“Care of the sick must rank above and before all else, so that they may truly be served as Christ …”
—The Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 36
Among the scenes painted on the east wall of the Chapter Room at Saint Meinrad Archabbey is one of a monk who is dying in his bed. Several other monks surround him, one of whom is holding up the dying monk’s vow chart so he can renew the promise he made upon entering the community.
It is an idealized scene, but one that nevertheless represents something that many people want to achieve: to die at home, surrounded by those people in their lives who love them and whom they love. This way of dying, if at all possible, is the final and greatest acknowledgement of the dignity of each person.
Not every monk dies at home in his monastery. Some die in hospitals, others in car accidents, still others in a foreign country where they have been assigned to work. But many do die in the monastery where they have been cared for and prayed over by their brothers.
The contemporary hospice movement has made this acknowledgement of dignity possible for many other people. As a sign of final respect, it recognizes that the dying person is so much more than merely a challenge to the wonders of medical science.
The Rule urges monks to recognize this basic human dignity in themselves, in their brothers, and in all people. When a monk truly accepts his own dignity, then it spills over into all that he does. His work reflects the care that he takes in doing it, whether he is turning a piece of wood on the lathe, or crafting a lecture for a class, or sweeping the halls of the monastery. His whole manner of relating to others, whether monk or guest, demonstrates respect for their dignity. He believes he would degrade himself by treating others shamelessly.
A lifetime of respect for basic human dignity bears fruit when his own death is at hand, and he has the consolation of dying at home, surrounded by those with whom he has shared his life. They have the rich gift of sharing the intimacy of his death. It is a final and tender moment that allows the passage of death to take place with the greatest dignity. But recognition of dignity in oneself and others must be demonstrated in action. Reverence is dignity acknowledged by behavior.
Excerted from”Kindred Spritis” written by Archabbot Justin DuVall, OSB. Contact us for your free copy of Kindred Spirits.