To be read: April 28, August 29, December 29
Obedience is a blessing to be shown by all, not only to the Abbot, but also to one another, 2knowing that we shall go to God by this path of obedience. 3Granted that the command of the Abbot and of the Superiors who are appointed by him take precedence over private commands, 4in other circumstances let the younger brethren obey their elders with all charity and zeal. 5But if anyone is found to be obstinate, let him be punished. 6And if a brother is punished in any way by the Abbot or by any of his Superiors for even a slight reason 7or if he perceives that of any of his Superiors is angry or disturbed with him, 8let him without delay cast himself down on the ground at the other’s feet making satisfaction, until the agitation is quieted by a blessing. 9If anyone refuses to do this, either let him undergo corporal punishment, or, if he is obstinate, let him be expelled from the monastery.
As was noted in the meditation on chapter 68, the practice of obedience was dealt with in chapter 5 of the Rule. But once again, it appears that there were issues having to do with obedience which arose as the monasteries grew and multiplied, and these issues needed to be addressed. Specifically, Benedict is addressing the question of to whom are we called to be obedient. Benedict succinctly answers the question in verse one: “Obedience is a blessing to be shown by all, not only to the Abbot, but also to one another…” What does that look like? And what relevance does it have for those of us in the world?
According to both Holy Scripture and the Rule of St. Benedict (RB 2:20), we all one in Christ Jesus. Benedict says, “for ‘whether bond or free, we are all one in Christ’ (cf Gal 3:28; Eph 6:8), and we all bear an equal burden of servitude under one Lord, ‘for God shows no partiality among persons’” (Rom 2:11). But do we practice that directive? When we listen to each other do we truly believe that we are listening to God? Benedict touched on this in chapter 5, verse 6, when he said, “And again He says to the teachers: “He who hears you hears Me.” (Lk 10:16). Not only is Christ found in the Abbot, but He is found in each one of us.
If Christ is present in our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we need to practice a deep, attentive listening and expectancy when dealing with each other. We need to practice obedience to one another. This is not a blind obedience, an abstaining from wisdom and a discerning spirit. For St. John exhorts us to practice discernment, giving this warning: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). The type of obedience being advocated by Benedict is an avenue to God. He says, “we shall go to God by this path of obedience.” And as we listen attentively to one another, God is revealed more and more to us in our interaction.
Again, all of this requires a healthy dose of humility. It means accepting that we might not have the answer or the insight that a situation requires. But if in humility we can listen with an open heart, open mind, and open spirit to what another is saying to us, then it becomes possible to hear the voice of God through our brother or sister, and be obedient to His voice.