Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Life and Wisdom of St Benedict/14 - To relieve the poor

The fourteenth of the Tools of Good Works in Chapter 4 of St Benedict's Rule is to 'relieve the poor'.

The corporal works of mercy

It is closely connected to the previous tool, to love fasting, as Isaiah makes clear in Chapter 58.  The people ask, in that chapter, why God doesn't take note of their fasting. 

God replies that it is because they fast for the wrong reasons. The point of fasting should be, the prophet instructs, "to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh".

The corporal works of mercy also, of course, get a work out in St Matthew 25:35-6, when Jesus tells the disciples that at our judgment, God will say that they gave Our Lord food, drink and clothes when they gave it to the least of the brethren.

Accordingly, today's tool should cause us to examine our own consciences: the true proof of our love of God is our commitment to works of mercy.

Committed communities?

It is worth, too, considering the relief of the poor not just as an individual obligation, but more especially a communal one. 

For most of history, Christian communities made a point of looking after their own first. 

Somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost sight of that. 

Over the last week or so, an abuse victim and others who have witnessed aspects of the malaise have shared with me some truly horrific stories. 

They are horrific not just because of the abuse and other sins themselves, but more especially because of the lack of love of neighbour shown by pretty much everyone involved.

They are stories of people pretending to offer help to another - but in fact taking advantage of their other problems to abuse them.  Of people being brutalised by those who should be protecting them.  Of people being bullied by those who should be providing peer support.  Of those who should be leaders instead attempting to lead others astray.  Of those who should be taking responsibility instead doing everything possible to avoid it.  And of others standing by while it happens.

It all serves it make a mockery of that dreadful novus ordo hymn 'they'll know we are Christians by our love, by  our love'.

Nor do many traditionalist communities seem to have much focus in this area: most seem more preoccupied with the logistics of the liturgy and theological formation than with collective charitable activity and mutual support. 

Perhaps we all need to examine our consciences and seek to regain a proper balance?

St Benedict aids a poor man

Chapter 27 of the Life of St Benedict by St Gregory the Great records this story on the saints approach to aiding the poor:

"...on a certain day, an honest man, who was in debt, found no other means to help himself, but thought it his best way to acquaint the man of God with his necessity.  He came to the Abbey, and finding the servant of almighty God, gave him to understand, how he was troubled by his creditor for twelve shillings which he owed him.

To whom the venerable man said that himself had not so much money, yet giving him comfortable words, he said: "Go your ways, and after two days come to me again, for I can not presently help you".

Over the next two days he prayed intently, and when on the third day the poor man came back there were found suddenly on the chest of the Abbey, which was full of corn, thirteen shillings: which the man of God caused to be given to him that required but twelve, both to discharge his debt, and also to defray his own charges."

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