not only is the boon of obedience
to be shown by all to the Abbot,
but the brethren are also to obey one another,
knowing that by this road of obedience they are going to God.
Giving priority, therefore, to the commands of the Abbot
and of the Superior appointed by him
(to which we allow no private orders to be preferred),
for the rest
let all the juniors obey their seniors
with all charity and solicitude.
But if anyone is found contentious,
let him be corrected.
And if any brother,
for however small a cause,
is corrected in any way by the Abbot or by any of his Superiors,
or if he faintly perceives
that the mind of any Superior is angered or moved against him,
let him at once, without delay,
prostrate himself on the ground at his feet
and lie there making satisfaction
until that emotion is quieted with a blessing.
But if anyone should disdain to do this,
let him undergo corporal punishment
or, if he is stubborn, let him be expelled from the monastery.
OK, now we're getting into radical. Any human group, from the
military to a kindergarten at recess expects one to obey the leader.
But each other? Give me a break! How many jobs would you have quit if
you had to obey all of your co-workers?
Well, giving a break is exactly what is intended here. The Kingdom of
God, which the Holy Rule seeks to guide us to, is ruled by love, not
hierarchy per se. It includes a hierarchy, yes, but that, too, is
founded on love. The Kingdom of God strives for peace and serenity.
The quickest way to soften an environment and let peace flourish is
to keep people more or less happy, and the quickest way to do that is
to give in to their legitimate wishes whenever possible.
Now we're getting to the heroic stuff. There are ulterior benefits to
obeying the boss, but another peer? What's the big deal there? The
big deal is love, the big deal is forgetfulness of self, the big deal
is the abdication of control issues.
Monastic struggle will not free one who is attached to control. It
will thwart the good of the struggle. Don't beat yourself up too
badly on this one if you live in the world, because many, many
monastics in cloisters fail it as well. It is one of Satan's
sneakiest tricks and he enjoys its effectiveness immensely. What
could be better than something the poor victims hardly notice at all,
that eats up their hard work like a ravenous cancer? Very, very handy.
I am tempted to say that anyone who is addicted to control- at any
stage of monastic life- ought to be set to cleaning bathrooms until
the feeling passes. Hey, that would be a great idea, but most
monasteries do not have that many toilets. Sad, but true. Rather than
worry about the pathetic individuals so addicted, who can make life
so unpleasant for those they live with, why not just focus on
changing ourselves? We can be part of the solution. We can go out of
our way to make life easier for each other. We can pray for those who
A horrible truth of monastic life is that if one waits for everyone
to get perfect (according, of course, to one's own standards!) the
result will be futile and frustrated stagnation. Community we may be,
but all on the same page we shall never be till heaven, and maybe not
It's a snap to be a pain. Any fool can pull that off with no effort at
all. Lots of them do, all the time! The harvest, however, is
isolation and loneliness, which result in bitterness that only fuels
the vicious cycle.
In contrast, it is a bit difficult at first to be easy, but it is
ALSO addictive when done right! One will soon be hunting for ways to
be easy, because every drop of water makes the ocean a tiny bit less
salty. The harvest, too, is far more precious: a growing warmth that
makes one ever more gentle, more open, more loving and glad to be so.
The harvest is joy and love, not the lie of possession and bitterness.
It is very unlikely that you will ever be able to cure a control
freak. Give them a lot of room, because (harsh saying here!) they are
truly a danger to your soul. Cultivate among your peers an attitude
of complete non-control, of nearly total indifference to detail,
rather like the old peace poster that said: "What if they gave a war
and no one came?".
Maybe, just maybe, the wizard might one day wake up to actually see
that Oz is not with her! That's about your only hope. People like
this can profit us by being crosses and we can grow from praying for
them, but getting sucked into their hopelessly false view of reality
is a fatal mistake.
Love and prayers,