As the sole male cat with three female cats you might think I am “top cat.” Wrong. My manner is mild and retreating. I am sometimes the brunt of playful (or not playful) chase and pounce games initiated by both Sisters Espy and Nikki. As the middle aged member Benedictine feline, I am too old for being chased around, pounced on and wrestled with.
Not only that, their antics at my expense are not according to The Rule of St. Benedict. Benedict says we are not to treat another member unreasonably. He quotes the Bible, “Never do to another what you do not want done to yourself” (RB 70.7 and Tobit 4:16). In his chapter on the Good Zeal of Monastics, he explains that part of this good zeal is treating one another with respect. I never thought being chased was a sign of respect.
Ricky Chooses a Helpful Acronym
I had a choice. I could grumble, but I can’t do that because St. Benedict is adamant against grumbling (See, for example, RB 4.29 and 34.6). After all, I am the Novice Master and must set a good example for our novices. I could speak ill of Espy and Nikki, but this is something the Rule asks us not to do, too (See RB 4.40). Let’s face it, to speak of others has only a fleeting benefit of making us feel falsely good about ourselves. It only lasts for an instant and keeps us tied up in angry knots for a long time.
So what to do? I wanted to be consistent with who I really am and have in my heart to be. Add to this, I needed to be able to remember what I planed to do even in the heat of the moment. Here is what I invented and how the Rule gave me the ideas.
It’s a special acronym that is a roadmap to challenging situations and felines.
R-I-C-K gives me a way through the challenges of relationships with Espy and Nikki. Perhaps R-I-C-K may help you, too. And it’s easy to remember, especially for me.
The Rule of St Benedict is a manual for caring, considerate relationships.
This, then, is the good zeal which members must foster with fervent love: “They 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
Not only does Benedict remind us to respect others, he tells us how – by being patient and obedient, i.e., cutting the other cat some slack and listening to what they need. Patient understanding is showing respect.
I do my best to look beyond behavior that I consider unseemly, and see Espy and Nikki as my sisters in Christ. Benedict asks us to show “pure love of my sisters” (RB 72.8) as a way to show respect. For myself, if I do something to upset one of my sisters or mew unkind words I follow Benedict’s instructions in chapter 71 on mutual obedience – I apologize (RB 71.6-8).
There is so much in the Rule that guides us to living what we value – the ways of Jesus. Espy can get rather crazy and it really challenges me – note the picture and you will see what I mean. The
Tools for Good Works, chapter 4 in the Rule, gives me a super list of how to be true to my best self in the toughest situations or conversations. Here are a few samples of relationship-building actions.
“Do not repay one bad turn [or word]with another.” (RB 4.29 from 1 Thess 5:15 and 1 Pet 3:9)
You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. (RB 4.22-23)
If people curse you, do not curse them back but bless them instead. (RB 4.32)
Guard your lips from harmful or deceptive speech. (RB 4.51)
To me, this verse sums up what integrity looks like – living the love of Christ.
Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way;
the love of Christ must come before all else. (RB 4. 20-21)
I cannot change Espy or Nikki or anyone else for that matter. I can only change how I respond.
Some of my favorite stories in the gospels are when Jesus shows compassion. He showed compassion for the hungry crowds, for hurting people like the bent over woman and many others. I think compassion was Jesus’ leading quality.
Benedict reminds us to never turn away when someone needs our love (RB 4.26). I might be tempted to hurry away from Espy when she is acting crazy, but my vow of stability asks me to stay with her to work things out and there find God’s grace. I know the Sr Espy had a tough go when she was a kitten. She was thrown out of a house somewhere and spent time wandering in the neighborhood before Amma Jane and Prior John brought her into our Cloister. Amma has explained to me that this is why she thinks everything belongs to her. Amma and I are working gently with Sr Espy to help her understand that private possessions are not a part of life here in the Cloister. See RB 33 for what Benedict says about this.
Compassion is important in the Rule especially in the instructions for the abbot and prioress. These monastic leaders must know each person’s capabilities and needs and must be sensitive to what they ask of each person. Benedict devotes a whole chapter to distribution of goods according to each member’s needs (RB 34).
I do think Benedict was a really kind person and shows us how to be kind. For example, the elderly and children are not required to follow the strictness of the rule about food, but “should be treated with kindly consideration and allowed to eat before the regular hours” (RB 37.2-3). While this would never work in the Feline Cloister and would result in vociferous mewing, it is a reminder that Charlotte, our elderly sister, needs the most comfortable bed and a tad extra food to give her pleasure in her old age.
Benedict asks us to do what is best, not for ourselves, but for the other person (RB 72.7). We can also listen to others to show kindness. Remember, listen is the very first word in the Rule (Prologue 1). Quoting Sirach, Benedict says that a kind word is the best gift (RB 31.14). It is a gift I like to receive and it is a gift I can give to others.
Br Ricky Says, “Give R-I-C-K a Try”
So that is R-I-C-K. What do you think? How might you live with Respect, Integrity, Compassion and Kindness at home, at work, in heated discussions, everywhere and every day?
When you feel yourself getting angry, impatient, frustrated – do R-I-C-K! You will bring peace, the peace that Benedict asks to make our quest and aim (Prologue 17).
Because I try to be understanding there are lots of times that Espy cozies up with me. We keep each other warm.
P.S. You can always add a “Y” to the end to make it R-I-C-K-Y. And that isn’t just to make my name. “Y” is the reminder to always say Yes to God!
Your feline confrere,
Br Ricky, OSB-F
Novice Master of the Feline Cloister