The Tools of Good Works 10 to 31

With today’s portion of the Rule, we get on to more testing ground. Words like ‘renunciation’, ‘fasting’ and ‘discipline’ make their appearance, along with exhortations to perform the corporal works of mercy and keep our hearts and tongues pure, free from perjury or profanity. At the heart of this chapter are two sentences that epitomize both the Christian and the monastic ideal: ‘To make oneself a stranger to the ways of the world’ (20) and ‘To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.'(21)

For two thousand years members of the Church have found the first very difficult. We have embraced the world and its ways with great eagerness, telling ourselves that we must ‘be where people are’ and ‘speak a language that people understand’. Both are true, but perhaps not in the way we have assumed. There must always be something of a prophet about every Christian, a readiness to challenge society’s comfortable assertions with the truth that comes from God, never more so than when society deludes itself into believing that it is acting with compassion when it isn’t. A good example might be the Church’s upholding of the sacredness of human life in the face of apparently strong arguments against it (e.g. see my post here).

The second sentence is perhaps more challenging still, for it calls us to give up not just bad or indifferent things but good things, too. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ is to give up family, career, personal freedom, to embrace something known only by faith, and that imperfectly and often uncertainly. It is here that most Benedictines would place the heart of their vocation. It is this that enables us to aspire to the last tools named in this section: not to pay back evil for evil (29); not to wrong anyone but patiently bear wrong done to oneself — something our world finds incomprehensible for the most part (30); to love one’s enemies.(31)

The Tools of Good Works are precisely that: tools which have to be used to be effective in doing good. As we shall see, Benedict envisages a lifetime’s practice within the enclosure of the monastery. However small or circumscribed our world may be physically, morally it can be co-extensive with the universe. To renounce oneself to follow Christ (10) is to enter upon the greatest journey of exploration ever made. How could such a journey end but in a reversal of what most people would expect (31)?

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6 thoughts on “The Tools of Good Works 10 to 31”

  1. Thank you for reminding me of the recordings of the Rule on your main site. I’m not a techie, but am pleased to say I’ve managed to link to it so that I can hear a portion each day.
    Like yesterday’s post this passage is so much easier read than done.

  2. Living a life of discipline and simplicity sounds much harder than you make it sound.

    I like the idea of giving up the world for Christ, but I suspect that I should already be doing that?

    It’s a struggle to stay away from the world, as it’s all around us. Went to a service this morning where the single reading was from Lamentations 3 (the whole chapter) and it really brought home the suffering of the Jewish people in exile.

    But the light strikes in Verse 23. God is new every morning.

    What a thought to pray for and to reflect on.

  3. Dear Sister,
    I am not sure that I always “get” the intention of your meditations. Maybe the language does not backs me. I really need a help regarding the above message….how can make myself stranger to the ways of the world, when my world are three challenging and opponent teens? Do not pay back evil for evil…. What if They consider evil what is not evil?

    I hope not to offend you, sometimes I wish I could live in a monastery. I hardly believe that your fight is painful and demanding, as far as this rule is concerned.

    Thanks for any prayer for all families in difficulty.

    Cinzia

    • Cinzia, there is no easy answer to your question; and it may be that the language I write in is something of a barrier. It could just be that I haven’t explained myself very well. When Benedict talks about making ourselves a stranger to the ways of the world, he means that we should not unthinkingly adopt the world’s values. For example, today’s celebrity culture drives many people to want more than they can afford, or leads them to act in ways that are really not ‘acceptable’. Christians must stand up for Christian values. We need to use our discernment, too. Sometimes what the world thinks evil is not evil. As regards our way of life not being ‘painful and demanding’, who can say? Many people come to the monastery believing that life inside will be easy and peaceful, but saints are not made without there being some suffering involved; and we are, or should be, in the saint-making business!

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