To be read: March 2, July 2, November 2
A brother who is found guilty of a most serious fault shall be excluded from both the table and the oratory. 2No other brother may associate or speak with him. 3Let him work alone at the tasks assigned to him, persevering in penitential sorrow, mindful of the terrible sentence of the Apostle who said, that 4“such a man is delivered over for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord”(1 Cor 5:5). 5Let him take his food alone in such quantity and at such a time as the Abbot shall deem fit; 6and let him not be blessed by anyone passing by, nor should the food that is given him be blessed.
As has been noted in the previous two meditations, the goal of discipline is restoration. St. Benedict emphasizes here, though, that we cannot simply overlook “serious fault” and restore someone to the Body without true repentance and amendment of life. In order to maintain the unity of the Body “penitential sorrow” must be experienced and displayed by the one at fault for restoration to take place after such a breach in relationship.
In meditating on this chapter I am reminded that there are five steps in true penitence. They are:
1. Acknowledgment of sin—recognizing that what we have done is sinful and an offense against God.
2. Contrition—true sorrow that we have sinned and broken covenant with God.
3. Confession—confessing with our lips, openly before God, either privately or in the Sacrament of Reconciliation before a priest.
4. Repentance—turning around, turning back toward God and the community of faith.
5. Amendment of life—change our patterns of behavior so that we are not tempted to commit that same sin again.
Benedict is following this pattern in these chapters on discipline. In chapter 23, he comments that “if a brother is found stubborn” (23:1) he is to be admonished privately, so that he recognizes that his behavior is sinful. If he recognizes that sin, then he can show contrition, that is true sorrow for his sins. This is described in chapter 27. When a brother is truly sorrowful, then we can “encourage him to make humble satisfaction” (27:3), that is true confession of sin. Repentance is turning around and returning to God and the community. And so, when the one who has sinned against the Body repents, we must “‘confirm [our] charity towards him’ (2 Cor 2:8); and let prayer be said for him by all” (27:4). Then, in order not to fall into the trap of sin again, the brother must make a new start by amending his ways and following the path of righteousness in obedience to the Gospel and the Rule. As Benedict says in chapter 29, if a brother wants to be restored, let him “first promise full amendment” (29:1). Then he may return to the fold and be received prayerfully by the community.
This is a most healthy approach to living in relationship with others who are in Christ Jesus. Whether we reside in the monastery or the world, we do need to live together in harmony, and practice maintaining gracious hearts toward one another. When one has strayed, and repented, let us welcome him home with joy, just as the father (not the older brother) welcomed the prodigal (Luke 15:11-32). And when we have strayed, and have been confronted with that sin, let us seek to make “humble satisfaction” for our sin. The goal of all discipline is restoration to the Body, that the Body of Christ may be whole, that we may be one even as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:11).