The strongest kind of monks (LXXI)

CHAPTER LXXI. That the Brethren be obedient one to the other

29 Apr. 29 Aug. 29 Dec.

Not only is the excellence of obedience to be shewn by all to the Abbot, but the brethren must also obey one another, knowing that by this path of obedience they shall come unto God. The commands, then, of the Abbot or the Superiors appointed by him (to which we allow no private orders to be preferred) having the first place, let all the younger brethren obey their elders with all charity and vigilance. And should any one be found refractory, let him be corrected. But if a brother be rebuked by the Abbot, or any of his Superiors, for the slightest cause, or if he perceive that the mind of any Superior is even slightly angered or moved against him, however little, let him at once, without delay, cast himself on the ground at his feet, and there remain doing penance until that feeling be appeased, and he giveth him the blessing. If any one should disdain to do this, let him either be subjected to corporal chastisement, or, if he remain obdurate, let him be expelled from the Monastery.

There is no Benedictine life without the excellence of obedience. Saint Benedict calls it the oboedientiae bonum. We are accustomed to thinking of obedience as something given to superiors, but Saint Benedict, following in this Saint Basil and Saint Cassian calls his monks to obedience among equals, and he calls this a bonum , a boon, or a good thing. The Greek word is eulogía, meaning a blessing, or a benefit, or a bounty. For Saint Benedict, mutual obedience is a blessing. The one who obeys his equal obtains a blessing upon himself and upon the brother whom he obeys. Saint Benedict would have a monk say, “My brother, I willingly obey you not because you are set over me, but because obedience wins us both a blessing, and because it is good that I should obey you, who are not above me in rank, out of charity and because of the friendship that unites us in Christ.

In Chapter 6 of Conference XVI, Saint John Cassian lays down the rules for preserving friendship among the brethren. Three of these, the second, third, and fourth, are particularly relevant to Chapter 71 of the Holy Rule:

The second is for each man so to prune his own wishes that he may not imagine himself to be a wise and experienced person, and so prefer his own opinions to those of his neighbour. The third is for him to recognize that everything, even what he deems useful and necessary, must come after the blessing of love and peace. The fourth for him to realize that he should never be angry for any reason good or bad.

For Saint Benedict, it is a given that the brethren will obey the abbot and the elders whom the abbot has set over them: “The younger brethren obey their elders with all charity and vigilance.” This, however, is not the perfection of obedience for it may proceed from from fear or from the desire to win approval. The obedience given to the brother who holds no special function and who wields no authority in the community is a blessing, because it is motivated by charity and expresses the boon of friendship. “I obey you, my brother, not because I am bound to obey you, but because I want to obey you out of love.”

Mutual obedience out of love goes hand in hand with something else: with praying for one’s brother and making sacrifices for him out of love. This too is a great boon in our life. Frater qui adjuvatur a fratre quasi civitas firma. “A brother that is helped by his brother, is like a strong city” (Proverbs 18:19). The great work of reparation begins within our monastic family. We begin to repair for one another by praying and making sacrifices. This is the reparation that obtains consolation for the afflicted brother; deliverance for the brother in the throes of temptation; strength for the brother afflicted with infirmities; healing for the brother suffering from wounds; peace for the brother beset with fears and anxiety; and light for the brother in darkness.

We live with one another in the enclosure of the monastery. We see it when a brother has stumbled, or is downcast, or out of sorts, or grievously troubled. Shall we, like the priest and the levite on the road to Jericho (Luke 10:31–32) pass the brother by? Or shall we not, rather, like the Samaritan, bind up his wounds, pouring in the oil of prayer and the wine of sacrifices?

Our community must not become divided into the helpers and the helped, the strong and the weak, the able and the incapacitated. We are all of us in need of help; we are all of us weak; we are all of us incapacitated. By means of prayer and sacrifices, we become helpers one of another; strong for the other’s infirmity; and able where the other is incapacitated. One brother, noticing another’s weakness may be tempted to think himself strong, or virtuous, or capable. What then? Saint Paul says, “he who thinks he stands firmly should beware of a fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Immediately say an Ave Maria, asking the Mother of God to intercede, “for all have sinned, and do need the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Omnes enim peccaverunt, et egent gloria Dei. Saint John says:

And this is the confidence which we have towards him: That, whatsoever we shall ask according to his will, he heareth us. And we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask: we know that we have the petitions which we request of him. He that knoweth his brother to sin a sin which is not to death, let him ask, and life shall be given to him, who sinneth not to death. (1 John 5:14–16)

It is because we have so many opportunities to pray for one another and to repair for one another by making sacrifices that we are, as Saint Benedict says in Chapter 1, “the strongest kind of monks.” Monday, December 31st, will be the 404th anniversary of the birth of Mother Mectilde and the 6th anniversary of the approval by His Lordship, Dr Smith of what became latterly our present Declarations and Statutes. I ask that over the next three days, we intensify our prayer of adoration and reparation, asking Our Lord to do in us what each of us, by himself and of himself, is incapable of doing. Each of us needs to expose himself to the radiance of Our Lord’s Eucharistic Face in ordered to be purified and repaired. “But unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth, and shall leap like calves of the herd” (Malachias 4:2).

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