Chapter 71: Mutual Obedience

1 Obedience is a blessing to be shown by all, not only to the abbot but also to one another as brothers, 2 since we know that it is by this way of obedience that we go to God. 3 Therefore, although orders of the abbot or of the priors appointed by him take precedence, and no unofficial order may supersede them, 4 in every other instance younger monks should obey their seniors with all love and concern. 5 Anyone found objecting to this should be reproved. 6 If a monk is reproved in any way by his abbot or by one of his seniors, even for some very small matter, 7 or if he gets the impression that one of his seniors is angry or disturbed with him, however slightly, 8 he must, then and there without delay, cast himself on the ground at the other’s feet to make satisfaction, and lie there until the disturbance is calmed by a blessing. 9 Anyone who refuses to do this should be subjected to corporal punishment or, if he is stubborn, should be expelled from the monastery.

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

These final chapters of the Rule of Saint Benedict are wonderful and filled with love and wisdom. This chapter speaks of the obedience that we owe to one another. Obedience is valuable in our lives because we show one another what it means to serve and love one another. Even the abbot has to obey the brethren!

If it is a matter of “orders” or “being asked to do something,” then obviously all must obey the abbot or the prior or the deans or one’s immediate superior. Most of our day is not filled with such orders! Instead, we live in a normal life in which all of us follow the normal routine of the monastery. Thus a monk can easily ask his abbot to do something and the abbot has a chance to obey. Or monk may ask another monk to do something and the monk who is asked can obey.

All of us recognize the monks who are generous, who always accept extra burdens, who are willing to say “yes” when we ask for help. They bring a wonderful gift to the community. We ourselves need to become more and more like them.
This challenge to live a generous life and to deny ourselves is clearly the life of the Gospel, the life that our Lord Jesus invites us to live each day.

In this passage of the Rule, the translator has said that “the disturbance is calmed by a blessing.” In Latin, perhaps it is a bit stronger: “the disturbance is healed by a blessing.” May each of us become a healing presence in the monastic community, learning how to bless our brothers by our generosity.