They Brought You Their Sick

Published by Saint Vincent Archabbey Public Relations on

Brother Cancer came to live with me in the monastery about five years ago. He arrived with an unexpected impact to tell me how important life is, my life, where I am and as I am. Eventually I got the message. He stays around to serve me in my making the decisions that define my path. Another Brother of the same name, but no relation, rushed in unannounced last year, and for months upset all my cherished plans, before retreating. “You didn’t really learn all you need to, you know,” he seemed to warn, “but you’d better try again.” I can’t escape their lurking around, but my commitment is not to them.

Nor is it to Brother Depression, who has attached himself to me as an unwelcome companion for even longer. I wonder sometimes if he’s made perpetual vows. A cumbersome burden, often in the way. He would take over if he could. “So deal with it,” Life sighs. There aren’t going to be only invited guests at your party.

Jesus, they brought you their sick and their repulsive outcasts in crowds, and you welcomed them. Those whom others pushed away to the fringes drew your attention and respect. Each and every one got a healing word, a consoling touch. For once someone recognized them, affirmed their right to exist. You taught your followers to bring in the abandoned and put them in places of honor at the lavish banquet of life. And after you ministered to the hopeless and vulnerable, you went and became one of them yourself. “He saved others, but he can’t save himself,” people scoffed. You wept from discouragement. You sweated out your isolated agony. You bled under mistreatment. You endured public humiliation and the bitterness of betrayal, denial. But you hoped and trusted, despite temptation. You offered yourself to be lifted up, and for love of others–that’s us. When you felt most alone, you were closest to us. You know us because you became like us.

And who is there to bring me to the healing pool, to the Water of Life?

Illness has brought me to the deepest sense of community I have ever had. My brother monks have brought me to Jesus like those Gospel people who cared, and elbowed close to him with someone dear to them. And in our shared life and common commitment they have brought Jesus to me, healing and encouraging by their acceptance. Jesus-like, they have recognized me for what I am, and kept light in my life, while saying, “You belong in this crowd with us. Whatever is being passed out, we’ll see that you get some too.”  From them I learn that I will belong no less if my demons impair me or if I falter in my work. I had to submit to sickness to know that (it’s one way to learn). And from them good things have come to me.

Even those I have lived with and who have now gone ahead have taught me the path to follow. The old abbots, Alfred and Denis, in their peaceful acceptance of infirmity and death. Elder brothers like Ildephonse, Leopold, Valerian. Buddies like Gus/Robert, Donald, Cecil, Alexander, Maurus. My younger brothers Ian, Michael, Roman, and Jimmy. Dear Jim. Tormented and outgoing, curious, laughing, irrepressible and irreplaceable. Outrageously unconventional, hungry for love and for Christ. Life opened a plan for him in circles of many hearts. Life-threatening illness brought him into the heart of community. Sudden death took him with a shock to us all. When we were ill together, you shared your faith with me, we talked of the same hopes and fears, we laughed and wondered together. You left me grateful.

Such are my brothers, much like me, and now we look forward to being together inseparably, one eternal Day, in our Brother Christ. Then illness will have served its purpose of strengthening the ties among us. My infirmities will not pursue me beyond death, but our love will make a place for me in a perfect and complete community. Belonging here helps me believe I will belong there too.

Brice Ryan, O.S.B.

From Saint Vincent: A Benedictine Place; Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B., editor; Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, 1995