Chapter 68: Assignment of Impossible Tasks to a Brother

1 A brother may be assigned a burdensome task or something he cannot do. If so, he should, with complete gentleness and obedience, accept the order given him. 2 Should he see, however, that the weight of the burden is altogether too much for his strength, then he should choose the appropriate moment and explain patiently to his superior the reasons why he cannot perform the task. 3 This he ought to do without pride, obstinacy or refusal. 4 If after the explanation the superior is still determined to hold to his original order, then the junior must recognize that this is best for him. 5 Trusting in God’s help, he must in love obey.

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

As we come towards the end of the Rule of Saint Benedict, we find the author meditating on certain aspects of community life that are deeply important in maintaining a monastic community.

For our own community, always we strive to allow our life in community and our personal life to be formed by the Rule. Many monasteries today are no longer formed by the Rule but by various other choices such as apostolate, a particular way of praying, a preoccupation with a particular type of vocation, etc. Our community really was founded to live as close to the Rule as possible in our own day but without ever thinking that we need to live the Rule literally in every aspect.

Here in this Chapter we face a real situation: what does a monk do when his abbot or his superior asks him to do something that is really burdensome to him or truly impossible for him?
The first response will make a saint of the monk: accept the order with complete gentleness and obedience! That is so difficult for monks of our own day to accept, but it is at the heart of seeking God as a monk.

But even Saint Benedict recognizes that it may not always be the right response and so he tells the monk: if you cannot do what is asked of you, then speak with your superior. But the manner of speaking is extremely important. Speak without pride, without obstinacy and with refusal.

Any superior knows the difference between a monk who comes to him with humility and gentleness and with deep obedience and the monk who comes to him with obstinacy and refusal. The superior should never judge the monk, even when the monk comes with obstinacy and refusal. Rather, the superior must work with the monk so that both the superior and the monk seek God in all that happens and in every work.

The monk, of course, hopes that the superior will change his mind. Mostly likely the superior will change his mind! But if the superior does not change his mind, then the monk must obey! Again, how difficult! Yet this is what we must ask of ourselves and of each brother in the community: obedience and seeking God’s will. May the Holy Spirit strengthen us!