Everything would be so much easier if we could be, like James Hogg, a justified sinner and never have to worry whether our conduct is right or wrong. Catholicism, however, takes another James for her guide and insists that we demonstrate the reality of our faith through our good deeds. Not surprisingly, St Benedict takes the same view.
Today’s section of the Prologue goes into some detail about these good deeds we have to perform. They are not to be mere occasional outbursts of godly behaviour, they are to be constant. It is not so much doing good we have to aim at as being good. The verbs Benedict uses are exhausting: we have to run, walk, act, speak, believe, hurl, dash and then glorify, all at once. Quite clearly, monastic life is not for wimps and being virtuous is not for the lazy or faint-hearted.
There is one theme, however, that stands out about the rest: the centrality of Christ. The only effective way of dealing with temptation is to take it to Christ, and not in some limp and effete manner but with vigour and purpose. We are to hurl the devil and his temptation from our hearts, dash our half-formed thoughts against Christ. It is easy to forget that; to think we must struggle and struggle on our own when, in reality, the opposite is true. Often we don’t want to acknowledge our temptations, even to ourselves. We are ashamed of them; and it is shame, often as not, that gives them their power. The old monastic tradition of ‘manifestation of thoughts’ has profound psychological as well as spiritual truth in it.
Today will present each of us with many choices, many temptations, many opportunities. God doesn’t ask us to ‘get it right’ all the time, but he does ask us to be truthful about our failures and humble about our successes. What he wants is love, not sacrifice. Our good deeds are important insofar as they draw us closer to him, but we must always remember they are his work in us, and to him be the glory.