Let assistance be given to the weak (XXXV)

CHAPTER XXXV. Of the Weekly Servers in the Kitchen
13 Mar. 13 July. 12 Nov.

Let the brethren wait on one another in turn, so that none be excused from the work of the kitchen, except he be prevented by sickness or by some more necessary employment; for thus is gained a greater reward and an increase of charity. But let assistance be given to the weak, that they may not do their work with sadness; and let all have help according to the number of the community and the situation of the place. If the community be large, let the Cellarer be excused from work in the kitchen, and also those, as already mentioned, who are occupied in more urgent business. Let the rest serve each other in turn with all charity. Let him who endeth his week in the kitchen, make all things clean on Saturday, and wash the towels where with the brethren dry their hands and feet. Let both him who goeth out and him who is coming in wash the feet of all. Let him hand over to the Cellarer the vessels of his office, clean and whole; and let the Cellarer deliver the same to him who entereth, that he may know what he giveth and what he receiveth.

Chapter XXXIV, enshrines the principle of infirmitatum consideratio and so flows logically into Chapter XXXV, which begins with the words, Fratres sibi invicem serviant, “Let the brethren wait on one another in turn.” The sick brother, or one engaged in some other indispensable service may be excused from the work of the kitchen, but everyone else goes to it in turn. Saint Benedict says that the work of the kitchen brings with it “a greater reward and an increase of charity.” The words of Our Lord Himself come to mind: “I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink” (Matthew 25:35).

But let assistance be given to the weak, that they may not do their work with sadness.

If the weaker brethren are not given help, they may become overwhelmed, discouraged, and sad. It goes without saying that if a brother needs help, he ought to ask for it with simplicity. There is no humility in trudging along under a burden too heavy to bear; on the contrary, there is a peculiar sort of pride in it, and a want of simplicity. Where there is pride, there is always dejection. If there is sadness in the kitchen, the whole community will taste it in the soup! The atmosphere of the kitchen is of the highest importance. Brothers who become stressed, overwrought, and sad over their work must be given the help they need to recover peace of heart, serenity, and good cheer.

This principle is reiterated in Chapter  LIII where Saint Benedict treats of the kitchen of the guesthouse:

Let two brothers, who are well able to fulfil the duty, be placed in this kitchen for a year; and let help be afforded them as they require it, so that they may serve without murmuring. When they have not much to occupy them there, let them go forth to other work, wherever they may be bidden. And not only with regard to them, but in all the offices of the Monastery, let there be such consideration shewn, that when there is need of help it may be given them; and that when they are without work, they do whatever they are commanded.

Saint Benedict says that this particular work is to be carried out sub caritate, “under charity.”

Charity is patient, is kind; charity feels no envy; charity is never perverse or proud,never insolent; does not claim its rights, cannot be provoked, does not brood over an injury; takes no pleasure in wrong-doing, but rejoices at the victory of truth; sustains, believes, hopes, endures, to the last. (1 Corinthians 13:4–7)

One who is envious, perverse, proud, insolent, oversensitive and contentious about his own rights, easily provoked, a brooder over past injuries, and vindictive will, in effect, poison his brethren. One must bring to the service of the kitchen and refectory such charity as sweeps away all such things. In a certain sense, the kitchen is the laboratory of charity. This is true of the home of any family; it is no less true of the monastery. The hymn that we sing at the Mandatum on Maundy Thursday and at the vestition of a novice is also well suited to service in the kitchen.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

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