March 16, July 16, November 15
Chapter 37: On the Old and Children
Although human nature itself is drawn to special kindness
towards these times of life,
that is towards the old and children,
still the authority of the Rule should also provide for them.
Let their weakness be always taken into account,
and let them by no means be held to the rigor of the Rule
with regard to food.
On the contrary,
let a kind consideration be shown to them,
and let them eat before the regular hours.
Many modern minds would find monasticism itself, including our Holy
Rule to be a harsh and inflexible thing. Sadly, many cranky,
curmudgeonly monastics who have missed the mark make those same
assumptions at times! We are not at all the heartless discipline of a
sort imagined by many.
This chapter, on the old and children, as well as in many other
places, such as the references to those who require more material
things and the care of the sick are highlights of Benedictinism's
faceted gem: personalism. St. Benedict sees persons as they are,
where they are. He meets them at many different points on the road to
monastic life, even within the monastery itself. He urges us to do
the same. He also calls all whom he meets at all of those
points "beginners", lest any of us become proud or think ourselves
better than the weak lamb he goes after.
The Holy Rule bends and twists and stoops to make many allowances for
many different sorts of weakness. In doing so, it clearly shows the
loving father's heart of the man who wrote its Prologue in such
The tenderness of St. Benedict shines through here. These are strong
words for weakness: "ALWAYS taken into account," and "BY NO MEANS
held to the rigor of the Rule for food." Though he prefaces his
chapter recalling that any healthy human nature has a certain level
of consideration for these age groups, our holy Father Benedict
quickly returns to a very consistent theme of the Holy Rule: we are
called to more than mere nature. We are called to enhance our nature
to the heights of sanctity. Our considerate mindfulness for every
person and their individual needs must be greater than that of the
St. Benedict's aim is that each of us ALWAYS see the person first.
That kind of loving mindfulness will make the chapters on the sick
and the young and old seem to be complete no-brainers. This is the
way we should be seeing everyone: real people for whom they really
are, nothing more or less. Circumstances do arise that require
greater attention, but the foundation of that is a firm theology of
It should come as no great shock that the most frequent obstacle to
viewing others correctly is ourselves. Our own image, our self, our
pain, our projections get in the way of the lens of truth. We have to
spend our monastic struggle learning to put those things aside, so
that the light of others may shine through unobstructed.
With our own needs at least on a back burner, or better yet, shelved
far off in the pantry, we can begin to truly see others and their
needs. Wipe the mud of self from our eyes and we can see the
treasures that surround us. Mother Teresa of Calcutta surely did
that. She saw beauty that all of us less holy than she missed big-
time and she saw it in everyone.
A key to all this is a favorite quote from Antoine de St.
Exupery's "Little Prince":
"The essential is invisible to the eyes. One can only see rightly
with the heart."
That's what our Holy Rule demands: the cultivation of the very loving
eyes of our hearts!
Love and prayers,