The Impossible

Those who are not Benedictines often smile when they come across today’s chapter of the Rule, with its arresting title, If a Brother be Commanded to Do Impossible Things (RB 68), or some variant thereof. Those of us under the yoke of the Rule tend to smile with rather more gritty determination than amusement because in many ways this little chapter means there is no escape from anything, ever. Confronted with the impossible, when we have done all that the Rule says, when we have politely and at an approriate moment explained to our superior why we cannot do it, we must ‘obey out of love, trusting in God’s help’ — ex caritate confidens de adiutorio Dei obediat (RB 68.5).

In the past I have tended to write about this chapter in terms of practical obedience, such as suddenly being required to cook for 60 people or asked to sing a difficult piece of chant with only the haziest notion of how it should be phrased, but it goes deeper than that. There are so many things that we find difficult, even impossible. Perhaps the most difficult of all is to forgive a wrong done to ourselves, or, even harder, to accept that we have done wrong to another. I’m sure we can all look back on episodes in our lives that make us ashamed, can still find pockets of unforgiveness that bind ourselves as well as others. It isn’t easy to forgive, especially as we tend to assume that it is something we do, with once-for-all-finality, whereas in reality we have to allow God to forgive in and through us, and it is a process often-repeated rather than a single act.

We can look at the world around us and see much that is in need of healing, but may I suggest that today we start a little nearer home, with ourselves? To forgive is not to be weak; it is to be strong, but with a strength that comes from God. It is to do the impossible.