To be read: March 16, July 16, November 16
Although human nature is of itself drawn to feel compassion toward both old and young, still, the decree of the Rule ought to make provision also for them. 2Since their natural weakness must always be taken into account, the strictness of the Rule should not be imposed upon them regarding food, 3but let them be treated gently regarding when they need to eat before regular hours.
As we saw in yesterday’s meditation, monasteries were centers for caring ministries within the communities where they were established. The monks provided medical care, care for the elderly, and often took in and cared for orphans left on their doorstep. Benedict recognized this basic societal need and sought to address this in his Rule. Unfortunately, this practice has not been continued in the modern Church. In today’s society, the old who need special care are far too often placed in “homes” by their loved ones, and children who are unexpected and unwanted are killed in the womb by their mothers. And so, Benedict’s statement in verse 1 is even more relevant today: “Although human nature is of itself drawn to feel compassion toward both old and young, still, the decree of the Rule ought to make provision also for them.” Not only is there a need to make provision by decree in the Rule, we need to pray for, and do our part to facilitate a change in the mindset of this nation toward the weak, the elderly, the unborn, and those whom we think of as “unproductive” members of society. Benedict says that “…their natural weakness must always be taken into account…”. Sadly, their natural weakness is discounted as a personal and societal burden and both the young and the elderly are treated as unwanted.
Besides the fact that many of our elderly members in the Church feel unwanted and forgotten when we shuffle them away to a nursing home or assisted living facility, we are also robbing our young of interaction with these veterans of life and spiritual warfare. We have so much to learn from the senior members of the Body. We can learn from their triumphs, tragedies, accomplishments, and mistakes. They have a compendium of experience that needs to be tapped. A number of years ago I took the teenagers in the parish to visit our shut-in members. I had each of the young people prepare a set of questions of their own choosing that they would want to ask someone who had these vast life experiences. Once they had come up with their list of questions, we sat down with each of the elders of the parish and the kids interviewed them. The young people loved it! And the seniors—the light in their eyes gleamed as they shared their stories. Young and old were both edified.
The Rule of St. Benedict conveys a great wealth of truth and advice in this very short chapter. The message is clear: we must take into account the needs of both young and old, and treat them gently. Are you staying connected to the elderly of your parish? Are you reaching out to the young and encouraging them in their walk with Christ? How can you help both to live a life full of Christ’s love, and to remain active in the Body of Christ? That is the challenge presented in this chapter.