Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 24

To be read: March 1, July 1, November 1

The degree of excommunication or punishment ought to be in due proportion to the gravity of the offense, 2and it is up to the judgment of the Abbot to determine that.  3If, however, a brother is found guilty of a lesser fault, he must not be allowed to eat at the common table.  4The following shall be the practice respecting one who is excluded from the common table: in the oratory he will not intone a psalm or an antiphon nor read a lesson until he has made satisfaction; 5and he will take his meals alone, after the brothers have eaten.  6For instance, if the brothers eat their meal at the sixth hour, that brother will take his at the ninth, and if the brothers take theirs at the ninth, he will take his in the evening, 7until having made due satisfaction he obtains pardon. 

Chapters 23 through 30 are the disciplinary instructions of the Rule of St. Benedict, and as was noted yesterday, the goal of all discipline is restoration of relationship.  The most extreme measure of discipline, then, is removal from relationship, that is excommunication from the community.  Obviously, communion with one another at table and at prayer is the heart of communal living.  These two events in the daily lives of the monks are the places where soul nourishment takes place.  To be excluded from the table in the refectory and the Work of God in the oratory is to be cut off from the lifeblood of the home and family.

This insight offers a challenge to those of us in the world to maintain close ties with the Body of Christ.  It emphasizes the importance of regular worship attendance, substantive communication with each other (i.e. actually talking to each other, not tweeting or texting), recreating together, and praying for one another.  We are to encourage each other, and as St. Paul exhorts, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited.Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:15-18).  

Too often, as a priest, I have seen members of the Body get offended or discouraged and excommunicate themselves.  They quit coming to worship, they cut themselves off from communication with the other members of the parish, and they don’t tell anyone what is going on.  It is self-sabotaging behavior, and the devil loves it!  We need each other for support and accountability.  Reach out when you see someone struggling.  And when you yourself are hurting, it is not helpful or loving to try to deal with it alone.  Talk to your brothers or sisters in Christ.  Reach out to your priest.  Receive the love and healing Christ offers to you in the ministry of the Body.  When one part of the Body hurts, the whole Body suffers.  When one part of the Body is restored, the whole Body is built up.

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