January 20, May 21, September 20
Chapter 4: What Are the Instruments of Good Works
44. To fear the Day of Judgment.
45. To be in dread of hell.
46. To desire eternal life with all the passion of the spirit.
47. To keep death daily before one’s eyes.
48. To keep constant guard over the actions of one’s life.
49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
50. When evil thoughts come into one’s heart, to dash them against Christ immediately.
51. And to manifest them to one’s spiritual mother.
52. To guard one’s tongue against evil and depraved speech.
53. Not to love much talking.
54. Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
56. To listen willingly to holy reading.
57. To devote oneself frequently to prayer.
58. Daily in one’s prayers, with tears and sighs, to confess one’s past sins to God, and to amend them for the future.
59. Not to fulfill the desires of the flesh; to hate one’s own will.
60. To obey in all things the commands of the Abbess, even though she herself (which God forbid) should act otherwise, mindful of the Lord’s precept, “Do what they say, but not what they do.”
61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is holy; but first to be holy, that one may be truly so called.
The first six good works from today’s readings speak to me of perspective, the way we are to view our lives every day. The remainder are things we are to actually do, as hard as they might be. And they are hard. They are also straightforward. No one has to be in a monastery to follow these precepts. If we who live outside monastic walls wish to pursue a holy life, this is how we do it.
A word or two is required to explain numbers fifty-four and fifty-five. Benedict is not talking about the laughter that results from joy. He is all in favor of joy. The Latin tells us that we are to avoid sarcastic comments at the expense of another. We are not to ridicule each other. How many times do we laugh at someone else’s expense? How many times do we make fun of another person? That is Benedict’s context.