I have some sad news to report. We lost one of our faithful members in the cloister of eight. Marcy had cancer and got really thin and weak. Amma Jane and Prior John did all they could to help her. The vet tried hard as well. But when Marcy left the house we knew we wouldn’t see her again. It’s so hard losing a friend or someone you love, isn’t it? It’s especially hard when the holidays come around. And so I decided to see what’s in the Rule about helping others in sadness or grief. Here’s what I found.
Ideas for Helping Others in Sadness or Grief from The Rule of St Benedict
In Chapter 4 – The Tools for Good Works Benedict asks us specifically to “console the grieving.” (RB 4.19) Having a compassionate heart himself, Benedict asks us to reach out to those who are saddened by loss. Helping others in sadness and grief is part of the promise of obedience as well. Benedict says that when the voice of authority calls, it’s really Christ calling us, so we’re to drop what we’re doing, even a nap, and follow his voice. (RB 5.7)
Benedict instructs us to aid someone in distress and to support one another. To me this means that I can be proactive and search for ways to lift another’s spirits even just a little. Marcy’s sister Smokey is still in the cloister so here’s is my opportunity to put the Rule into practice. I’m going to paw a quick note to Abbess Jane suggesting that she give Smokey extra food for strength and extra pets and brushes for comfort. In addition, I will make every effort to watch Smokey and see where I might help lift her spirits or provide some comfort.
Is there someone near you like Smokey you could console as St Benedict asks us to do?
The Benedictine Directive For Compassion
The Rule points my paw towards compassion in so many places. In Chapter 34 – Distribution According to Need, Benedict says that consideration and extra kindness are to be given to those who are not strong. (RB 34.2) I think when we are grieving we aren’t strong. Our hearts are heavy and we can be distracted. Benedict devotes a whole chapter on the need for compassion and consideration for the elderly and children because of their lack of strength. Add to this in a chapter on caring for sick – Chapter 36 – we read that the sick are to be served as Christ himself and out of honor for God. We are to bear the sick patiently and not to neglect them.
All these instructions surely must apply to helping others in sadness or grief. Both of these sure make you feel weak and sick! When I‘m sad I need to remember to have consideration for myself, too – perhaps an extra nap or cuddling up with chubby Sr Charlotte or giving myself a break not to do anything…I’m pretty good at that last thing.
A Feline Cloister Example of Compassion
There have been quite a few feline forbearers in this cloister. These are august Cloister members whose deeds and stories have been passed down through the years by mew of mouth. Charlotte told me that the night Sr Penny died, the beloved cat Br Sam lay down on the rug right beside her. He was
a very wise and gentle feline who offered himself as a comforting presence to Penny in her last hours.
It’s not easy for us to be with anyone who is sad or dying, animal or human. Most of us here in the cloister tend to ignore such
things, wrongfully, of course. But Sam took to heart the promise of obedience and Benedict’s direction to “never turn away from someone who needs your love.” (RB 4.26) He met Penny where she was and helped companion her to animal heaven.
Offering an Expanded Heart to Others
Remember that helping others in sadness of grief is not just about losing a family member or friend. There are many other losses that happen in life that cause sadness and grief like losing a job, good health, friendship, home, a beloved animal friend, and more.
Let’s promise to be present and compassionate like Br Sam by helping others in sadness or grief. To do this we can be like the superior of the monastery who must adapt himself or herself to each person (RB 2). In that way we can discern how we can be a comforting and helpful presence.
Bottom line, wise Sr. Scholastic Muffin, OSB-F says that the antidote to sadness is a wide or expanded heart.[i] That expanded heart can be for ourselves and certainly for others.
So when sadness creeps in I’m going to imagine my little heart growing bigger and bigger. I will give myself as a gift to someone this holiday season or in any season of the year. I will help others in sadness and grief, offering a listening ear and a soft, understanding mew of comfort. Hope you will, too!
[i] In her book Why the Rule of St. Benedict is Not Just For Humans, Sr. Scholastica here quotes Mark Scott’s book At Home with St. Benedict, p. 163.