Chapter 25: Serious Faults

1 A brother guilty of a serious fault is to be excluded from both the table and the oratory. 2 No other brother should associate or converse with him at all. 3 He will work alone at the tasks assigned to him, living continually in sorrow and penance, pondering that fearful judgment of the Apostle: 4 Such a man is handed over for the destruction of his flesh that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord (1 Cor 5:5). 5 Let him take his food alone in an amount and at a time the abbot considers appropriate for him. 6 He should not be blessed by anyone passing by, nor should the food that is given him be blessed.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

For lighter faults, Saint Benedict excludes a brother from the common table. For a heavier fault, he excludes him both from the table and from the oratory. This would have been a powerful sign at certain points in monastic history. Today, it seems not effective. It might be! It is clear that the monk is not allowed to stay in his cell (in the time of Benedict in the common dormitory). Rather the monk has to work alone and live in sorrow and penance. No one may bless him nor may his food be blessed.

This would have really cut the monk off from his brothers. The brothers can see him but they cannot associate with him nor speak with him.

It is difficult to imagine a monk of our time who would accept all of these penances! If he is able to do so, it is a sure sign that he has a monastic vocation. The real challenge is for the community to continue to accept a brother who has made a serious mistake and to continue to treat him with true Christian charity even while insisting on the necessity of penance. Too often, it is not only the brother who fails, but the community then fails in its love and insistence and repentance. It is much easier to get rid of a difficult brother or a brother who has committed a serious fault.

For Saint Benedict, the Gospel is always the norm. A brother must be given the chance of true repentance. True repentance must be tested and it cannot be easy. It can never be just a matter of words but also needs to have a clear action of faith.

Let us pray for one another: that we may be faithful to our vocation and that we may use the disciplines of penance, excommunication, separation always for building up the brothers and the brotherhood!