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Those Who Refuse to Amend After Frequent Reproofs

Friday, July 5, 2024
Chapter 28

If anyone has been reproved frequently for any fault, or even been excommunicated, yet does not amend, let that member receive a sharper punishment: that is, let that monastic feel the strokes of the rod. But if even then they do not reform, or perhaps become proud and would actually defend their conduct, which God forbid, the prioress or abbot should follow the procedure of a wise physician. After applying compresses, the ointment of encouragement, the medicine of divine scripture, and finally the cauterizing iron of excommunication and strokes of the rod, if they then perceive that their earnest efforts are unavailing, let them apply an even better remedy: they and all the members should pray for them so that God, who can do all things, may bring about the health of the sick one. Yet if even this procedure does not heal them, then finally, the prioress or abbot must use the knife and amputate. For the apostle says: "Banish the evil one from your midst (1 Cor 5:13);" and again, "If the unbeliever departs, let that one depart (1 Cor 7:15)," lest one diseased sheep infect the whole flock."

The Tao Te Ching reads: "If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you aren't afraid of dying, there is nothing you can't achieve." Benedict's call to growth is a pressing and intense one, even shocking to the modern mind. Physical punishment has long been suspect in contemporary society. Beating people with the rod is considered neither good pedagogy nor good parenting now, and the notion of whipping full-grown adults is simply unthinkable. Times have changed; theories of behavior modification have changed; the very concept of adulthood has changed; this living of the Rule has changed. What has not changed, however, is the idea that human development demands that we grow through and grow beyond childish uncontrol to maturity and that we be willing to correct things in ourselves in order to do it, whatever the cost.

Benedict clearly believes that there are indeed things we must be willing to die to in life if we want to go beyond the fruitless patterns we're in right now. We aren't allowed to hang on to useless ideas or things or behaviors regardless of how good they might seem to us, regardless of their effect on others. We aren't allowed to live without dying to self. The Rule insists that people be called to growth. The entire community is in the process together and the process is not to be ignored, however painful the process may be.

The spiritual life in the Benedictine tradition is not a series of overnight stays where we do what we want without care for the impact of it on the lives of others, no matter how right we think we are. Human community is the universal obligation to live fully ourselves and to live well with others. So important is personal growth in community life for Benedict that when people refuse to grow in community virtues, to be a blessing to others as well as to be open to the blessings that are there for themselves, Benedict asks them to leave.

There can come a point, it seems, after every effort has been made to deal with a problem and every attempt has been made to correct a spiritual disease in life, when enough is enough and ought not to be tolerated any longer. The person may be a very good person but, the implication is, this just may not be the place for them. The shoe simply does not fit and the foot should not be wrenched to it.

The lesson is a universal one. There are a number of good things that it would not be good for us to do. People who become priests because their parents wanted a priest in the family are often unhappy priests. Children who stay on the farm when they should have gone to art school run the risk of twisting their lives into gnarled deadwood. And the farm with it. People with the courage to put us out of something may be the best spiritual guides we ever get.