Holy Ruile for Mar. 4
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).
Here it is. The good part to all this penal code, the loving Father!
If you remember the Prologue, the kindness and enthusiastic, loving
zeal that St. Benedict showed there, you will find the more difficult
things he has to write easier to read: because you will see them
always through the lens of his loving concern, his gentle compassion.
In this chapter, that compassion has full rein! This will have a lot
to say to parents and others in authority, too.
Notice at once the difference between Benedictine punishment and the
penal system of the world- in Benedict's day and our own. The secular
view of punishment gives little more than idle lip-service to
rehabilitation or genuine conversion. It is pretty much reducible to
punishment for its own sake, a fact that should leave us far less
surprised at its ineffectiveness. It fails because it does not love
the offender and offenders are quick to grasp this fact.
Benedictine punishment has no reason OTHER than conversion and love,
and this chapter makes that perfectly clear. It is a collective human
striving to better image the perfect will of God, Who "desires not
the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live." Its
entire rationale is love for and improvement of the erring monastic.
I find it interesting that St. Benedict does not stress in these
preceding chapters the harm done to a community in dealing with
offenses. Obviously, it sometimes happens that all are harmed, or at
least shaken by one's actions. It would have been easy enough to
include this as a rationale for punishment, even as a secondary one,
but he does not. It leaves us with a pure view of loving concern for
the guilty one.
Look at the senpectae- the old, wise ones St. Benedict would send, as
it were "secretly" to console the afflicted one. They are a cherished
monastic tradition, because they point clearly to the kindness
involved in the whole process. In a sense, St. Benedict is telling
the Abbess to play an acceptable form of "good-cop-bad-cop" to help
the guilty one to conversion.
Parenting styles that miss this Benedictine balance and ideal are
likely to produce angry, maladjusted kids. We have all seen examples
of this, both in hindsight and in the noise of public places. I have
been on trains with mothers who so annoyed their children with their
yelling that *I* wanted to scream back at those mothers, small wonder
the children did. Parental love is the only rationale for correction.
If one adds to that list, one is risking one's child and one's whole
vocation. There are too many traps in power of any sort, traps to
serve oneself and not the ones governed. We confuse the stewardship
of authority with the selfishness of mere power. St. Benedict urges
us to never do that, because he knows it will fail.
Love and prayers,