Together with lectio divina, prayer and work, our fraternal life is another great means of encountering God. Jesus said: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25: 40). This is why St Benedict lays down at the beginning of his chapter on welcoming guests in the Rule that: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ” (ch. 53).
But it is first and foremost in our brethren, especially in the sick and infirm, that we believe God is present to us. St Benedict is very clear about this: “Care of the sick must rank above and before all else, so that they may be truly served as Christ” (ch. 36). We are convinced that each of our fellow monks is fashioned in God’s image and is a child of God. When we talk to our brethren, God reveals himself to us. For this reason, time spent relaxing in one another's company during recreation and walks is very important for us.
St Benedict’s Rule lays great stress on the quality of fraternal relationships: “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 behaviour, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers” (ch. 72).
In accordance with St Benedict's wishes, we strive to express fraternal charity in our life. This is achieved by a multitude of small attentions, such as being careful to walk at the same pace as our neighbour in processions or preparing the small bunch of flowers placed at the refectory place of a monk celebrating his feast day.
But we also know that fraternal life is a challenge. Instead of being a mirror reflecting God for our fellow monks, we are sometimes an obstruction conveying nothing but ourselves. We are not saints, but rather sinners striving for conversion with God's help and the light of the Gospel. For this reason, St Benedict states that the whole of the Lord's Prayer should be recited aloud at Lauds and Vespers: “Because thorns of contention are likely to spring up. Thus warned by the pledge they make to one another in the words of this prayer: 'Forgive us as we forgive', they may cleanse themselves of this kind of vice” (ch. 13).
Our fraternal life is not without its difficulties. But it is certainly one of the greatest consolations in our life.