CHAPTER XXXIV. Whether All Ought Alike to Receive What is Needful
12 Mar. 12 July. 11 Nov.
As it is written: “Distribution was made to every man, according as he had need.” Herein we do not say that there should be respecting of persons – God forbid – but consideration for infirmities. Let him, therefore, that hath need of less give thanks to God, and not be grieved; and let him who requireth more be humbled for his infirmity, and not made proud by the kindness shewn to him: and so all the members of the family shall be at peace. Above all, let not the evil of murmuring shew itself by the slightest word or sign on any account whatsoever. If anyone be found guilty herein, let him be subjected to severe punishment.
Just as in a family, no two children are alike, so too in a monastery, no two monks are alike. Saint Benedict would have his monks be treated as individuals. In Benedictine life there is no stultifying regimentation, no attempt to squeeze every man into the same mould, no requirement that all be satisfied with the same things, in the same quantity, at the same time.
Saint Benedict makes consideration for infirmities a grand principle of the Rule. Infirmities constitute a claim on the charity and forbearance of the Abbot and the brethren, and on the all-sufficient grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In this, Saint Benedict resonates with what the Apostle writes:
There was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me. For which thing thrice I besought the Lord, that it might depart from me. And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
The monk who can get on with less — with less of anything — must not become self-sufficient and inflated with pride. Rather, he must give thanks humbly to the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ who as so provided with health, or energy, or physical strength, or intellectual acumen, or with any other gift. The strong are to be humble.
The monk who needs more of anything — more food, drink, rest, affection, quiet, conversation, affirmation, work, or time — must, for this reason, be very humble, and recognize that he is the object of a special solicitude. Thus, will he be, always and everywhere, grateful. The weak are to be grateful.
Humility and Gratitude
Humility, then, and gratitude; thus does Saint Benedict say, “and so all the members of the family shall be at peace.” A monastery where the strong are humble and the weak grateful will be the abode of charity. There will be unity among the brethren, reverence for one another, and a great interior freedom of spirit.
The one thing that will trouble a peaceful cloister is murmuring. Murmuring is toxic. It poisons the minds both of those who indulge in it and those who listen to it. Murmuring is not only verbal. One can complain, tear down, diminish, and sow the seeds of discouragement, suspicion, and disobedience not only by words, but also by attitudes, so-called body language, and non-verbal inferences. The murmurer is a troubler of the pax benedictina. “God,” says Saint Paul, “is not the God of dissension, but of peace: as also I teach in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33)