Chapter Seventy One

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Mutual obedience in the monastery.

Obedience is of such value that it should be shown not only to the superior but all members of the community should be obedient to each other in the sure knowledge that this way of obedience is the one that will take them straight to God. Of course any commands from the abbot or abbess or those they have delegated must take precedence and cannot be over-ridden by unofficial orders, but when that has been said, all juniors should obey their seniors showing them love and concern. Anyone objecting to this should be corrected.

Any monk or nun who is corrected for anything by abbot or abbess or one of the seniors and perceives that the senior is upset by feelings of anger, even though they may be well control, then that junior should at once prostrate on the ground in contrition and not move until the senior gives a blessing which will heal the upset. Anyone who disdains to do so should receive corporal punishment  or in a case of real rebellion be expelled from the monastery. 

As we move rapidly toward the end of the seventy three chapters of the Rule, Benedict begins to detail how the spirit of the Rule should impact the life of the community. For the Holy Father, it has never just been about setting a list of permitted actions and those that are not acceptable and expecting people to follow them blindly. He has shown throughout that the Rule is flexible, it is adaptable depending on the context of the community, their location and who is amongst their members. He has also shown how much emphasis is placed on the wise discernment of the superior and that all voices, no matter how young in age or orders, should have the opportunity to be heard. The Rule is a trellis upon which the spiritual growth can be anchored. The purpose of it is to seep into the mind and the heart and create fertile ground for the growth of holiness. In this chapter we see how some of that has an outworking.

Every monk and nun should be ready to jump in to assist their brother or sister with a task. The Rule, in its mutual obedience, should make the Religious consider each others needs more closely and to be ready to do as asked, even by someone in the community who does not hold high office or a specific position. There should be a mutually supportive environment, reasons don’t need to be given, someone doesn’t need to be told twice – the order, command or request comes and the individual should be immediately willing. Unless, of course, they are under instruction from the superior or delegated official which must always take precedence, and be accepted as a perfectly good reason by the other.

This is a principle that we can easily apply in our interactions with one another. Do we develop a willingness to serve? When we serve we are emulating Christ Himself who took off his tunic, wrapped a towel around His waist and washed the feet of the Apostles. In doing so He demonstrated perfect Christian love, taking the lowest place and undertaking a task that was beneath the dignity of His Divine Self. It is a blessing to be able to serve, like the old adage says ‘It is better to give than to receive’, even though society has trained us to do the opposite – to take what we can get and gladly receive the offerings of others, with minimal effort on our part in return. The Christian in their community who readily answers any request (providing it is lawful and not immoral or dangerous) with a hearty yes, demonstrates in practical ways the love of God. People don’t often remember what you tell them, and hammering people with doctrinal arguments may not lead the to Jesus, but they will remember what you did for them and how that made them feel. It opens up the door for a soft evangelism of relationship – but more importantly – it simply shows them love, and God is love.

The second part of this chapter is probably one of the most touching demonstrations of humble love that anyone is likely to see. When someone rebukes another, if the one being rebuked notices that there is upset caused due to anger (even if it is controlled) they are to lay prostrate on the floor. Laying in this position is a very powerful witness. Prostrate is used in the liturgy at very solemn moments – on Good Friday the priests and sacred ministers lay prostrate in the sanctuary, when ordination occurs the deacon lays prostrate upon the floor before being ordained to the sacred priesthood, when acts of reparation are made for the fault of the church this has been used as a demonstration of humility. Laying prostrate places you in the very lowest possible position, even more lowly that being on ones knees. It places the individual in the mud, on the dirt and casts the eyes downward. Imagine being angry with someone, expressing it and seeing them respond in this way. It would demonstrate how seriously they understand the offence caused. Rather than standing and arguing their case or defending their position or being indifferent or indigent – they see the hurt and drop to the ground.

Our actions and words have consequences and even if the person opposite us is so controlled within their own self that it is not immediately obvious in an explosion of anger, we need to be aware that what we have done has an effect on them. The Rule prompts an individual to be more aware of the needs of others – built up through the shared life, through the silent and coded communication, the fraternal vows and the consistency alongside one another in prayer – in our Christian lives in the world it should give us pause for thought about our words and actions, and the effect they have on the people around us. Do we live a double life? Presenting one face to our brothers and sisters at church and being a different beast altogether at home or at work. Do we excuse our behaviour at work because of the culture of the office or the people we are around? We should be swimming against the prevailing tide, showing a different way of living and one way in which that can be done in a very obvious way is by a willing acceptance of our wrongdoing and an accountability of our actions.

Be swift to serve and quick to apologise and the Holy Father’s Rule will be active within your life.

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