On the surface, Benedict's Rule seems harsh. Indeed in some sections it is harsh, although it is worth noting that the Rule has never been enforced literally. But in this chapter, titled. "The Abbot's Concern for the Excommunicated, " Benedict shows his true colors. People do leave monastic communities. In some case the good of the entire community forces the Abbot to ask them to leave. Yet Benedict instructs the Abbot to deeply care for separated members.
It is very worth noting that Benedict did not tell the Abbot to do this care in person. Instead the Abbot is to send "sempectae." which means "congregation of the elders," to do the care. It appears that Benedict knew the presence of the Abbot would hinder this type of care. Interestingly this is to be done in secret. The Rule actually forbids the community to be in contact with someone who is excommunicated. So the monks coming to visit would seem to be breaking the Rule. Some commentators say this is a way to trick the wayward brother into repentance. I think personally it is a way to intensify the caring relationship and in the face of such care repentance can happen more easily.
Every congregation in which I have been a member, or where I have served as a pastor, had members who went out the back door. They were very active, but for some reason they slipped away from the congregation's sight. In most cases the pastor is appointed by the congregation to contact these members. More often than not, that approach fails. What does often work is members of the congregation contacting those departed, not to ask them to come back, but to offer their concern and care. "Are you OK?" they should ask. "What can we do for you?'
Eventually this care, or one might call it relationship evangelism, can reconnect people with their congregation. But that is not the goal. Instead he goal is to prevent them from, as Benedict put it, "be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow." It seems Benedict had the right idea.
Guide us Lord, both to heed Benedict's teachings, but to also care for those who have been separated from your community. Amen.