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.