The Monastery of the Heart
Patience and care are two pillars of Benedictine community. They hold up before our eyes, in blinding light, in immovable form, what is to be the nature of our presence in the world.
There is in Benedictine spirituality a deeply compassionate heart—that neither glorifies the suppression of human feelings nor denies the reality of human needs. Nowhere is that clearer than in the attention the Rule gives to the needs of the elderly, the sick, and the children of the monastery.
Benedictine spirituality is not a race to win the most spiritual points for strict silence, or the spiritual athleticism of lengthy fasts, or even perfect attendance at prayer. Benedictine spirituality is a community-minded game of no-one-loses.
Whatever our boundaries or barriers, we will help one another over the finishing lines of life together. We are here to enable one another to go further. We are here to learn from the insights of the other. We are here to bring all of humanity to fullness of life.
The Rule is clear about the lengths to which a Benedictine goes to sustain the elderly, to heal the sick, to support the young in the community.
“The prioress or abbot should be extremely careful,” the Rule teaches, “that they suffer no neglect.” Caretakers are named, special accommodations are provided, diets beyond the common fare of the monastery are given, and “the sick may take baths whenever it is advisable,” Benedict says—in a time when bathing was a luxury.
Suffering is not glorified in this Rule. Loving care is its norm. Children and the elderly, it declares, “should be treated with kindly consideration.”
The very humanity of a Rule designed to shape a spiritual life is a fundamental spiritual message of its own. Life is not a regimen to be endured. It is an enterprise meant to be made possible, made beautiful, at every stage.
The message to the sick, on the other hand, is a spiritual discipline for us all. “Let them not by their excessive demands distress anyone who serves them. Still, the sick must be patiently borne with, because serving them leads to a greater reward.”
We are, in all instances, to be patient in our requests, and caring—gentle—in our concern for others. No amount of spiritual asceticism can equal the amount of spiritual growth and human maturity that comes with care for others.
For the monastic of the heart who lives alone, Benedictine spirituality requires an outreach to those in the family, the neighborhood, the community whose needs are being neglected. It calls for attention to children, regular interaction with the elderly, and care for those whose conditions limit their own participation the community. Whatever the situation, whatever the group, the seeker in a Monastery of the Heart is called to build community with the entire community.
—from The Monastery of the Heart: Benedictine Spirituality for Contemporary Seekers, by Joan Chittister