Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Life and Wisdom of St Benedict/16 - To visit the sick


St Benedict resurrects a monk crushed by a wall
Spinelli Aretino
Photo: Sailko
Today's 'tool of good work' from Chapter 4 of the Rule of St Benedict is another of the corporal works of mercy, to visit the sick.

The injunction is of course Scriptural, put most explictly in Sirach 7:39 ('Do not be slow to visit the sick') and St Matthew 25: 36.

Sickness is a time when we tend to be at our worst, and so provides an opportunity for both the sick person and the visitor to grow in grace!

Service of the sick

In Chapter 36 of his Rule, provides instruction on the care of the sick in the monastery, which should serve as a model for Christians more generally, as we 'bear one another's burdens':

"Before all things and above all things care must be taken of the sick, so that they may be served in very deed as Christ himself; for he said: I was sick and ye visited me and, what ye did to one of  these least ones, ye did unto me...they should be patiently borne with, because from such as these is gained a more abundant reward. There­fore let the abbot take the greatest care that they suffer no neglect."

The saint instructs that someone be put in charge of them who is 'God-fearing, diligent, and careful' and to make sure that they do not neglect their task.  And the sick are to be given food and other care such as baths without regard to the normal restrictions of the Rule. 

An opportunity for spiritual healing?

St Benedict also points to illness as an opportunity for the sick:

"...let the sick on their part consider that they are being served for the honour of God, and not provoke their brethren who are serving them by their unreasonable de­mands."

More fundamentally, illness is a call to repentance that reminds us to fear everlasting death. Today's Gospel in the Extraordinary Form, on the resurrection of the son of the widow of Naim, is a call for us to serve as Christ to the sick, helping resurrect, if necessary their souls from the death of sin. St Augustine's commentary on the Gospel, read at Matins, notes that:

"The widowed mother rejoiced over her son who had been brought to life again; holy Mother the Church rejoices over those men who, as happens daily, are quickened in the spirit...Only three men do we find who were raised from the dead visibly by the Lord, but we find thousands raised invisibly."

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