If You Don’t Want Any Help…

With a twig, a ladder, a little prod and even risking life and limb, the novice tried to help every creature he saw. Not one of them, however, accepted his efforts.

There was once a monastery at the top of a hill, in the region of the Alps. It was small but very blessed and well cared-for, surrounded by breath-taking scenery! In the winter, nature was completely silent and covered with snow. But when spring came, the birds sang all day long and the surroundings of the monastery burst into life, which brought a special joy to the monks who lived there.

Religious discipline reigned within a serene and regular routine, each member of the community dedicating himself to his duties. Friar Aldhelm was the abbot; Friar Jerome was responsible for the kitchen; Friar Albert was in charge of the infirmary; Friar Robert organized the library; Friar Gregory served as sacristan; Friar Stephen took care of the vegetable garden.

There was also a recently arrived novice among them, who was only eighteen years old. His name was Philip. He had not been assigned any specific function, but was to give a helping hand wherever needed, so that he could become familiar with the customs of the monastery. Despite his good will, he still had a somewhat rough way about him; as a result, he had some difficulty taking advice and a tendency to hold fast to his own ideas. He was, no doubt, on the way to being a good friar; it was all a matter of time.

In the beginning of spring, when the snow had almost all melted away and the earliest plants were beginning to appear, Brother Philip asked the abbot for leave of the cloister, to take a walk in the surrounding countryside and contemplate nature. Friar Aldhelm gave his permission.

The youth was entralled with the wonders of God’s creation: the colours of the flowers, the elegance of the pines, the pale green of the meadows below, which seemed to take on different hues, depending on the rays of the sun, the graceful leaping and climbing of the squirrels… Everything was perfect!

Having wandered into a wooded area, he heard something that sounded like sticks being struck together. He followed the direction of the noise and found two deer fighting with their antlers, which had become so hopelessly locked together that they could no longer separate from each other.

Feeling sorry for the struggling animals, Philip crept closer, with the intention of freeing them. But in vain… As the young friar tried to untangle their antlers, the animals protested with fierce kicks. After several frustrated attempts, he was forced to give up, exhausted. “If you don’t want any help, what can I do?” he said. And realizing that it was almost time for community prayer, he returned to the monastery.

After the liturgical chant, lunch and a period of meditation, Brother Philip went out again in the late afternoon – this time accompanied by three other monks – to contemplate the sunset. On the way back, he came upon the same place where he had stopped in the morning, and he saw the two deer, their antlers still tangled, both prostrate on the ground and almost dead from exertion! Was there any way to rescue them? Unfortunately, having so stubbornly refused help before, they could no longer receive it now, as the four religious had to make their way back without delay, since it was getting dark.

As he passed through the door, he found the same beetle he had tried to help the night before,already dead

As he was just about to pass through the monastery doors, the novice noticed a curious beetle on the ground outside. He crouched down to get a better look and realized that, probably when trying to climb up on the flagstone step, it had fallen backwards and couldn’t right itself, try as it may. Seeing its plight, Brother Philip had the idea of taking a twig and touching it to the insect’s feet. “That way, it can hold on, and turn itself around,” he thought. The beetle, however, refused to grasp the lifeline held out to it… Philip even tried to turn it over gently with his foot, but the little creature seemed determined not to cooperate. Then Brother Philip realized that the beetle was playing dead! “Well,” he sighed regretfully, “if you don’t want my help, what can I do?” And entering the monastery, he recollected himself in his cell in order to renew his energies for the next day.

As is customary, monks wake up very early to recite Matins. So, as soon as the bell rang, Brother Philip arose and quickly got ready to go to the chapel. Passing through the main doors, he found the beetle in the same position, but dead. The novice reflected: “Hm! It would have been so easy to grab the twig.” And he hurried on his way, so as not to be late.

The monastery chapel was built in a lofty Gothic style. As soon as the melodious praises to God began, a little bird came through the door and began to fly about, distraught, looking for a way out. It didn’t remember how it had just entered! The bird swooped along the length of the chapel again and again, even brushing the monks’ tonsures with its wings.

The abbot, seeing that it was impossible to continue in this way, said quietly to Brother Philip: “Please get that bird out of here.” As stealthily as possible, the novice tried to catch the bird when it finally alighted. But feeling threatened, it took to flight again, soaring up to the chandelier. Philip fetched a ladder to reach it, but just as his hands were closing on the little creature… it was off again, darting about in dizzy circles.

Those who refuse to accept wise guidance risk meeting the same sad end as the little bird who didn’t want any help

“Well, if you don’t want any help, what can I do?” thought the novice. Out of obedience to the superior’s request, he continued trying to guide the bird towards the exit, until it suddenly disappeared through a little hole at the top of the wall, and became trapped in the small dark space in which it found itself, unable to find its way back out. It chirped so piercingly that it was pitiful; however, there was no remedy… The opening was so high that no monk could reach it.

At any rate, with the bird at last “caught”, Matins went on as usual and the community followed its routine.

During the meditation hour, the aspiring friar recalled these three examples of heedlessness. And the voice of grace whispered in his ear, “Philip, you act the same way.” Opening his heart to supernatural action, inspiration led him to the following conclusion: “A sad end awaits those who do not accept help or advice from those who are wiser!” From that day on, the novice resolved to always be open and receptive to the guidance of the abbot and his more experienced brothers in the community, becoming a model monk for the entire Order!

Let us follow the example of Friar Philip and learn to trustingly abandon ourselves in the hands of those who, by God’s plan, are sent to guide us! 



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