The Tools of Good Works 32 to 62

Today I’d like to consider those of ‘yesterday’s tools’ I didn’t write about along with those we read today, hence the longer than usual reference in the post heading.

Tool 32 echoes 31 and shows how important Benedict thought the right use of speech. We are not to return curse for curse but ‘pay back’ our antagonist with a blessing instead. Getting even, insisting on our rights, these are not qualities Benedict admires or wants to see in his monks. Self-control isn’t exactly fashionable since almost any excess can be pardoned on the grounds that we are ‘just being ourselves’, but Benedict will have none of it. We’re not to eat too much, drink too much, sleep too much or think too much of ourselves. We’re not to get angry that the world isn’t as we think it should be (grumbling) nor are we to congratulate ourselves that we are better than others in any respect. We are to acknowledge that God is the author of all that is good in us. (32 to 42).

That is a code of conduct which largely deals with the exterior manifestation of our beliefs, but Benedict probes deeper, to the spiritual core. Fearing judgement, having a horror of hell and keeping death daily before one’s eyes would seem to many macabre; but in the midst of this chilling sequence (44 to 47) Benedict inserts a wonderful motivation: to desire eternal life with all possible spiritual longing (46). He goes on to spell out how this may be done in practice and it is at this point that the chapter takes on a vibrant sense of living always in the presence of God. Hence that control of thought and tongue which at first seems so difficult (5o to 54) and the antidote to superficial living — prayer, lectio divina and a disciplined life-style (55 to 59) which underpins the obedience at the root of monastic life (60 to 61). Only thus can we attain true sanctity, though even in our striving to be holy there may be something of self left (62).

The source for chapter 4 of the Rule is a series of exhortations meant for those about to receive baptism, but with his additions and deletions Benedict gives a subtly different cast to the whole. This is instruction in monastic living and, as such, it presupposes community and order. However, to be a good community member, the individual must first get a grip on himself, aware that his/her personal holiness of life affects the holiness of all. Sometimes when we criticize ‘the Church’ we forget that we make up the Body of Christ. So, my thought for today is this. If we perceive the Church to be less holy than it should be, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves some hard questions?

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Patience

Patience is often described as the Benedictine’s fourth vow. It is a theme that occurs again and again in the Rule, where we are reminded that we ‘share by patience in the sufferings of Christ’. (RB Prol. 50) The newcomer to monastic life is to be ‘tested in all patience’.  (RB 58.11) Indeed, patiently bearing with delays and contradictions is one of the signs looked for as the mark of a genuine vocation. It all sounds rather wonderful until one has to practise it. For the plain truth is that patience is hard work. It means embracing suffering, not just stoically putting up with it, and doing so with a quiet heart. (RB 7. 35) Patience requires a great deal of trust and humility as well as self-control.

Patience, trust, humility: these are not qualities that our society cultivates or values very much. We prefer to be self-assertive, thrusting not trusting, testing everything by our own standards and rather despising those who are patient and humble, as thought they were milksops. In fact, it takes real strength of character to be patient, to accept adversity quietly, without anger or upset. Similarly, trust and humility are not for wimps but for those who are brave enough to look themselves in the face and know themselves for what they are.

Today each one of us will be given the opportunity to exercise a little patience, to show a little trust and be a little humble. Are we big enough to meet the challenge?

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