Chapter 36: The Sick Brothers

1 Care of the sick must rank above and before all else, so that they may truly be served as Christ, 2 for he said: I was sick and you visited me (Matt 25:36), 3 and, What you did for one of these least brothers you did for me (Matt 25:40). 4 Let the sick on their part bear in mind that they are served out of honor for God, and let them not by their excessive demands distress their brothers who serve them. 5 Still, sick brothers must be patiently borne with, because serving them leads to a greater reward. 6 Consequently, the abbot should be extremely careful that they suffer no neglect. 7 Let a separate room be designated for the sick, and let them be served by an attendant who is God-fearing, attentive and concerned. 8 The sick may take baths whenever it is advisable, but the healthy, and especially the young, should receive permission less readily. 9 Moreover, to regain their strength, the sick who are very weak may eat meat, but when their health improves, they should all abstain from meat as usual. 10 The abbot must take the greatest care that cellarers and those who serve the sick do not neglect them, for the shortcomings of disciples are his responsibility.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

We see again this gentle compassion that Saint Benedict has. It is not easy for the monk to be sick, most of the time. We also know that monks sometimes say that they are sick when really they are only tired. Saint Benedict reminds us that when we serve the sick we are serving Christ himself. Even if the sick monk really is not physically ill, the monk who serves him still must treat him with patience and thereby gain God’s blessing.

There are two admonitions here. Saint Benedict reminds the one who is sick that he should not make excessive demands on his brethren.

Sometimes when we are sick, we expect the whole world to change just to accommodate us! This is not the way of the monk. Even the monk who is sick must continue is his quest for humility and the following of Christ.

The monks who care for the sick are admonished so that they do feel abandoned or left along. They need to know that the abbot and their brothers are concerned about them and willing to help them.

Saint Benedict is willing to make exceptions in the Rule so that they sick have special care, special bathing possibilities, special food, even meat if that is necessary.

This chapter clearly puts the major responsibility on the shoulders of the abbot, who must make sure that all the other brothers are doing their best to care for the sick and infirm. There must be no neglect of the sick in the monastery.

Spiritually, of course, we can profit whether we are the sick monk or the monk who is serving a sick monk. If we are sick, we can bear the sickness with joy and gratitude and offer it up to the Lord for some particular intention. If we are the one serving the sick brother or brothers, we, too, can offer this up to the Lord also and ask for a grace of recognizing the presence of the Lord Jesus in our sick brother. May we all be generous to one another.