Wednesday, February 12, 2014

CHAPTER 28: The Stubbornly Disobedient

If a brother has often been corrected and has even been excommunicated for a fault and still does not amend, let a more severe correction be used, namely, corporal punishment.  But if even then he does not reform, or, puffed up with pride, should even dare to defend his actions, then let the abbot apply the most powerful remedy of all: his own prayer and that of the brethren.  Then the Lord who is all-powerful may work a miraculous cure in that brother.  But if he is not healed even in this way, the abbot should dismiss him from the community; for the Apostle says: "Put away the evil one from among you" (1 Cor 5:13); and again: "If the faithless one should depart, let him depart" (1 Cor 7:15).  Otherwise one diseased sheep may infect the whole flock.

     I have a priest friend (whom I won’t name here) who was in a department store parking lot when this big fellow in a tank top walked over and started pushing him around.  My friend was wearing a Roman collar, and I guess this other guy didn’t like priests.  Well, my friend had been a mixed martial arts competitor before he entered the seminary.  So after taking a couple of shoves, he just knocked the guy’s legs out from under him and dumped him on his back.  Then he held him down with his foot until the security guards showed up.  The story circulated pretty quickly, and when I next saw him, I asked him whether he thought perhaps he should have ‘turned the other cheek.’  “I did!” he said.  “But I’ve only got two cheeks.  Besides, with some guys you just need to speak their language.”
     I think Saint Benedict would have agreed.  For those monks who wouldn’t understand stern words or excommunication, the Rule recommends corporal punishment. Times have changed, though, and I don’t know of any monastery in the world where that still happens, but I can see the sense in it.  You have to make judgments when you come face-to-face with sin, and knowing how to react is key.  Do you ignore it?  Do you point it out?  Are you in a position to stop it?  In some cases, you are likely to do more harm by confronting the sinner than you would by just leaving him alone.  Still, some sins must be challenged.
      To be sure, there’s a serious issue of pride at play when you start judging your friends by whether or not they are “sinners.”  But on the other hand, you also have to be careful that you don’t use “Jesus ate with sinners” as a pretext for partying with the wrong crowd.  After all, Jesus did tell those same sinners, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) So there comes a point when you have to cut bait.  The trick is to know when that point has arrived.  You and I probably won’t have many opportunities to excommunicate anyone; and even if we did, I can hardly imagine a situation where that would be a good idea.  Instead, we may need to excommunicate ourselves.  This, however, is a last resort.  Every possible means should exhausted before we give up on someone.  And even then, we must never stop praying for them.
     Never.