Wednesday of Holy Week
When St Benedict writes about the good zeal of monks in Chapter 72 of the Rule, the first thing he says is that “they should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior”. That’s in line with what St Paul says in Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2), but Fr Regis used to point out that St Benedict adds the important word patientissime, “with the greatest patience”, which in Latin comes from the same root as passio, Passion. The law of Christ is to share in his Passion, and monks fulfill it by most patiently bearing one another’s burdens.
In fact, St Benedict thinks of the whole life of a monk as a continuous Lent (Ch 49), a continuous bearing of the cross of Christ. In that way the monastery becomes a manifestation of the body of Christ, a community in which we are aware of, and bear, one another’s burdens. Without this sharing in his Passion, we are not a community of Benedictine monks, and we disobey the law of Christ.
To fulfill the law of Christ is to be like the disciple in the first reading. In a translation used outside the United States, this reads: “For my part, I made no resistance, neither did I turn away. I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult”.
It would be easy to offer resistance, to turn away from our brother and avoid him, or violate his freedom by trying to make him in our own image of what a monk should be like. But we have to let God fashion him in His image. We respect the freedom of God’s creatures by bearing the burden which this freedom lays upon us. In the Gospel, Christ himself respected the freedom of Judas by bearing the burden of betrayal which that freedom laid upon Him, and monks, like all Christians, are expected to follow the example of Christ.
To bear our brother’s burdens in this context means to bear with everything that may try our patience, just as Christ, because of the joy that lay ahead of Him, patiently accepted the denial by St Peter and crucifixion by sinners. Those who patiently share in His Passion will also share in his resurrection, “and God-seeking hearts will revive; for the Lord listens to the needy, and does not spurn his servants in their chains”.