The Importance of Good Deeds (RB Prol. 21–32)

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.


7 thoughts on “The Importance of Good Deeds (RB Prol. 21–32)”

  1. Thank you for a good stoke to conscience today.

    The idea of dashing our thoughts of sin against Jesus is quite profound in itself, as is laying our buden of suffering at the foot of the cross as Jesus suffers alongside us. It highlights to me that all is about Jesus and not about us. He is sufficient through his Grace and Spirit for all of our sins, cares and woes.
    He is also the source of hope for us all. I will be bearing this all in mind as I venture out to the dentist shortly, knowing the work he will be doing on my teeth is for my greater good and that any suffering that I imagine it to entail, is literally nothing compared to Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

  2. I just happened to read what I quote below about good deeds, shortly before reading your post about them.:

    “I marvelled at her simple act. She had seen two people walking in the heat, and so she laid down whatever she had been doing and came to render a service. Because it was the custom, because her faith told her it was the right thing to do so, because her action to her was a natural as the water she poured for us.”

    From Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, by Paul Torday

  3. Thank you for this post!

    Might you expand a little on ‘manifestation of thoughts’? Is it the bringing/acknowledging our deeds, good or bad, to Christ, or simply acknowledging to ourselves?

    • It is the practice of talking to someone older and wiser in monastic life, a spiritual elder, about the temptations, difficulties, preoccupations of one’s life. It is not the same as sacramental confession (although sometimes that accompanies it). See this article by Fr Columba Stewart:

      • Thank you, D. Catherine, I was wondering about that too. It is a given in modern psychology that thoughts repressed can gain unhealthy power over us. Yet again, you demonstrate that St. Benedict had understood and addressed that issue centuries ago!

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