A Sick Society and RB 36?

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

St Benedict’s View of Sickness

Blue gloves and face coverings are now so familiar in the West, we have almost forgotten what they symbolize. They say we are sick, as indeed we probably are, but with a sickness that goes beyond the physical. All I have written in the past about RB 36 and Care of the Sick (and I have written a great deal as a quick search of this blog will reveal) has tended to concentrate on an analysis of the text and our movement from giving care to receiving care. This morning, however, as we re-read the chapter, I was struck by how clear and uncompromising Benedict is about what we owe each other.

Care of the sick comes above and before everything else, ante omnia et super omnia, no matter how good, holy, apparently necessary or advantageous anything else may be. In the light of the very mixed signals coming from the U.K. government, that is worth thinking about. Politicians and civil servants may be confused; economists may be reluctant to concede that striving for growth is not always appropriate; and scientists will continue to argue, as scientists should, about the best way to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of respiratory and other viruses following in its wake. For the majority of us, the response will be more personal and individual.

Concerns about Current Attitudes

I am not alone in feeling uneasy about the ‘dog-in-the-manger’ attitude many Western countries have shown regarding sharing anti-COVID vaccines with poorer nations. In the same way, I find quite alarming the readiness of some heads of state to sacrifice the health and lives of the people they were elected to serve to frankly loopy ideas of their own that lead to much suffering and loss. But it is not an easy question to solve at national/international level.

At a personal level, it is much simpler. Like it or not, we have a duty of care towards others and that includes being prepared to sacrifice a personal good for a greater social good. As you might expect, given my respiratory vulnerability, the prospect of ‘Freedom Day’ does not fill me with unalloyed joy. Until now, I have regularly worn a mask to protect others and have been irritated by workmen and others who refuse to wear one inside our house — only a few, but enough to remark upon. I suspect even more will refuse after 19 July, especially those who take their ideas of right and wrong from what is allowed by the law, i.e. if it is not a criminal or civil offence, it is alright.

Serving Christ

A Benedictine would say we serve Christ in the person of the sick. What is often overlooked is that the sick serve Christ in the person of the well. For the one doing the caring, it is a case of being alert to the needs of the sick person and being patient with them; for the sick it is a case of not being over-demanding, of allowing the carer to serve — hard as that may seem at times! Where, I think, both come together, is in their response to the moral dimension of sickness. There is a lot going on about healthcare in the UK, a lot that tugs at our understanding. I don’t pretend to have any answers, only questions gradually taking shape. It would be good if you would share yours — without blaming or party-political ranting, please.

The Rule of St Benedict in English for 15 July, RB 36, On Sick Brethren


5 thoughts on “A Sick Society and RB 36?”

  1. Personally I completely agree. The sick are precious for the reason you give and it is an honour and a grace to be able to care for them. It becomes tough when they become demanding beyond one’s capacity, most of us who care for and nurse a sick relative will have more demands on our time and energy than this one. It cannot always be possible to devote the time and concern to one sick person. Both my elderly parents were in hospital at the same time, for instance, but in different ones, miles apart. I was working, and am an only child, so the weight of visiting and washing clothes, bringing fresh ones etc fell on me. When one parent was discharged into my care post op with MRHA in the wound, not disclosed to me by the hospital, I was caught in a cleft stick. I coped with the help of district nurses, who were angelic, but my other parent would not accept that I simply could nor be at their side, too.
    These are unforeseeable concatinnations of circumstances and I don‘t know how they can be solved, except by doing the possible, apologising for not doing the impossible and praying hard. I am certain I got snappy, too, but there it is.

  2. I will continue to wear a mask out of love for strangers, and be grateful for others that do. Our local shops are saying “we would prefer you to wear a mask”, giving a steer, but choice.

    I had afternoon tea with an anaesthetic consultant yesterday who is not sure how much longer she can go on for, and tells me doctors who always smile have lost their smiles. After the worst of the covid surge was over, they were told to catch up on other things, do more, no more staff. Longer hours. What we are asking of so many is unsustainable. And my lovely (new) GP who rang to see how I am (bless him)tells me the provider of palliative care has just been changed!! Why/how does that work/help? He doesn’t know.

    I understand the need for “normal”, and I don’t know the answers, all I can do is write a thank you note to my GP, give my smile to those who have lost theirs, and pray for those making decisions.

    It feels inadequate

  3. Yes, yes, yes! But I’m finding it hard to step off my soapbox (or Ward meeting and GC meeting) being an activist at heart.

    A big question – or perhaps idea, of what I would like to see happen, is an empowerment of everyone in all communities in the care of the sick. I have enormous respect for healthcare professionals at all levels but I think we’ve perhaps become too used to top down direction and possibly scared to use our own common sense and experience thus often overburdening the health service, and conversely, health professionals ‘knowing best’ (which they generally do) but are too busy and overworked to spend time in listening and explaining and working cooperatively with the patient – and, of course, by the time the patient gets to see the doctor, they are often anything but patient.

    As for Covax, it makes we weep. It’s true, I think that it’s the duty of government to look after its own citizens first, but in an extremely wealthy country like ours, there’s plenty of money to supply vast quantities of vaccine and resources to those who have little or none.

    So – I’m stopping on the top of my soap box because it’s what I do best, and calling in here for more measured insights and wisdom.

  4. PS I’ve just listened to the extract from the Rule.

    It’s a public health message which needs to be spread far and wide.

    I wonder what Saint Benedict would think of the sugar tax?

  5. I received a text yesterday from work to remind us that our finger nails must be keep short & no rings to be worn, as we don’t want to tear the skin
    of patients. When I played netball, the referee of the game would also check that the players nails were cut and rings weren’t being worn.
    Safety is important, before the work & fun begin! I personally think it’s not too hard to abide by?

Comments are closed.