Of Old Men and Children: RB 37

St Benedict was no sentimentalist. Even though he thought that human nature would make us tender-hearted towards the most vulnerable, he nevertheless stipulated that the Rule must protect both the very old and the very young. He adds that they should not have to observe the rigour of the Rule as regards mealtimes but be allowed to eat earlier. Thus, in two short sentences, he sums up what we, in our wordier way, seem to need endless reports and official recommendations to ensure: how to look after those unable by reason of age or infirmity to look after themselves.

It is worth thinking about that for a moment. A monastic community is not (usually) made up of people tied to one another by the natural bonds of family or kinship. Quite often there are substantial differences in background and outlook as well as age and fitness. It is the shared enterprise, the  quest for purity of heart and the realisation of the Kingdom, that unites the community. That is why mutual encouragement and sharing one another’s burdens is so important. It is also why Benedict never, for one moment, suggests that anyone in community is superfluous or beyond the scope of the community’s love and concern. No matter how weak some are or how badly individuals may behave, the community has what we would call today a duty of care that every single member must exercise towards his/her fellows.

How do we measure up to that in society today? How often do we hear mumblings about how ‘the Government’ has failed us because X did not get the medical care we thought he should, or ‘the Council’ has failed us because it did not provide Y with the childcare solution we think it should? Yes, we pay taxes and expect services in return, especially for the young (e.g. education) and the old (e.g. healthcare), but that does not mean we can ignore our own individual responsibility to look after those who need help. During Lent we have an opportunity to think more deeply about the meaning of almsgiving and what may be asked of us. It is comparatively easy for most of us to drop a few pence into a Charity collection box, but to give time to that grumpy old neighbour or provide a safe environmnet for the young to play in may prove much more demanding. Perhaps that would be a useful subject for us to ponder today?


4 thoughts on “Of Old Men and Children: RB 37”

  1. How pleased I am to have you back blogging. Now that I am classed as elderly and infirm by the NHS, I hope people will treat me accordingly. During the recent snow hiatus our neighbour called twice to see if we needed anything which was lovely. We didn’t since my wife has a vehicle suitable for where we live and we always keep a good store cupboard and make our own bread. Two of my daughters live close by so we are glad of their help these days. We still have to care for our truly elderly Mothers. We also have to look after our grandchildren giving them I hope a live,y safe place to be. My Mother in law is a great challenge but we do try to be as kind and thoughtful as we can despite it being very challenging.

    • Thank you. The chemo cosh lasted longer this time. I’m sure that those you serve so generously are blessed by your kindness, and that you and your wife are blessed in your turn.

  2. It’s spooky how pertinent your posts can be to the particular situation I find myself in.

    My frail, elderly mother has deteriorated in a way I just was not anticipating and I am learning to live with the necessary adjustments. I have been less than kind but hope to do better.

    As for religious communities: I’ve always thought of them as intentional families.

    • Praying for you and your mother. As to religious communities, I’ve explained on a number of occasions why I find the family analogy unhelpful so won’t go over old ground. You are spared! 🙂

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