The Power of Forgiveness

October 17, 2009

rembrandt-return-of-the-prodigal-son

 

It seems to me that forgiveness is at the heart of the Benedictine Rule. I remember when I was a novice at Downside reading something which said that the backdrop to the Rule of St Benedict, most particularly the Prologue, is the Gospel Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Chapter 13 reminds us of this theme of forgiveness. It would fair to say it is not the most promising of chapters – lengthy descriptions about which psalm should be said when etc. (although I promise I do understand why they are there and it is beautiful to see which psalms Benedict would put in rather than say the Roman Office). Out of this chapter suddenly emerges a section on the Our Father, a prayer that the superior should recite so that all may hear it. The pray is so efficacious that if it is said and heard then the “thorns of scandal” are choked. Esther de Waal has says wonderful things to say about this Chapter 13, it is worth reading her commentary on this. Further forgiveness is a part of our covenantal relationship with God and with each other. There are many things that Benedict leaves for the local superior to decide, forgiveness is not one of them.

As Esther de Waal says, “if I am truly the prodigal, and if the way of Benedict is that of the return to a loving father from whom I have strayed, then I also know that that father awaits me with unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness. Forgiving myself means accepting this forgiveness, not being too proud to receive it. If I am not able to accept this gift of loving forgiveness held out to me how can I hope in turn to be able to forgive?”

Life Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St Benedict By Esther De Waal, p 76.

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