To be read: March 6, July 6, November 6
If a brother, who through his own evil will, leaves the monastery, but later desires to return, let him first promise full amendment for the fault of leaving; 2and let him be received back, but in the last place as a test of his humility. 3If he should leave again, or even a third time, he should be allowed to return under the same conditions. But after this, he must understand that every prospect of return will be denied him.
A number of years ago, I had a parishioner who left the parish because she did not want to seek reconciliation with someone who had offended her. Later, she wanted to come back, but still refused to meet with the offender. I tried to gently explain that, as Benedict says in verse 1 above, that she needed to “first promise full amendment for the fault of leaving.” Sadly, she said that she had done nothing wrong, that the offender was the one who needed amendment. The offender did need amendment, but it was not her place to correct him, and it was impossible to facilitate such amendment without her cooperation. It all seems so complicated when we don’t follow the ways of Christ. Would that we prefer His will to our own.
As has been noted before, there are those, like the one in the example above, who excommunicate themselves. But readmission to the Body is not a process that the departed one can control—the one at fault does not set the agenda for reconciliation. There needs to be a recognition that the departure was not in accordance with the will of Christ, and readmission requires a humble admission of our sinful self-will, and submission to godly authority in the Body. Benedict encourages restoration. He says, “let him be received back, but in the last place as a test of his humility”. And this can be done “even a third time…, under the same conditions”. But this type of unhealthy behavior must be halted. And so, after three attempts at restoration and reconciliation “he must understand that every prospect of return will be denied him”. The revolving door of separation must be stopped.
Unity of the Body of Christ is essential for the health of the Body. And Christ Himself is the one who facilitates that unity. We must be One in Him. His ways are perfect—not necessarily easy, but perfect. They are not always easy because our will gets in the way. When I am offended, in my self-will I want the offender to know it and suffer for the offense. But as St. Paul says in his first letter to Corinth, “Why not rather suffer wrong?” (6:7). The practice of humility opens the door to healing. And that Christ-centered healing facilitates unity in the Body.