73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 14

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week’s archives. Here is the fourteenth step:

(14) To relieve the poor.

I find the wording of this counsel of Saint Benedict rather interesting. In fact I felt that I had better check the translation to see if the one I was using was correct. What I found is that the word Benedict uses, that is translated as “relieve,” is “recreare” which literally means “to create again” or to “revive.”

With that in mind we see that the counsel that Saint Benedict is giving applies to a variety of the poor. The material poor as well as those who are poor in spirit.

While attending school at Saint Meinrad College I worked several work study jobs. One of these jobs was a weekend one where I assisted the Guestmaster at the Guest House. I greeted people who came to the guest house usually to inquire about the Monk’s schedule or the history of the monastery. But another group, that often made their appearance on a regular basis, were those looking for help–the poor.

Some of these were looking for food. The monastery had tickets, that I gave to those who asked for them, and they in turn would go to the monastery kitchen where food would be given to them. No questions were ever asked apart from how many members they had in their family which was a determining factor in how many tickets I would hand them.

A few of these poor souls, I recognized from my visits to the local pub in town. I did not judge them or deny them the tickets even though I knew that they had some money (at least some to buy drinks). One reason for my lack of judgment, was due to the fact that giving the monks food away, did not cost me anything. I wonder though, if the money had been coming out of my pocket, if I would have been as understanding.

Others came to the door looking for food of a different sort.

Thomas Merton in Bread in the Wilderness speaks of the psalms as God’s manna, given to feed the soul in the desert of life. The monk’s prayer, made up almost entirely of praying the psalms, provided that nourishment for many who had suffered loss or hurt from great struggles of faith.

All of us are poor. It is arrogant to think that I am somehow better than anyone else. If there is anything that I have hated throughout my life, it is those who look down on others. Sadly, it is also the part of myself that I hate the most—and the part that I know could ultimately condemn me if I do not let go of it.

Saint Benedict did not leave counsel to “help” the poor, even though we could interpret this counsel as concretely doing this. He told them to breathe life into them.

I could feed the poor with food, but if I made them feel like I was doing them a great service, I could leave them with their bellies full but still feeling very poor. If on the other hand, I fed them in the way I might some friend who I hoped to impress and win favor from, how might that leave them?

The famous, the wealthy and those in power often find that doors are opened for them and everything provided for them, although they usually have done nothing to deserve it. We may not have a “royal” family in this land of ours, but some are treated that way nonetheless. Why should some be treated that way and while others are neglected?

I can not change the way the world around me acts toward the poor, but I can change the way I act. I also cannot tell, from outward appearances, who the poor are by the way they appear. This counsel of Saint Benedict’s does not apply to one or two individuals but rather to everyone that I meet.

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