Chapter 27: The Abbot’s Concern for the Excommunicated

1 The abbot must exercise the utmost care and concern for wayward brothers, because it is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick (Matt 9:12). 2 Therefore, he ought to use every skill of a wise physician and send in senpectae, that is, mature and wise brothers 3 who, under the cloak of secrecy, may support the wavering brother, urge him to be humble as a way of making satisfaction, and console him lest he be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Cor 2:7). 4 Rather, as the Apostle also says: Let love for him be reaffirmed (2 Cor 2:8), and let all pray for him. 5 It is the abbot’s responsibility to have great concern and to act with all speed, discernment and diligence in order not to lose any of the sheep entrusted to him. 6 He should realize that he has undertaken care of the sick, not tyranny over the healthy. 7 Let him also fear the threat of the Prophet in which God says: What you saw to be fat you claimed for yourselves, and what was weak you cast aside (Ezek 34:3-4). 8 He is to imitate the loving example of the Good Shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep in the mountains and went in search of the one sheep that had strayed, 9 So great was his compassion for its weakness that he mercifully placed it on his sacred shoulders and so carried it back to the flock (Luke 15:5).

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

In Chapters 23, 24, 25 and 26 of the Rule, Saint Benedict has described faults and excommunication and why this is needed. Now he shows his pastoral care for his monks.

The first point to note is that the abbot must show the utmost care and concern for wayward brothers. Wayward brothers, or delinquent brothers, are those who need the most help in the community. Saint Benedict cites the Gospel of Matthew to reaffirm the teaching of Christ: It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick. It is far too easy for an abbot or a monastic superior simply to try to get rid of the difficult and defective monks. Saint Benedict is not in favor of that. Rather, the abbot has to consider these wayward brothers as true brothers and do all in his power to help them.

When Saint Benedict states that the abbot must realize that he has undertaken the care of the sick and not tyranny over the healthy, we must stop and meditate on this statement. The monks are all unhealthy, even the abbot, in this sense. All of us are sinners and all of us have defects of character. What unites us is simply the desire to serve God as monks, not matter how poorly we may do it.

For sure the abbot has to work at establishing a common life, a common discipline and good order in the house. It is just that the abbot and the monks can never expect it to be perfect. If it is perfect, then it is truly not a Benedictine monastery but something else, because it would have excluded all of these types of monks who are mentioned so often in the Rule of Benedict.

The mark of an abbot has first to be compassion for each one of the brothers–he may not exclude anyone. The mark of leadership in a monastic community is this same compassion. Why? Because the abbot is to follow Jesus Christ. May we all follow Jesus Christ and form a community in which the deepest value is compassion–without for a minute forgetting observance and faithfulness to the Rule.