March 25, July 25, November 24
Chapter 45: On Those Who Make Mistakes in the Oratory
When anyone has made a mistake
while reciting a Psalm, a responsory,
an antiphon or a lesson,
if he does not humble himself there before all
by making a satisfaction,
let him undergo a greater punishment
because he would not correct by humility
what he did wrong through carelessness.
But boys for such faults shall be whipped.
Here we go again – back to the whipping of boys, which troubles so many of us. I think we’ve gone through quite a few of the grounds for this heavy punishment and expressed our opinions and tried to accommodate the discipline of the past age with what we consider acceptable today, so I won’t comment further on that last line!
I’m more intrigued by the lines ‘if he does not humble himself there before all… because he would not correct by humility what he did wrong through carelessness’. Several things strike me.
Firstly, it’s quite important, it seems to me, that this applies to doing wrong through ‘carelessness’ – not through ignorance, deliberate will or evil intent, but through carelessness – not paying attention. As the Psalm is part of the Work of God, all the brother’s or sister’s focus should be on what they are saying, what they are contributing, because it is being said for the glory of God, a ministry to the Lord and as a symbol of unity in their common purpose as monks/nuns living in community. Losing concentration by falling into one’s own thoughts or allowing oneself to be distracted is therefore not permitted to pass unchecked.
Secondly, the humbling of oneself is to take place ‘there before all’ – i.e. at that moment – not to be left till later and forgotten. This follows on from what was said yesterday about the relief that comes with acknowledging fault. It’s true that the longer one takes to acknowledge a fault or ask for forgiveness, the harder it becomes to do so. If we can humbly show on the spot that we acknowledge the wrong and that we are sorry for it, the thing can be dealt with and forgotten all the more quickly and smoothly. Unacknowledged fault grows like Jack’s beanstalk into a monster that can change the pattern of our own growth, and become like a weed in the community vegetable patch.
Thirdly, the RB has specific forms of ‘humbling’ or ‘giving satisfaction’ for particular offences. This must actually be very freeing to the one who has given offence. You don’t have to rack your brains wondering how to make recompense, wondering what to do to be accepted back into the good books of the community… It’s all prescribed. **This** is what you do, and when it’s been done, you are released from your fault, your guilt and your estrangement.
Fourthly, there’s tremendous equity in all of this. The Rule applies to **anyone** who has made a mistake – not just the novices – everyone is treated in exactly the same way. There can be no cry of ‘It’s not fair!’ which is so often the death knell of harmony in families, institutions and society at large. Grudges can’t be harboured; resentment can’t build up. There is tremendous wisdom in this, and one can sense that Benedict considered everything he wrote in the Rule in a spirit of love, justice and peace. Those Spirit-filled virtues are timeless and apply with full force today just as they did when written.