Hi! I’m Jane’s cat, Randy, here to tell you about how Jane does or doesn’t keep the Rule from my feline perspective.
I think I’ve told you about my pal Mickey, the oldest of our community. Twice a day Jane puts drops in his eyes because he has glaucoma. Here she’s clearly following Benedict who says, “Care of the sick must rank above and before all else,” and that the abbot or prioress (Jane) must make sure that the sick and the elderly are not neglected. (RB 36.1,10; RB 37) Mickey’s drops need to be ordered at least three weeks before the last bottle runs out because the medicine comes from Turkey! (I’ve been wondering why Jane doesn’t just go to the local Walgreen’s.) One morning we were stopped cold in our pre-breakfast milling about when Jane suddenly shouted in a LOUD voice, “Oh, no!! What happened to the other two bottles of Mickey’s meds that we just got?? This third bottle almost gone!! John!” She really flipped out and ran to find John. Had he used up or thrown away the full bottles? she demanded to know. What turmoil before breakfast, which was considerably delayed I might add.
Is this the way for the superior to act? No! It’s not that Jane shouldn’t have been concerned. If Mickey doesn’t get drops every day, his eyes get bad. But the superior is not to be “excitable, anxious, extreme, obstinate, jealous or oversuspicious.” (RB 64.16) Except for the jealous part, I saw it all that morning but thought it best not to approach her right then and point this out. I could see that she was aware of it all herself.
Benedict gives us lots of tips on how we should conduct ourselves like “You are not to act in anger”(4.22); “Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do”(4.48); “Guard your lips from harmful or deceptive speech”(4. 51); “Let peace be your quest and aim”(Psalm 34 and Prologue 17b). There are many more. Now I didn’t want to be overly critical because Benedict says, “Do not grumble or speak ill of others.” (4. 39-40). I decided instead to be constructive. I asked Ricky, our very youngest member, to help me cull the Rule to find Jane an antidote to this problem of being excitable, anxious, extreme and oversuspicious, especially when confronted with something that really concerns her and appears to be an immediate disaster.
Here’s what Ricky and I found. We hope that one or two of these antidotes helps Jane, and maybe even you, too.
In the Prologue Benedict quotes that wonderful passage from Matthew 7 where Jesus tells us to build our houses upon rock (Him) so that when the floods and winds come our house (us) doesn’t fall. (Prologue 33-34) We can make it a priority build life upon the rock of Christ. “Prefer nothing whatever to Christ,” Benedict advises. (72.11)
Ricky found the next antidote: “What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.” (Prologue 41) We can ask God to help us stay calm and handle whatever it is from that place. We can even consult with our community, be that family, workplace, church and so forth, when there is a problem. This is what the superior does in the monastic community. (Chapter 3 – Summoning the Monastics for Counsel). We don’t have to figure out everything on our own.
I added the tried and true monastic practice of self-knowledge. We need to gain skill in catching the very, very beginning of these troubling thoughts and actions, acknowledging them yet not acting from the emotion. Several places in the Rule Benedict tells us to right away “dash these things against Christ”. (Prologue 28, 4.50)
I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the first step of humility in Benedict’s ladder of twelve rungs and that is, as Jane herself interpreted it, “To accept that God is present in my life and to live from that awareness.” She wrote, “God always sees us and knows what we are about. We, then, need to be vigilant, striving from evil and turning to do good.” Our motivation comes not from a place of fear, but from our love of God and our knowledge that God can help us. Remember – “God is God; I am not God.” We are not ultimately responsible for everything!
Funny thing was, later that infamous day Jane discovered that she had ordered the new three bottles only a couple weeks before, and that the bottles were due to arrive at the house within the week. She’d forgotten about the order! I know this isn’t in the Rule, but to ward off future turmoil and delayed meals I’m going to recommend a daily dose of ginko biloba!
See you next issue when we’ve made it through Lent!
 Jane Tomaine, St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2005), 68.