Have you ever gotten into trouble for just being yourself? You are being who you are and someone else takes offense and gives you a nasty look, a word of reproach or a hard time. Like me, have you then been puzzled and wondered why the kerfuffle?
Is it wrong that I chase Br. Ricky around the room before we get our meals? It’s part of who I am. I want to make sure he doesn’t think he can eat my food.
Is screaming at a Cloister member when I am annoyed at them or when they do something I don’t like a fault for which I should be disciplined?
Is it a fault to rush to another Cloister member’s food dish and enjoy their meal as well as mine? After all, I am the cellarer of the Feline Cloister.
When have you been brought up short for just doing what comes naturally to you?
Sr. Espy Gets Into Trouble
The other day while resting on the comfy chaise I spied Br. Ricky heading toward one of my three water dishes. Alarmed, I jumped off the chaise and stalked after him. When he started to drink, I gave him a swat and he ran away. Then I had a nice drink. Unfortunately, Amma was present and saw the whole event. Here’s what happened.
Amma quickly walked to where I was at my pink water dish. “Sr. Espy, please come with me to the superior’s office. We need to have a little chat.” I followed Amma, crouched down as if I had seen a large canine, my tail twitching nervously the whole time.
The Monastic and Private Possessions in the Rule
When we were both seated, Amma at her desk and me on what felt like the “hot seat,” Amma said quietly, “Sr. Espy, I need to take some steps to help you understand The Rule of St. Benedict better. St. Benedict states in Chapter 33 – Monastics and Private Ownership that “this evil practice [of private ownership] must be uprooted and removed from the monastery.” (RB 33.1)
I mewed emphatically that I knew that I really didn’t own the three water bowls. Amma responded, “A h, but you do consider them yours even if you know they are not, right? And that only you can give permission for another member to drink?”
I gave a tiny hiss. It’s tough to be given a hard time for just being you.
Amma gave me a copy of The Rule of St. Benedict in Mew. She asked me to locate Chapter 33 and mew verse 6.
All things should be in the common possession of all, as it is written, so that no one presumes to call anything their own. (Acts 4:32; RB 33.6)
The Danger of Envy
“And maybe there is something else,” Amma continued gently. “Maybe you are envious. You want what another member has whether it is water, their food or a favorite cat bed.”
That’s a point. There is some truth in that.
I was getting annoyed that Amma was being so nice about all this. It would have been better for her to be mean or to shoot me a disapproving look. That way I could stalk around the Cloister for the rest of the day thinking ill thoughts about her and hissing these under my breath. I can do both those things when someone points out that I am doing something that perhaps I should not do. Do you, too? Actually, I have observed Amma do this very thing, muttering instead of mewing, however.
Anyway, Amma was following Benedict’s instructions for discipline, I couldn’t argue with that.
“She must hate the faults but love the members. When she must discipline them she should use prudence and avoid extremes.” RB 64.11-12a
Unkind Acts Towards Others
Amma gave me a very serious look. “You also gave Br. Ricky a swat today. What does St. Benedict say in Chapter 70 – The Presumption of Striking Another Member at Will?” Pawing through the Mew copy of the Rule I found this in Chapter 70.
“In the monastery every occasion for presumption is to be avoided, and so we decree that no one has the authority to excommunicate or strike any member of the community unless given this power by the prioress or abbot.” (RB 70.1-2)
“Maybe Ricky and Nikki are trying to show you that some of the things you do or say are hurtful. They hope you might change your ways so the Cloister will be a more peaceful place.”
I sighed. Why do I have to be the one who must change?
Amma Uses Prudence in Discipling Espy
Riffling through her copy of the Rule, Amma continued. “Now Sr. Espy, in fairness to the other Cloister members and to you, I need to take some action. Benedict says here in the Rule that ‘There ought to be due proportion between the seriousness of a fault and the measure of excommunication or discipline. The superior determines the gravity of faults.’” RB 24.1-2
“Oh, oh,” I thought. “Here comes the bad news. I am going to have to eat by myself. Or maybe I won’t be able to lead a psalm or refrain in chapel (RB 24.4-5) I don’t like being shut out from the community. I may be unpredictable in mood, but I really need to have the companionship of my sisters and brothers.”
Espy does Penance through Study of the Rule
But I need not have worried. Amma asked me to read and ponder some verses from the Rule to help me learn to be more generous hearted with my confreres.
I was asked also to get a better understanding of how my actions impact others. How do my words and actions hold me back from being a good Benedictine feline who is an ambassador for Christ and the Rule? “This is really important for you, Espy,” Amma emphasized. “As the cellarer of the Cloister, you must be an example to the community.”
Here are the verses Amma gave to me. I offer them to you as well. Maybe, just maybe, being who you are gets you into the soup like me. You are jealous about what someone else has, or you think something is yours when it is not, or some other personal “fault” gets you into trouble.
“The cellarer should not annoy the members.” (RB 31.6)
“…do nothing out of envy.” (RB 4.67)
“Members should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.” (RB 72.3-6)
“No monastics are to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else.” (RB 72.7)
The second step of humility is that we love not our own will nor take pleasure in the satisfaction of our desires; rather we shall imitate by our actions that saying of Christ’s: “I have come not to do my own will, but the will of the One who sent me” (John 6:38). (RB 7.31-32)
If you desire true and eternal life, “keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim” (Ps 34: 14-15). Prologue 17
Amma also suggested that I check out Br Randy’s article “The Benedictine Model for Relationship – The Monastery Cellarer.” You can read his wise words here.
Sr. Espy Vows to Change Her Ways…We’ll See…
Benedict’s instructions in the Rule gives me a lot to chew on and to mew about. I vow to be more aware of my actions and hope that I can become a more peaceful cat.
Thank you for reading my very first article. I hope it was instructive and fun to read, too.
Your feline Benedictine friend,
Sr Espy, OSB-F