Care of the Sick

Chapter 36 of the Rule of St Benedict is about care of the sick which, according to Benedict, should come ‘before and above everything else, so that they may be truly served as Christ himself.’ Until recently I had never had to think about that from the point of view of the one who is served as I was always in the lucky position of serving. It makes a big difference. To be sick, to be reliant upon others, is to know dependence, weakness, anxiety and frustration. They are not qualities we aspire to, and they are very far from being comfortable to live with. Benedict’s strictures about not making excessive demands on others can make us unduly scrupulous. Dare we ask such and such; can we manage without this or that? The kindness shown us, the services rendered, cannot be repaid. We are now cast in the role of debtors where once we were creditors. That is what it means to be sick.

I cannot honestly say that I regard my illness as a blessing, but I don’t resent it, either. It is just part of me, something I live with; but it has helped me see Lent in a new light. We spend so much time putting up barriers to God, just as we do to other people. As long as we want to be always in the position of giving, we can never really learn how to accept. Effectively, we cut ourselves off, pretending to be self-sufficient, when, of course, we are nothing of the sort. Lent is an opportunity to allow God into our lives in a way we don’t normally permit. We can take down the barriers, admit our need, let him take over. Jesus not only shares our sickness, he is our healer too.

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11 thoughts on “Care of the Sick”

  1. There are many older people in our church who now find themselves in the position of being receivers, not givers, and are uncomfortable with this situation. I try to persuade them to see that this is part the natural progression of community life. When we are able, we are givers, and at other times we are receivers, so that others can be blessed by giving?
    And at all times, it is good practice at becoming a receiver from God. For what can we give him that he doesn’t already have? Except our selves.

  2. Sickness/illness can be very difficult on us all.The feelings involved are complex and happy the person who can hand it all over to God.Compassion can also be overwhelming and difficult to exact as we each have such different needs.St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross has a very interesting but equally complex take on this very subject.
    ” after any initial distrust, women generally prefer treatment by a woman doctor rather than by a man. I believe that this is conditioned not only by the patient’s modesty but even more so by the specifically feminine manner of empathy which has beneficial effects. “
    Spiritually speaking I would take that as Our Lady and one of her special cares.
    Many men of course might feel otherwise.
    I am praying earnestly to St Teresa Benedicta for you. I do see a remarkable resemblance in the intellectual sense between you.
    I hope that is not too presumptuous .

  3. Dear Sister,

    Some of the greatest evangelists I have ever met were elderly people who had a dependence on others whilst I cared for them. I would love dearly to say, to one in-particular, your faith was an inspiration to me when I was low. You made my work an absolute joy and gave me the strength to care for others, who were not so inspiring, which in turn gave them hope too.

    It’s very important that you ask for your needs to be met, because good carers will tune into your needs and in a short space of time you won’t need to ask, when you need, it will be done because they know.

    You could think of your carers as God’s angels in training, they need you far more than you need them. X

  4. I have been chronically sick since 1975. It finally took its toll on me in 1999 when I ceased to able to function. My health has got worse over the last fifteen years. I write this not to seek pity nor to share my multiple illnesses here nor to ask for prayer.

    I write instead to say what a Rich blessing this has all been in my life. In order to achieve anything I gave to rely on God. Each wave brings me closer to God. I am nothing without Him.

    It has been for me a necessity I think to keep me utterly reliant on The Lord in all things. Like a child. It is good for me.

    It easy for me to say this as I have had nearly forty years to get used to it. Total surrender to God has been my way through this all. I am surrounded by love human and divine.

    I am rich!

    Heaven awaits, I look for it on the horizon every day, long for the day when these trials are over and I can walk with My Lord and see Him face to face.

  5. Very touched and humbled by some of the responses above. Suffering can be a door through which we can draw closer to The Lord. Upholding you in my prayers such as they are.>

  6. Recently I’ve been mulling over how we interpret the RB today both inside and outside monasteries. So many things have changed inside them that by custom and practice the letter of the Rule has evolved to keep up with the spirit and with modern thinking. For example there are no longer child Oblates; corporal correction is not administered. The readings for these past days have been predicated upon there being masses of willing hands to assist the cellarers, the gardeners, and in the case of the care of the sick, the infirmarians. Today the monastery and the domestic home draw closer in that they both lack this abundance of willing hands. Today too we have become very aware of the role of the carer. I know from personal experience that this is a tough role and though Benedict does not include it, I feel sure that the carer should also be allowed whatever little extra comforts and allowances that enable them to continue their task.

  7. Sometimes we veer away from those who are sick or vulnerable, perhaps and aversion to others weakness, as if it were catching?

    Sharing your story in this way, humbly and in a matter of fact manner, which bears undertones of acceptance and knowing that God remains with you, sick or not, while others might seek to avoid even talking about the subject.

    You are quiet right about Lent and allowing the barriers to God to relax and to let him in seems to me to be the essence of what God is and how we can make him real in our lives, suffering or not.

    Bless and thank you for this.

  8. I have spent a lot of time in hospital in recent years and have been interested in how folks (including me) react to the experience. One thing is that life has to be slower. Some find this very frustrating and get grumpy when their requests (often demands) aren’t dealt with at once. They need to relax and accept that someone else’s needs are more important. The nurses may be dealing with someone who is in desperate need of help. Try thinking that the staff are really good because they always put the more urgent need first. One day, the fact they do that may save your life. Some people never thank the nursing staff. They don’t seem to think that the nurse taking their blood pressure is doing something for their benefit and should be thanked. Some get frustrated and bored because they are stuck in bed. They don’t realise that they could amuse themselves (read or listen to the radio on headphones or just contemplate) or treat their time in bed as a blessed relief from the daily rush. The trick is to find something POSITIVE in the situation, however unpleasant it may seem. If you do, you will find peace. One of the benefits of all that ‘nasty’ time in hospital is that I learnt this. Being ill is a good chance to see that a lot of the stuff we fret about every day is really not that important but some things we forget all the time really matter.

  9. I too do not deal well with being served. Like you, I prefer to serve. But I have learned recently that by allowing others to serve me (when I am ill or overwhelmed by a task) I am giving them the opportunity to have the blessings that come from service. When I insist on my independence, I am denying them those blessings. Shame on me and my foolish pride that I should stand between someone and God’s grace. It is not easy to let go of my desire to serve but I think of Mary and Martha, Jesus reminds Martha that Mary chose the better part (use of her time) and he would not deny her that. So, when I must acquiesce my control, I submit myself to his will and place myself in his presence as best I can.

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