Tuesday, January 14, 2014

CHAPTER 24: The Different Kinds of Excommunication

     The extent of an excommunication should be determined by the seriousness of the offense as well as the judgment of the abbot. For smaller offences, let the rebellious monk be forbidden from eating at the common table.  Moreover, he should not have a leadership role in community prayers, nor should he be allowed to do the readings at any of the liturgies; and he should eat by himself after everyone else has finished.  This he should do until he has made satisfaction and obtained the pardon of the abbot.

      Here’s a joke: A guy with a wooden eye goes to a disco and sees a beautiful woman standing at the bar.  She happens to have a peg leg.  He walks up and asks her to dance.  She says, “Oh, would I!”  He says, “I didn’t want to dance with you anyway, peg-leg!”
     There’s a moral to this joke: Anger has it’s uses, but before you act on your anger, make sure you understand why other people act the way they do.  More importantly still, be sure that you understand why you react the way you do.  Saint Benedict clearly believes that fairness and proportion are intrinsic to the good order of a community.  But I would add that they are also intrinsic to the good order of an individual.  When we’re angry or depressed, we need to be able to take a step back and ask ourselves whether our mood actually matches the world we live in.
     To put it in more psychological terms, we need to verify that the response matches the stimulus.  If someone cuts you off on the highway and you’re bent out of shape the rest of the day; if your brother uses your lacrosse stick, and you can’t stop thinking how rude that is; if a friend doesn’t invite you to a party, and you spend the rest of the weekend wondering what’s wrong…don’t just explain it away with, “He’s a jerk.”  You won’t learn anything from that.  Instead, try to sort through why your reaction is so extreme.
      Our friend with the wooden eye clearly has some deep insecurities, but everyone has their pet peeves and things that “set them off.”  When you figure out why these things bother you, then you will be able to set about restoring peace and balance to your life.  Here again I recommend finding a spiritual director.  He (or she) can act as a sort of referee between you and your moods and help you to figure out why you feel the way you do—and how to deal with it.
      Like the rebellious monk of Chapter 24, you may need to be by yourself for a while.  Maybe you need to make up in some practical way for the damage you’ve done.  Whichever the case, remember that the goal is to restore harmony.  An excessive penance, even if you give it to yourself—especially if you give it to yourself—will just throw the balance off in a different direction.