Saying Sorry to the Community

Saying sorry isn’t something that comes easily to most of us. True, there is the automatic English response to bumping against another person, or even an object, and apologizing; and the equally automatic response to someone brushing against us and our apologizing to them. There is also the standard official apology, when someone is found out after perhaps half a lifetime of deceit and apologizes ‘for any offence I may have given’. The image of extracting teeth comes to mind. No, I mean the kind of apology which doesn’t try to excuse or apportion blame to others but simply and humbly acknowledges that wrong has been done and takes responsibility for it. Benedict knows that even in a monastery that can be difficult. One might say that in a monastery it can be especially difficult because there we are, living in community, with companions we would never have chosen for ourselves, with different backgrounds and ways of behaving, and inevitably someone or other going through a period of profound testing we know little or nothing about.

Benedict was realistic about the difficulties of communal living. In RB 44, which we read today, he deals with a fairly extreme situation: someone who has committed a serious fault and thereby put himself outside the community (the meaning of excommunication in this context) and his reintegration into the community. Clearly, the chapter does not apply to the lay situation in any literal sense, but it is worth thinking about how we welcome back into society people who have offended against it. Benedict is not concerned with punishment but with putting right something that has gone wrong. Isn’t that what our apology is meant to do, but so often fails to achieve?

Lent is a time when we tend to think about how we have fallen short of everything we ought or seek to be. It is a time for making amends, both to God and other people. Saying sorry isn’t easy, but sometimes it can set us free as well as the one we have offended, for there is nothing more constricting than the burden of unforgiveness — on both sides. Is there someone you need to say sorry to today?


9 thoughts on “Saying Sorry to the Community”

  1. Equally there is a need for forgiveness within any community. Stable communities, not just religious ones, can have very long memories, and know of crimes, bad behaviour, personal hurt, family feuds and family/relationship break ups. All of these can mar further development, genuine contrition and the opportunity for the good in the worst of us to come to the fore

  2. The Rule itself in a religious community is a shared reference point, even if not all members always read it in the same sense. Things are sometimes harder, I think, in groups where even that much may not be assumed. I know I’m not telling readers anything they don’t know already here, but still… The dissident may dig his heels in, and threaten legal action ; and the resultant damage to the society in question, longer and shorter term, is considerable. One then envies the provisions of RB 28 — momentarily at least — since in the (call it) pluralistic world beyond the cloister, the choices available can seem yet more perplexing !

  3. We live in a hi-rise condominium – 157 suites plus 10 townhouses. Our point of reference, our “rule” if you will, consists of our condo by-laws. As in your religious community, we live with people we’d not have chosen to have as neighbours, as in any village, our share of village idiots. People do foolish things, some have unrealistic expectations of service levels, others complain of normal everyday living sounds. People fall ill, requiring homemade soup, others go through life crises. While there may not always be formal apologies there is often an evident “moving past” disagreements, resumption of pleasantries. Communal living requires a welcoming back to a sense of oneness. Not easy.

  4. I spent a few years investigating complaints in various parts of the public sector. The biggest challenge comes when relationships have broken down, say between a doctor and a patient, and there is no simple way to restore trust. This is particularly difficult when there are differing perceptions of the supposed wrong that has been done. At this stage, the only way through would be something that appears to me to be beyond the reach of most formal complaints processes, something much closer to the understanding of human frailty that our spiritual traditions offer us. I suspect that the only way through is mutual humility.
    Thank you again for a thought-provoking post!

  5. This post reminds me of my need to pray a rather well known prayer. It is at least a beginning:
    I confess to almighty God
    and to you, my brothers and sisters,
    that I have greatly sinned,
    in my thoughts and in my words,
    in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
    through my fault, through my own fault,
    through my own most grievous fault…

  6. It came to me recently that it takes two people to apologise- One to admit a wrong and the other to forgive- Only then can the relationship be restored.. Without this, a grudge can last for years, while the other party thought it was dealt with..

  7. I have long since come to the conclusion than an apology that contains the word “but”, especially when followed by a pronoun is rarely the real deal. A true apology requires the owner to take responsibility.

  8. Graeme, you make a good point about the best case scenario – one person apologizing, the other forgiving. But, what happens when someone doesn’t apologize? We are still expected to forgive as this is what our faith teaches us. As John McLuckie mentions, perceptions may be poles apart. I know I find it hugely difficult to forgive when I’ve not received an honest apology, this in turn leads to feelings of guilt for not forgiving. How much easier it must be to live as a hermit, because in the end, most of our sins are based on interpersonal relationships found in all types of communities.

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