Care of the sick must rank above and before all else so that they may truly be served as Christ who said: "I was sick and you visited me (Mt 25-36)." and, "What you did for one of these least of my people you did for me (Mt. 25-40). 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 anyone who serves them. Still, the sick must be patiently borne with, because serving them leads to a greater reward. Consequently, the prioress or abbot should be extremely careful that they suffer no neglect.
The rabbis say, "The purpose of maintaining the body in good health is to make it possible for you to acquire wisdom." Benedictine spirituality is about coming to a sense of the fullness of life. It is not about being self-destructive or living sour lives or dropping down pits of privacy so deep that no other ever dare intrude. Benedictine spirituality never gives up on life even though death is known to be the entry to its everlasting joy. Why? Because, the rabbi shows us, every day we have gives us another chance to become the real persons we are meant to be. Why? Because, the scripture says, to serve the sick is to serve the Christ.
The point for us all, perhaps, is never to give up on life and never to doubt that every bit of kindness, every tender touch we lay upon another in life can heal what might otherwise have died, certainly in them, perhaps even in ourselves.
Let a separate room be designated for the sick, and let them be served by an attendant who is God-fearing, attentive and concerned. The sick may take baths whenever it is advisable, but the healthy, and especially the young, should receive permission less readily. 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.
The abbot and prioress must take the greatest care that cellarers and those who serve the sick do not neglect them for the shortcomings of disciples are their responsibility.
Care for the sick, in the mind of Benedict, is not a simple warehousing process, though that in itself could have been a great contribution to a society without hospitals. Care for the sick, in Benedictine spirituality, is to be done with faith, with attention and with a care beyond the technical. The infirmarian is to be "concerned." Baths, a very important part of Roman therapy and hygiene in a hot and sticky climate, and red meat, a treat used only rarely in early monastic houses both because of its scarcity and because of its purported relationship to sexual agitation, are both given generously and recklessly. Care of the sick, you see, is done in the name of God and to the person of the suffering Christ. Nothing was too much. Nothing was to be spared. Nothing that could do good was to be called forbidden.
We have to ask ourselves, in a society of technological health care, how much of it we do with faith and lavish attention and depth of soul and a love that drives out repulsion. We have to ask ourselves how willing we are to take a little of our own energy in behalf of those who are no longer the life of the party, the help on the job? How much of our own precious time do we spend on those with little time left?