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.
As I read this just now I thought to myself, what does he mean about fearing the Day of Judgement? To be in dread of hell? If we take our Christian faith seriously, seek to daily give it flesh by thought, word, and deed, what do we have to fear or dread? We’re headed for Heaven. right?
To desire eternal life with all the passion of the spirit. Does anyone else find this a challenge living in the midst of a consumerist society where we are daily bombarded with messages of being “less than” because we don’t have this or that or do such and such? Or how about those ads which tell a woman the only way she can know she is loved is if she is given diamonds? Despite the inhumane way diamonds are mined.
To keep death daily before one’s eyes. I had a parish priest once who used to be a Benedictine monk. He said it was the custom to meditate 5 minutes a day on the fact of one’s death. What would that be like? As my mother gets iller, it’s not my death I think about.
To keep constant guard over the actions of one’s life. Constant? Who has time for “constant” these days? Sometimes I feel so much is going on that I have time to react and to hope I have sufficiently nurtured my spirit with prayer, Lectio, Eucharist etc so that my reactions are from God. That’s my hope, at any rate.
To know for certain that God sees one everywhere. Sometimes I find this thought enormously comforting. At others more of an “Oh Oh what have I done now?” What about you?
When evil thoughts come into one’s heart, to dash them against Christ immediately. Not if, I see, but when. What a realist Benedict was. Now, if only this was my first thought when evil thoughts cross my mind.
To guard one’s tongue against evil and depraved speech There is so much i could say about this but Jesus and James said it better and with fewer words than I ever could.
Not to love much talking. Yeah, well, got me there, St. Benedict
Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter. Not to love much or boisterous laughter. At first glance, one could hardly be blamed for a “You’ve got to be kidding” reaction. However, I am the proud possessor of Kardong’s Commentary on the RB and in the “Index of Key Words and Themes” I learn that Benedict used 2 words for laughter: risus and scurrilitas. And thanks to the amazing internet, one can google Latin and learn that “risus” means a casual sort of laughter while “scurrilitas” refers to lies, slanders, and obscenities. So clearly, not a restriction against the laughter that arises from joy.
To listen willingly to holy reading. Few of us, I think, have someone who reads to us. But we can choose to read that which enriches the mind and spirit. What are you reading?
To devote oneself frequently to prayer. Daily in one’s prayers, with tears and sighs, to confess one’s past sins to God, and to amend them for the future. Ah, prayer! Perhaps the first thing I sacrifice in the face of all the other demands on my time. How about you?
Not to wish to be called holy before one is holy; but first, to be holy, that one may be truly so called. Guilty, guilty, guilty.