St. Benedict seems to cover everything in his Rule. In Chapter 36 he deals with sick brothers and directs the monks: “Care of the sick must rank above and before all else, so that they may truly be served as Christ…”
We are certainly doing that around here right now. By last count at least seven monks have come down with something, including this awful flu that seems to be everywhere. We have been sick!
Thinking about the Rule (this happened to be where I was in my daily reading of the Rule today) made me reflect back on one of my first times staying here in the monastery when I saw this in action. My room is in the infirmary wing (not sure what to read into that choice by the Abbot) and so I get to see how the monks who are struggling some with their health are treated every day. I remember watching a monk visit an ill monk after Vigils to see to his needs one morning. I was struck that he obviously liked doing it. It wasn’t a job to him; it wasn’t something he dreaded doing; it was something he enjoyed doing and wanted to do.
Since that first time I have watched the monks come to the rooms of those on this floor to basically take care of whatever their needs are, without so much as a grumble or complaint-every single time. And when I reflect on why and how they do that I continue in the Rule where Benedict quotes the Gospels: “I was sick and you visited me (Matt 25:36) and “what you did for one of these least brothers you did for me” (Matt: 25:40). In other words, Father Benedict reminds us we’re doing this for Christ.
I’m also struck by how the monks pick up the slack for those that are sick. This is a small community, so they really don’t have much choice, but that also means every monk has a lot of jobs. And yet, even when some are ‘down’ though little things might need adjustment (no reading during the mid-day meal, for example), the basic stuff of the monastery goes on without interruption. Nobody says ‘not my job’ or ‘I can’t do that.’ They, well…just do it (some athletic apparel company should use that as a slogan, I think).
And why do they do it? They listen to Benedict in the Rule and realize what they are doing is responding to Jesus.
That also made me wonder if I do enough for my family and friends or the monks here in this Abbey when they are ill? How do I respond? And, more importantly, why do I respond?
In general I would say I do pretty well. I was there for my father as he slowly deteriorated some years back. I’ve brought my share of soup to a sick friend, made the occasional meal for someone homebound. I help out Interfaith Relief provide food for those in need. And I’ve supported monks here when they needed me.
But doing so with an understanding that I am responding to a very direct–very direct–requirement of my Christian commitment and unequivocal charge from Jesus? Not so good.
If there is one thing I have learned since beginning my ministry here at Holy Cross Abbey it is that these men, and monks and nuns in general, take their call from Christ very, very seriously. To them, nothing they do is for any other reason than to respond to the call from their Lord. And I need to do that more. I need to begin to see everything I do as a response to Jesus. It would not only make the response easier, but it would help me be the disciple I promised to be. Discipleship, after all, is serious stuff.
My interest in monastic life and Benedictine spirituality has always been grounded in an effort to try, at least try, to actually do what He told me to do and to see Him in everything. Not just on Sunday, not just when I’m praying…everything. I follow the Rule of St. Benedict because it’s the best guidebook I have found to being a follower and disciple of Jesus of Nazreth.
So my/our response to the sick gives us that chance to see Jesus in our brothers and sisters and it gives us an opportunity to put our ‘money where our mouth is’ and actual do what He directed us to do.
That makes helping the sick and less fortunate a joyful exercise rather than a burden.