Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Reading for March 7, July 7, November 6

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

March 7, July 7, November 6
Chapter 30: How Boys Are to Be Corrected

Every age and degree of understanding
should have its proper measure of discipline.
With regard to boys and adolescents, therefore,
or those who cannot understand the seriousness
of the penalty of excommunication,
whenever such as these are delinquent
let them be subjected to severe fasts
or brought to terms by harsh beatings,
that they may be cured.

Some Thoughts:

I'll be honest, "severe fasts" and "harsh beatings" put me right off. I don;t want to read such things in the RB, but as Rev Gwynn Freund of my parish is known to say frequently of parts of the Bible, they are there and so we must deal with them.

As you have no doubt gathered by now, Sr Joan is one of my guides on understanding the Rule but I feel she lets me down today. On the one hand, i guess I have to give her credit for not attempting to explain away or white wash this section of the Rule. OTOH, I am so unhappy with the in junctions to severe fasts and harsh beathings, i want someone to say something that will make it all right. But that isn't possible.

What then can we in the 21st century take from today's passage and apply to our own lives? I start with the first words of the chapter: every age and every degree of understanding should have its proper measure of discipline. I take this to mean, and I'd welcome your comments if you think I am off track here, is that Benedict allows for latitude in the understanding of discipline. Discipline there must be, but it seems to me implicit that he knows his view of it will not work for everyone.

As for discipline... what a word to bring up in today's world. "Discipline? Are you kidding? I'll do what feels good when it feels good!" might be the attitude of some and certainly was mine back in the day. Maybe I am turning in to an old fogey now that I am 57 yrs, 5 months and 3 days old :->, but I sure do wish I had had a better understanding of discipline in, say, my 20s. Granted Benedict refers to the discipline in and of the community but surely we are all members of a community. Maybe even a number of them. The family; workplace; parish; wider church structure, neighborhood, town, are all communities in which we play a smaller or large role.

There has to be order, doesn't there? Seems to me to take so much less effort to obey the law than otherwise. What hard work it is to rob a bank. I mention that as we have seen an increase in that here in San Diego. Seems like a week doesn't go by but someone robs a bank somewhere in the County. What a lot of hard work that is: planning; strategy; organization; communication all to burst in with a mask and gun, risk getting shot. Oh surely it is so much easier just to have a job?

Or how about the discipline it takes to develop a prayer life? Remembering to pray the Daily Office, not fretting during lectio and contemplation, etc. What are the consequences to us Christians when we don't? Certainly not every Christian will want to pray all the Offices, but I am daily astounded by the number of Christians I know who spend no time whatsoever in prayer and the Bible other than Sunday morning.

While I refuse to consider severe fasts and harsh beatings the answer, I do often wonder what role I might play to encourage others to spend some time every day alone with the Lord. Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

Insight for the Ages: A Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister


March 7 - July 7 - Nov. 6

Every age and level of understanding should receive appropriate treatment. Therefore, as often as the young, or those who cannot understand the seriousness of the penalty of excommunication, are guilty of misdeeds, they should be subjected to severe fasts or checked with sharp strokes so that they may be healed.

In the early centuries of monasticism, it was not uncommon for people to dedicate their children to religious life at a very early age or, much in the style of later boarding schools, to send them to an abbey for education where they lived very like the monastics themselves. The monastery, then, was a family made up of multiple generations. Benedict made provisions for every member of the community. Life in the Benedictine tradition was not a barracks or a prison or an exercise in deindividuation. On the contrary.

In the age of Benedict, however, the corporal punishment of children was a given. It was a given, in fact, in the homes and schools of our own time until, in the late twentieth century, social psychology detected the relationship between violence in society and violence against children. Only in our time has it finally become been questionable for a teacher to whip a student or for a parent to spank a child. The question is then, should this chapter now be discounted in the Rule? Children don't enter monastic communities anymore and children are not raised in them. The answer surely is no. The real lesson of the chapter is not that young people should be beaten. The continuing value of the chapter is that it reminds us quite graphically that no one approach is equally effective with everyone. No two people are exactly the same. In bringing people to spiritual adulthood we must use every tool we have: love, listening, counsel, confrontation, prayer that God may intervene where our own efforts are useless and, finally, if all else fails, amputation from the group.

The real point of this and all seven preceding chapters of the penal code of the Rule is that Benedictine punishment is always meant to heal, never to destroy; to cure, not to crush.

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