Those guilty of serious faults are to be excluded from both the table and the oratory. No one in the community should associate or converse with them at all. They will work alone at the tasks assigned to them, living continually in sorrow and penance, pondering that fearful judgement of the apostle: “Such a person is handed over for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved on the day of Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 5:5). Let them take their food alone in an amount and at a time the prioress or abbot considers appropriate. They should not be blessed by anyone passing by, nor should the food that is given them be blessed.
Each day a community comes together to share meals and share prayer. These are the occasions when the whole community is community together. To be excluded from both of these is very significant. On top of this, the member committing what the Community Leader has named a serious fault, lives each day without casual contact from anyone. Their community experience is now life without community; they live each day in a bubble of excommunication. In their conduct they have excluded themselves and the community now lives this with them; the expression of common-union has ceased.
The excommunication of this chapter puts in place an unavoidable non-association that says to the person concerned: ‘If you don’t want to live community, then this is what it is like’ – it is now reality. It is important to live in reality. Reality is life, and grace can only happen in life. We tend to avoid the tense present moment happenings of life through the use of such things as fantasy and disassociation. An imagined ‘reality’ is not reality, no matter how much it seems to be so. The reality we are actually in is still there no matter how much we may ignore or deny it.
This chapter shows us the relational nature of blessing. Blessing does not mean permission. Blessing as blessing is graceful; it is a co-creative opening to the gift of divine life, a softening of the heart into loving responsiveness. The extent to which this is not happening is a blessing not happening. A hardened heart nullifies blessing. To withdraw from community is to withdraw from its blessing. A blessing not given acknowledges this.
What is this flesh that St. Paul refers to in his letter to the Corinthians, as quoted here by Benedict? Paul uses this term to refer to a human dynamic that is powerfully self-indulgent. The works of this flesh are egotistical behaviours in that they have as their exclusive focus individual need and happiness. We all have needs and focusing on them is understandable, even at times undeniable. However, the Rule, like all good spirituality, says this focus cannot be an end in itself. To live only this focus is to self-medicate attention as a vice, salving wounds and trauma with pleasure and pride. What is lost here is the necessary other-focus that healing fosters and brings; the other-focus forgotten that is meaning and happiness. To be excommunicated in the way of this chapter is an attempt by the community to lovingly expose and break exclusive self-indulgence, for the sake of community life and our better selves; that the loving divine image we are in spirit might be lived into and expressed by all.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21, NRSV)