To be read: March 4, July 4, November 4
The Abbot must show all care and concern towards offending brothers because “it is not the healthy that need a physician, but the sick”(Mt 9:12). 2Therefore, like a wise physician he ought to use every opportunity to send senpectae, that is, discreet elderly brothers, 3who may support the wavering brother in secret, and encourage him to make humble satisfaction and console him “lest he be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Cor 2:7). 4Rather, as the Apostle also says, “confirm your charity towards him”(2 Cor 2:8); and let prayer be said for him by all. 5The Abbot must make the utmost effort, and strive with all wisdom and zeal, in order that none of the flock entrusted to him perish. 6For the Abbot must know that he has taken upon himself the care of infirm souls, not a tyranny over the healthy. 7And let him fear the threat of the Prophet in which the Lord said: “What you saw to be fat, you took to yourselves, and what was diseased you threw away”(Ezek 34:3-4). 8He is to follow the loving example of the Good Shepherd, who, leaving the ninety-nine sheep on the mountains, went to seek the one that had gone astray, 9on whose weakness He had such pity, that He was pleased to lay it on His sacred shoulders and carry it back to the fold(cf Lk 15:5).
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews talks about the loving Father’s discipline (ch. 12), and that is the model for all Church discipline. “The Abbot must show all care and concern towards offending brothers…” All discipline is to be administered in love, with the goal of restoration of the lost and their salvation. But how do we do this?
Benedict uses the image of a healing balm, a senpectae*, being applied to the wounded one. That balm is, according to Benedict, “discreet elderly brothers, who may support the wavering brother.” The monk under discipline is, as it were, a captive of the evil one, and thus separated from the Body. He needs both restoration and healing. The abbot bears the responsibility, as the father of the family, to see that this restoration can happen. And so he must use wisdom, delegating responsibility to “discreet elderly brothers”, when appropriate, for the healing process. These are men, who will not be harsh, and are to “encourage him to make humble satisfaction and console him…”.
And because any brokenness in the Body affects the whole Body, Benedict exhorts that “prayer be said for him by all”. We can hear in the words of this chapter the compassionate heart of Benedict for his flock, calling upon the abbot to “follow the loving example of the Good Shepherd” and “to seek the one that had gone astray”. The Lord’s second Great Commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself”. We may not live in the enclosed community, but any brokenness in the Body of the parish, the diocese, or the larger Church is a loss to the whole and to each one of us. Pray for those who must exercise discipline in the Body, that they, like Benedict instructs, may “show all care and concern towards offending brothers”. And may we all follow the example of the Good Shepherd in loving our neighbors as ourselves.
*The RB1980 footnote on this word (p. 222) says “This word, which appears nowhere else in Christian literature, is variously interpreted. Some suggest “mustard paste” (poultice)…Whatever may be the etymology, what is important is what St. Benedict understands the term to signify and that he has explained.”