I was sick, and ye visited Me (XXXVI)

CHAPTER XXXVI. Of the Sick Brethren
15 Mar. 15 July. 14 Nov.

Before all things and above all things care is to be had of the sick, that they be served in very deed as Christ Himself, for He hath said: “I was sick, and ye visited Me.” And, “What ye have done unto one of these little ones, ye have done unto Me.” And let the sick themselves remember that they are served for the honour of God, and not grieve the brethren who serve them by unnecessary demands. Yet must they be patiently borne with, because from such as these is gained a more abundant reward. Let it be, therefore, the Abbot’s greatest care that they suffer no neglect. And let a cell be set apart by itself for the sick brethren, and one who is God-fearing, diligent and careful, be appointed to serve them. Let the use of baths be allowed to the sick as often as may be expedient; but to those who are well, and especially to the young, let it be granted more seldom. Let the use of flesh meat also be permitted to the sick and to those who are very weakly, for their recovery: but when they are restored to health, let all abstain from meat in the accustomed manner. The Abbot must take all possible care that the sick be not neglected by the Cellarer or servers; because whatever is done amiss by his disciples is laid to his charge.

There is no monastery in the world that is not touched in one or more of its members by sickness. Sickness is a complex thing: when one part of a man is suffering, all the other parts of him are affected in some way. Physical pathologies can affect the soul and its faculties. An example: Brother Remigius walks into a tree while working and breaks his nose. The pain is such that Brother Remigius cannot recollect himself to pray. The consciousness of his pain and discomfort is such that it disables his ability to concentrate and even to stay in one position for any length of time. Every time he looks at himself in the mirror, Brother Remigius opines that his face will remain permanently disfigured. The pain also affects Brother Remigius’ thinking; he becomes gloomy and feels utterly defeated. No amount of reasoning can pull him out of his suffering. He cannot imagine ever being well again.

Brother Quodvultdeus, on the other hand, is passing through a spiritual trial. His only experience of God is one of absence. He suffers a real distaste for lectio divina and for prayer in all its forms. This is an acute manifestation of acedia. Brother Quodvultdeus becomes fatigued and sluggish. He begins to have headaches, insomnia, and digestive troubles. One day he emerges from his spiritual trial, recovers his taste for the Word of God, and finds its possible to pray again, albeit in very small ways. His physical energy returns, although for a time it may ebb and flow. The headaches go away. He can sleep again. His appetites returns and his digestion becomes normal again.

Body and soul form a composite, a unity of matter and form. Treatment of the soul may have a beneficial effect on the body. Similarly, the alleviation of sufferings of the body may redound in benefits for the soul. The Catholic approach is not the treatment of the soul without attending to the body, nor is it the treatment of the body without attending to the soul. It is not a question of one or the other, but of the diligent and intelligent use of both spiritual and corporal remedies.

Apart from the Sacrament of Holy Anointing, the Church gives us an array of spiritual remedies that affect the health of the body. The first one that comes to mind is the Roman Missal’s Votive Mass for the Sick. We do well to avail ourselves frequently of the benefits of offering the Votive Mass for the Sick.

The second remedy that we Benedictines ought to cherish and use with greater frequency is the Blessing of the Sick with the Relic of the Holy Cross, also called the Blessing of Saint Maurus. According to tradition, Saint Maurus, the disciple of Our Father Saint Benedict, learned from him how to bless the sick with the sign of the Cross. One of the prayers of the Blessing of Saint Maurus goes as follows:

O Lord Jesus Christ, who hast given power to my Master Saint Benedict to obtain from Thee what he should ask in Thy name, do Thou, through his intercession, vouchsafe to drive away all ills from this Thy servant; that his health being restored, he may give thanks to Thy holy name, Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest, world without end. R. Amen.