When a monk runs away

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CHAPTER XXIX. Whether the Brethren who Leave the Monastery Are to Be Received Again

6 Mar. 6 July. 5 Nov.
If any brother who through his own fault departeth or is cast out of the Monastery, be willing to return, let him first undertake to amend entirely the fault for which he went away; and then let him be received back into the lowest place, that thus his humility may be tried. Should he again depart, let him be taken back until the third time: knowing that after this all return will be denied to him.

That His Humility May Be Tried

It sometimes happens that monks "run away from home." It is the old story, so often recounted by the Desert Fathers, of the monk who misses his old haunts amidst the lights and glamour and action of The Big City, or of the monk who thinks that the solution to his melancholy and distaste for prayer (class symptoms of accedia) is elsewhere, anywhere, but in his monastery. More often than not, the monk who runs away from the monastery -- after coming to his senses in the world -- wants to run back to it. Saint Benedict is patient and wise. The monk, humbled and chastened by his rash behaviour and instability, is to be received back into the community, and this up to three times.

A Gentle Mercy

Outwardly, there is no killing of the fatted calf, no fine new clothes or shoes for his feet, nor sounds of high merriment; but there will be the gentle mercy of the Abbot manifested with a quiet, manly restraint, and there will be the charity of the brethren who recognize in their wayward brother the runaway in themselves, and are moved to compassion for him. The returning brother is welcomed into the lowest place in order to try his humility. Has he really learned something about himself and about God from this unfortunate escapade? Will it become for him an occasion of grace and of compunction?


After three episodes like this, however, Saint Benedict would have the Abbot help the runaway brother to understand that his comings and goings are not helpful to himself, nor are they good for the community. He will need to make a final choice and if that choice is for life in the world and separation from the monastery, the Abbot will ratify his choice; the necessary canonical procedure will be followed; and a new chapter will begin in the man's life. There will always men who love the idea of monastic life but who, for one reason or another, cannot adjust to living it day in and day out. Such men can go on to live holy and fruitful lives in the world but they must keep in mind that the nostalgia for certain aspects of monastic life does not constitute a vocation to it.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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