St Benedict and Care Of The Sick

by Br. Randy OSB-F

A keen observer of human and feline behavior, a faithful follower of The Rule of St. Benedict, and an influential member of the Feline Cloister. In June 2013, Randy succumbed to lymphoma. He is dearly missed. His articles are offered here as his legacy to us. May he, along with our other departed animal friends, enjoy romping in the Paradise Cloister.

“Place your hope in God alone,” Benedict says in Chapter 4 – The Tools for Good Works.  Boy, have I had to do that over the last month!  I’m only now starting to feel and eat better.  Here’s what happened to me…

Last month I just couldn’t eat and was hiding in dark places, so Abbess Jane and Prior John took me to see the vet at the Basking Ridge Animal Hospital.  I had some tests that brought bad news—an enlarged spleen and growths in my stomach.  I thought I was a goner, soon to take my place with departed Benedictine cats in the Paradise Cloister.  But I pulled through.  Bottom line is—I have lymphoma and am now getting a pill everyday except Sunday.  That’s my day off. 

St. Benedict and Care of the Sick

I haven’t been very active as I recover so there’s been time to browse through the Rule, searching for what Benedict says about caring for the sick  I want to find out if I need to mew a corrective to Abbess Jane.  With glee I found A WHOLE CHAPTER devoted to care of the sick, Chapter 36. 

I was pleased to see that “care of the sick must rank above and before all else, so that they may truly be served as Christ” (36.1)  Now I won’t equate myself with the Lord, but I have mewed to Abbess Jane that she gets high marks for her care of this sick feline.  To entice me to eat she gives me special food and fluffs it up when I mash it down in the bowl.  I also get extra treats and brushes.  She is very careful that I don’t suffer any neglect (36.6)   

Trusting God and the Vet

My vet Dr. Hollo gets high marks, too.  When I was in the hospital for overnights he printed a picture of Monte Cassino (where Benedict had his monastery), and taped it inside my hospital room.  I felt right at home! 

He removed my spleen which made me feel better—I was in lots of discomfort.  The down side was that I had to wear one of those ridiculous collars for TEN DAYS! 

Randy in Collar: “How am I supposed to eat with this thing on?”

I weakly mewed to the doctor that wearing this was an impossible task and, as Benedict advised, patiently explained why I couldn’t wear the thing (RB 68).  Dr. Hollo held his ground and, as a junior, I had to recognize that in the end this was best for me.  In obedience I chose to trust in God and obey (RB 68.4-5)  Then, adding insult (the collar) to injury I had to spend TEN DAYS in a large cage so that I wouldn’t jump off high places and tear my stitches.  What a burden!  But in true Benedictine humility I chose to embrace this suffering and endure it without seeking escape (RB 7.35-36).

Benedict’s Instructions for the Patient

In Chapter 36 on care of the sick Benedict gives me instructions, too.  I’m not to make excessive demands that stress Jane or Prior John (36.4).  I don’t think I do this, but Target has hissed a word of warning about my demanding special attention.  Instead of hissing back I followed the example of the cellarer and offered “a kind word in reply, for it is written: A kind word is better than the best gift” (31.13-14).  I gently purred a reminder of RB 34.3—“Whoever needs less should thank God and not be distressed.”  I decided not to report his unkind hiss to Jane even though the shortcomings of the disciples are her responsibility (36.10) 

Reading further in Chapter 36 I found a disturbing passage:  “The sick may take baths whenever it is advisable.”  (36.8)  In a big hurry I sent Br Ricky on a search for some white tape so I could cover over this directive in Jane’s copies of the Rule  I didn’t want her getting any crazy ideas like, “Wouldn’t a nice warm bath feel good, Rand?  I could add lavender bath salts.”  Yugh! 

Care of the Sick – Assign Light Tasks

As to my daily responsibilities, I’m not off the hook totally.  Benedict instructs that those who are sick or weak be given some work or a craft that’s not too hard for them; the superior must take their infirmities into account (48.24-25)  

One of the jobs I have had before all this was to mew energetically and loudly at mealtimes so that our human servers will attend to our needs promptly.  I’m just not up to that yet so Sr Smokey and Br Target alternate doing this job.  My current and only job right now is to make sure that I eat well, drink water and get naps.  Not bad!

Care of the Sick is Holy Work

Are you taking care of someone who is sick?   Please know that you are doing holy work.  Remember to take care of yourself and get help when you’re feeling worn out.  If you are sick, express your gratitude for the care you receive and “place your hope in God alone.”  I am.

Hope I’m feeling up to writing again.


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