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Serious Faults

Tuesday, July 2, 2024
Chapter 25

Those guilty of a serious fault are to be excluded from both the table and the oratory. No one in the community should associate or converse with them at all. They will work alone at the tasks assigned to them, living continually in sorrow and penance, pondering that fearful judgment of the apostle: "Such a person is handed over for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved on the day of Jesus Christ (I Cor 5:5)." Let them take their food alone in an amount and at a time the prioress or abbot considers appropriate. They should not be blessed by anyone passing by, nor should the food that is given them be blessed.

"There is no failure except in no longer trying," it is said. Benedict has no intention of letting anyone sink to the point where the intolerable is unnoticed and unremarked and institutionalized. Each of us is capable of betraying the best in us. We cut corners in the office, we stop cleaning the house, we let the study and the reading and the praying go. We sit around in life letting the juice turn black in us. We let the family down. We let the business slide. We let our minds and souls go to straw. We fight the call to growth and goodness with everything in us. We let the world carry us instead of carrying our part of the world. And, at that point, Benedict's Rule calls for the group whose life we affect to say "Enough," to quit bearing us up on the litter of community, to quit rewarding our selfish and surly behavior with security and affirmation and a patina of holiness. Excommunication, for all practical purposes, says "You want to be a world unto yourself? Fine, be one."

The problem, of course, is that a human being needs help to be a human being. At our worst we seek the solace of another's hand. So, before expelling the rebellious, Benedict isolates them to give them time to decide if being out of the community is really what they want, really what they need, really what will bring them happiness. It is a time for making choices all over again.

It's not a bad idea to distance ourselves from what we say we do not want in order to discover whether the problem is actually in it or, perhaps, in us. Sabbaticals and long vacations and discernment retreats, even going away to college when we're young, all can help us see our parents and our family and our function in life in a completely different way. The point of the Rule is simply that we have to take intervals to explore consciously what we ourselves are holding back from the group that depends on us.