Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 36, Care for the Sick

Chapter 36 of The Rule of St. Benedict is entitled "The Sick Brothers" and it starts with this admonition:
1Care of the sick must rank above and before all else, so that they may truly be served as Christ, 2for he said: "I was sick and you visited me" (Matt 25:36), 3and, "What you did for one of these least brothers you did for me" (Matt 25:40).
In my efforts to practice the works of mercy I think I've made the least amount of progress on visiting and caring for the sick. Yet here Benedict says "care of the sick must rank above and before all else."

My struggles with caring for the sick aren't because I'm particularly calloused toward sick people. Far from it. It mainly has to do with the rise of modern medicine. In Benedict's day there were no hospitals, emergency rooms, health clinics or pharmacies. Families and communities cared for the sick at home.

To be sure, we bring food to each other when someone is sick or recuperating. We visit each other in the hospital. That's mainly what this work of mercy looks like for many of us. And so we should practice this much. But again, I've not myself cooked a lot of casseroles and nor do I regularly visit the local hospital.

And what about nursing? Well, a part of this burden still falls on our families. In my home, like your home, people get sick and need some nursing. And beyond the flu and colds many of us have serious and chronic health issues in our homes. Some of us are full-time caregivers to our loved ones. And it light of all that, let's let Benedict's words reach us today.

Nursing, while often hard, tedious, boring and lonely, is the greatest expression of love that we can offer each other.

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5 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 36, Care for the Sick”

  1. You know, it is actually awesome to hear someone say this who isn't intimately involved with sick people. Thank you so much! Keep saying it! People rarely realise it if they don't have someone close to them sick, and it's a critical area.

    In the Christian circles I have encountered, we seem to have forgotten entirely that caring for the sick is such a big part of what Jesus commanded. I personally didn't realise it until I got sick and my church abandoned me; but since then I've heard so many stories now of people who have become chronically ill and have been told they obviously don't have enough faith or they'd get better/the church is "thinking of them" or "with them in spirit"/it's not the churches "job" to come to them, and if they can't make it to church maybe they should find somewhere else to go/they got visited a couple of months ago, what more do they want?

    Lots of things hold us back - there's very little teaching on it or encouragement to do it, it's seen as a role for the designated pastoral support person, not for the church in general, and perhaps most of all people feel embarrassed or don't know what to do if they know someone who gets ill, or hear of someone in their community. The result of this is though, western Christians with long-term conditions are left behind. Short-term stuff we can deal with, critical stuff too, but not long-term.

    From my own experience, if you're serious in wanting to grow in this area, I would say do a double check to make sure you don't have folk in your circles (or who used to be in your circles) who are ill. Ask them what they lack. Be prepared to minister to friends who are ill; visiting them, helping their carers, having fellowship with them, reliably. Advocate for them in your church. Of course, it varies for each person what they need, but I guess that's for you to find out :)

  2. Nurses, most of 'em, are goddesses in my book. When you're sitting in a loved one's cramped hospital room, dealing with the endless ongoing challenges of this sort of crisis, and a nurse sweeps through and clears the clutter and briskly greets your dispirited family and makes sure your loved one's immediate needs are on their way to being handled, it's a kind of crisp, bracing grace that revives everybody a little....

    Outside the professional sphere, though, we may miss opportunities to care for the sick because we're so busy we have trouble keeping sick friends on our schedules. I've been on all sides of this equation, and one of the heartbreaks of being ill is how few friends (and even family) find time to just show up—a brief visit a couple of times a week or even a phone call, a few minutes of conversation that doesn't center on disease or treatment (sports, gossip, politics—whatever), helps the stricken person remember that they're still them, they still exist outside the world of illness that seems to have gobbled up their life in a single gulp. It makes you wonder if you'll ever be you again. At the very end, when my brother was in hospice, some friends brought their dog Tilly to visit him. I'll never forget it: I called when they were there and it was the last time I heard joy in his voice. What a fantastic gift.

    So that's what I hope to offer to the sick—to bear witness that they are still themselves despite the ravages of disease or impending death. To see them through the disguise of decline, that's the gift I hope to give.

  3. I work closely with nurses and care givers, some of whom worked in patient's homes. I recall listening to a young lady who had been a Home Health Aid as she was telling some friends of when she cared for a young man in his home who was dying from Aids. She said she happened to be in another room when she heard him yell out. She ran into his bedroom to find him on the floor. As she struggled to help him back into bed she realized that he had urinated on himself and that it was getting on her hands, arms and clothes. Yet, she continued to make sure that he was safe and calm before she washed.

    Some of her friends remarked, "Are you crazy? I would have let him stay on the floor until I washed and put on some gloves". She replied, "I couldn't do that, he was crying, very upset. I couldn't just walk away".

    I do not know what religion this young lady was, or is she was religious at all. But I believe that we have turned a page in our generation in which Christians are challenged, not only see Christ on a Sunday morning, as beautiful as some can be, but in a healing deed by a stranger on Monday, Tues, etc. When we recognize the beauty in such, we will be recognized as students of the great physician.

  4. When my wife was going through serious heart surgery recently she was blessed with almost a surplus of care by family and friends. But a visiting friend mentioned to me that one of his former co-workers, a recently divorced women with no children was dealing with her breast cancer all by herself. She was driving herself to chemo treatments and back home while sick and suffering. She had no one at home to make a meal or walk her to the bathroom, bring her water, etc.. The technical expertise of Doctors and the care from nurses in the hospital is often amazing. And I think that there is usually hospice care available for those at the end of their lives. But I am wondering if there is a great need for some sort of intermediate home care for sick and suffering people without any family nearby and no close friends to care for them. Doing even simple things like driving someone to treatment or to pick up prescriptions, shopping, changing sheets, etc.. I have been thinking since then that perhaps this is something that the whole church could get involved in. There could be something like a ‘Matthew 25’ society or something that would field calls for help and send out volunteers who have signed up? Of course there is nothing stopping us from taking this kind of initiative individually, but there may be some advantages to a ministry connected to a larger institutional framework. Well, these are just some thoughts that your compelling post brought back to mind, much obliged.

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