I like companionship, don’t you? When my friend and Cloister Member Sr Charlotte goes on one of the cat tower platforms, I like to get up there with her. When Mickey’s on the favorite chair, I jump up and rearrange him so that there’s enough room for me. If Target lies down on the chest, I go up there, too. But I found out that I am not really following what is written about respectful companionship in the Rule of St. Benedict. Here’s what happened.
St Benedict and Respectful Companionship
Last week Abbess Jane spoke stern words to me about my companionship urges. She claimed that I just wanted what everyone else had. In self-defense I mewed that Benedict encourages us to show “the pure love of brothers and sisters.” (RB 72.8) That was my motivation. With a skeptical look Amma continued her lecture by reciting RB 72.7. In this verse Benedict tells us we are not to pursue what’s best for ourselves, but what we judge to be better for others. “Rand,” she sighed. “The other cats may not want to cozy up with you. Maybe you should ask first.”
This got me to thinking about St Benedict and respectful companionship. Maybe I do envy Charlotte, Mickey and Target when they’re resting on one of those nice places. I want that, too. But Benedict says that we’re to do nothing out of envy (RB 4.67).
Envy and Companionship
Benedict addresses envy and self-motivation head on. In Chapter 34 – Distribution of Goods According to Need, Benedict says that we’re not to be distressed or, heaven forbid, grumble if someone gets something that we don’t get. In addition, he asks us to remember that everyone has different needs. He offers a different way to look at things that make us envious.
“Whoever needs less should thank God and not be distressed, but whoever needs more should feel humble because of their weakness, not self-important because of the kindness shown to them. In this way all members will be at peace.” RB 34.3-5
Benedict wants everyone to be at peace. I do my part to keep peace in the cloister by not grumbling. Truth is, however, I may rearrange things a bit.
Don’t we all do that from time to time, rearrange things to our liking, I mean?
But Amma may have been on to something when she stated that the three friends of mine may not want my companionship right then.
Respecting the Needs of Others
In discussing this with my friend Br Ricky, he cited our favorite commentary, Why the Rule of St. Benedict is Not Only for Humans by Scholastica Muffin, OSB-F (Order of St. Benedict Feline). Sr. Scholastica says that Benedict is asking us to “respect and revere the other”, and have a sense of restraint, holding ourselves back from intruding on them.
When I heard Ricky mew those words from Sr Scholastica it hit me. I haven’t listened to what St Benedict says about respectful companionship. In truth I
just don’t consider that Charlotte, Mickey and Target might want to be alone. Charlotte and I are both well-endowed and the platform does get a bit cramped. Mickey doesn’t seem happy when I push him around on the chair and Target sometimes gives me intimidating glances when I sidle up to him on the chest.
Practicing Respectful Companionship
I’m sharing all this with you to help you think about a situation or two in your own life where you, figuratively, “jump on the chair” and make room for yourself when someone else is already there. Is it from envy or self-motivation? Do we always want things to our liking? Is our motivation that we want to be with our friends because we care about them. Or is our motivation that we want something from them? Do you and I ever consider what might bring them joy? Give it some thought.
Also, for your roadmap I encourage you to reread what I wrote above about respectful companionship in The Rule of St Benedict. To my mind, Benedict is right on target for how we can be with others.
Randy Makes A Promise to Practice Respectful Companionship
Next time I see Charlotte, Mickey or Target in a nice place where I’d like to be with them will remember to practice respectful companionship as St Benedict recommends. I’m going to first ask them if I can share the spot. Or maybe I’ll just stay where I am and look on with delight that they’re happy in their cozy resting places.
Br. Randy, OSB-F
Sr. Scholastica’s drew from Esther de Waal’s book A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, page 43.