Keep Death Daily Before Your Eyes

Benedict admonishes his followers very early in his Rule (Chapter 4) to “keep death daily before your eyes.” Why does Benedict tell his followers to do so? Is it because when he wrote his Rule in the 6th century, monks were sure targets of thieves and murderers? Or that Benedict alone knew what was in store for the monks?

Neither of these reasons work, of course, because we know that the goal of a monastic’s life is to “seek God,” and that is obtained by death, eventually. Therefore, observing death and understanding everything about it teaches someone how to seek God while living. Monastics seek God by following the commandment to love one another, to forgive wrongdoers, and to serve one another.

Our Sister Jeanne Marie Vanderlinde exemplified these virtues in the last year of her life among us. She had been diagnosed with cancer and decided to live her last days as wholly as possible. She resigned from her teaching position at Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School in St. Louis Park, Minn., and moved to the monastery in St. Joseph. She chose to be at the motherhouse so she could join the community for daily meals and daily prayers. In addition, the sisters could visit her in her room, or she could go to her family home and be with her siblings and their families.

She gave herself time to say goodbye. She gave herself time to spend with community members. And, most of all, she gave us, her community, time to see her die with dignity. She was a model we had of “death before our eyes,” daily.

Mary Jane Berger, OSB

Photo: The monastic cemetery, taken by Sister Nancy Bauer