March 15, July 15, November 14
Chapter 36: On the Sick
Before all things and above all things, care must be taken of the
sick, so that they will be served as if they were Christ in person;
for He Himself said, “I was sick, and you visited Me” (Matt 25:36),
and, “What you did for one of these least ones, you did for Me”
But let the sick on their part consider that they are being served
for the honor of God, and let them not annoy their sisters who are
serving them by their unnecessary demands. Yet they should be
patiently borne with, because from such as these is gained a more
abundant reward. Therefore the Abbess shall take the greatest care
that they suffer no neglect.
For these sick let there be assigned a special room and an
attendant who is God-fearing, diligent and solicitous. Let the use
of baths be afforded the sick as often as may be expedient; but to
the healthy, and especially to the young, let them be granted more
Moreover, let the use of meat be granted to the sick who are very
weak, for the restoration of their strength; but when they are
convalescent, let all abstain from meat as usual.
The Abbess shall take the greatest care that the sick be not
neglected by the cellarers or the attendants; for she also is
responsible for what is done wrongly by her disciples.
The sick are to be cared for as if they were Jesus. Would that all who claim to be Christian treated the sick this way. Too many people begrudge the sick the care they need for all sorts of folderol excuses. Jesus is very clear: care for the sick.
The sick also have a responsibility to be thankful for the care they receive. The sick are to remember that they are not getting care because of any merit of theirs, but because it is being done as an act of worship of God. As a result, the ill are to be considerate when asking for their needs to be met and not drain the resources of those caring for them or demanding more than is a reasonable accommodation
Of course, back in Benedict’s day, they did not know about bacteria, germs or viri. Benedict counsels the monastics the best ways he knows: a separate room both for their peace and ability to rest but also to protect the rest of the community from disease; baths (apparently they did not bathe every day ordinarily); and meat to restore their strength while ill.
The monastic superior, in this case, and in every other situation in the community, is the final authority and is where the buck stops.
The Rule of St. Benedict and the kind of care they gave the sick is the foundation for our modern medical care and hospitals. A gigantic industry grew out of the monastics simple obedience to Jesus and the Rule. How well that industry meets needs is often manipulated. Care is often denied because the needy are considered unworthy in some way even if the lack of care might threaten the rest fo the population.
Benedict’s example tells Christians what our relationship to the sick must be: treat them as if they were Jesus. Pure and simple. Treat them as if they were Jesus.