April 28, August 28, December 28
Chapter 70: That No One Venture to Punish at Random
Every occasion of presumption
shall be avoided in the monastery,
and we decree that no one be allowed
to excommunicate or to strike any of her sisters
unless the Abbess has given her the authority.
Those who offend in this matter
shall be rebuked in the presence of all,
that the rest may have fear.
But children up to 15 years of age
shall be carefully controlled and watched by all,
yet this too with all moderation and discretion.
All, therefore, who presume
without the Abbess’ instructions
to punish those above that age
or who lose their temper with them,
shall undergo the discipline of the Rule;
for it is written,
“Do not to another what you would not want done to yourself” (Tobias 4:16).
The first clause really strikes me. A synonym for “presumption” is “assumption”. I dunno about you folk, but making assumptions and being on the receiving end of them have caused me a great deal of difficulty. We live in a society, at least in the USA, that has the expression “I naturally assumed….” as an excuse for assuming all sorts of things about another. Dysfunction is a frequent result of making presumptions as are toxic relationships. I would have preferred St. Benedict to provide me with detailed instructions about how to stop making assumptions but, alas, he did not. FWIW, it seems the best I can do, which all too often feels like far too little, is to pray that I become aware of my own assumptions and instead of making them and applying them, instead ask for more information.
If any have any better suggestions, I would really really really love to hear them.
The next clause sounds a bit alarming to me. As does the bit further on about punishing those above 15. Let no one excommunicate or strike another in the monastery without the approval of the monastic boss. As I read that my first thought is that Benedict would only have said that because it was a problem. Personally, I would infinitely prefer a world where no one excommunicated any other and no one struck another in any matter at all. Give me some Franciscan non-violence, thank you very much.
The Abbess/Abbot as the main source of spiritual formation in the monastery. Both yesterday’s and today’s reading seem to me to depend upon the role of the Abbess/Abbott. It occurred to me that if I read ch 69 and 70 in terms of conversion of the heart, that they make more sense to me. Benedict clearly assigns a major role to the Abbess/Abbott to bring about this conversion of the heart.
We approach the end of another round of reading the RB. It’s as if Benedict is making a full circle. In the Prologue, he tells the would be Benedictine to listen to the Mother/Father of the convent. Here he says it again, albeit differently. When it comes down to it, Benedict teaches us that it is only the person and the Abbess/Abbott who are close enough to what is going on in a person’s heart to attempt to understand what the Holy Spirit is doing there. I guess that is why he has such an emphasis upon minding one’s own business.
Would that we could all learn how to do and honor each other in Christ, uphold and encourage what is good, right and honorable about each other a great deal more than we find fault.