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Sunday, July 5, 2009

RB, Chapter 4: The Tools for Good Works


Verse 1 - 21
1First of all, love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, 2and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37–39; Mark 12:30–31; Luke 10:27).

3Then the following: You are not to kill, 4not to commit adultery; 5you are not to steal 6nor to covet (Rom 13:9); 7you are not to bear false witness (Matt 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20). 8You must honor everyone (1 Pet 2:17), 9and never do to another what you do not want done to yourself (Tob 4:16; Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31).

10Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ (Matt 16:24; Luke 9:23); 11discipline your body (1 Cor 9:27); 12do not pamper yourself, 13but love fasting. 14You must relieve the lot of the poor, 15clothe the naked, 16visit the sick (Matt 25:36), 17and bury the dead.

18Go to help the troubled 19and console the sorrowing. 20Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; 21the love of Christ must come before all else.

Reflection
Now we begin that Chapter on the Tools for Good Works. We have heard about the kinds of monks. We have heard what qualities that abbot should have. We have heard that the abbot needs to take counsel from the community.

The first part of the tools of good works simply tells all of us that we must follow the Scriptures and the ten commandments of the Lord from the Hebrew Scriptures. It is clear that monks are followers of God and accept the Lord Jesus. We are Christian monks!

Then the tools for good works take on a tone that is perhaps more monastic or perhaps just the demands of the ordinary Christian placed more clearly in front of our eyes. The monk must learn to renounce himself in order to follow Christ.
This does imply a strong discipline and Saint Benedict spells that discipline out a bit: discipline your body, don't pamper yourself, love fasting.
For us monks today, perhaps we must listen again to these three works: discipline your body, don't pamper yourself and love fasting.
The present age does not like ascetic practices, even in the time of Lent. There is almost a fear of depriving ourselves of anything, as though somehow we will be making a bad decision if we make life any tougher than it already is.

The role of these ascetic practices is clear: so that we will be able to choose to do the Lord's will, even when it is difficult. We must start now to train ourselves and some of the best training is in this learning to discipline our bodies, learning how not to pamper ourselves and learning to love fasting.
We don't need to let anyone know what we are doing, but we ourselves must commit ourselves to these practices if we ever want to become strong monks who are able to commit themselves to doing the Lord's will.
Verse 22 - 43
22You are not to act in anger 23or nurse a grudge. 24Rid your heart of all deceit. 25Never give a hollow greeting of peace 26or turn away when someone needs your love.
27Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, 28but speak the truth with heart and tongue. 29Do not repay one bad turn with another (1 Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:9).
30Do not injure anyone, but bear injuries patiently. 31Love your enemies (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27). 32If people curse you, do not curse them back but bless them instead. 33Endure persecution for the sake of justice (Matt 5:10).
34You must not be proud, 35nor be given to wine (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:3). 36Refrain from too much eating 37or sleeping, 38and from laziness (Rom 12:11).
39Do not grumble 40or speak ill of others. 41Place your hope in God alone. 42If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself, 43but be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge.

Reflection
As we go through these tools of Good Works, we find a very simple list of things to do or not to do. One would think, probably, that a serious Christian or a committed monk would already be doing these things.
How often we find that many of us are blind to the things that we find difficult! When we get angry, for instance, how many of us find it difficult to pardon the one who angered us! And we find ways inside ourselves to avoid the clear directions of the Lord Jesus and ways to avoid what the Rule of Benedict says.

Never nursing a grudge is fairly easy for some and almost impossible for others. When relationships in the monastery are hurt or conflict arises, it is no easier for us monks to reconcile than for those who live a non-Christian life. This speaks so much about our faith and our lack of depth in following the Lord.

How often a monk needs to give the kiss of peace to his brother and refuses to do so!
Most of all, each of us must learn how to put all our hope in God. We want human relationships, we want friends, we want human acknowledgement.
All of that is normal and is not evil. But when those desires interfere with our relationship with one another, we must learn to put all our hope in God. God must be for us all that we want and our human relationship must come to be an expression of putting all our hope in God.
Instead we find ourselves just like everyone else: we turn to God and try to be faithful to Him when we are in trouble. When things are going well, we trust in ourselves and in what we have accomplished!

Today let us try again to place our hope in the Lord.
Verse 44 - 62
44Live in fear of judgment day 45and have a great horror of hell. 46Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire. 47Day by day remind mind yourself that you are going to die.
48Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, 49aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be. 50As soon as wrongful thoughts come into your heart, dash them against Christ and disclose them to your spiritual father.
51Guard your lips from harmful or deceptive speech. 52Prefer moderation in speech 53and speak no foolish chatter, nothing just to provoke laughter; 54do not love immoderate or boisterous laughter.

55Listen readily to holy reading, 56and devote yourself often to prayer. 57Every day with tears and sighs confess your past sins to God in prayer 58and change from these evil ways in the future.
59Do not gratify the promptings of the flesh (Gal 5:16); 60hate the urgings of self-will. 61Obey the orders of the abbot unreservedly, even if his own conduct—which God forbid—be at odds with what he says. Remember the teaching of the Lord: Do what they say, not what they do (Matt 23:3).
62Do not aspire to be called holy before you really are, but first be holy that you may more truly be called so.
Reflection
Many of us find it difficult to live in fear of judgment day even though we may indeed have a great horror of hell. Perhaps when we slow down and meditate on judgment day, it becomes clearer why we might have such a fear.
Even when we trust entirely in God's mercy and compassion, we can realize the depths of our failures to love God and to respond to His goodness and love. Probably the more we can develop this fear of judgment day, the more we can yearn for everlasting life with a holy desire.

A holy desire seems to imply that we year for everlasting life because we want to be with God, not simply because we want to avoid the sufferings of hell.

Many of us do not yet have a practice of thinking each day that we are going to die, yet this is recommended to us. As we get older, the practice seems almost natural instead of something morbid.
Basically this part of the Chapter on Good Works is reminding us to be "recollected" all the time. Many of the modern meditation techniques are trying to achieve the same thing. We need to be aware of who we are, that we are going to die and that we should be living in Christ now and our actions should come from that belief.

We are reminded that in our recollection we need to speak very little, to guard ourselves against speaking a lot, in order to keep our hearts and our minds fixed on the Lord.

Devoting ourselves often to prayer probably means that we are able to be aware of God's presence and turn to that divine presence frequently throughout the day. It surely does not mean stopping for a half hour of prayer here and there!
This turning to God in prayer will help us not satisfy the promptings of the flesh. Many of us struggle with the lusts of the flesh and spend many years to find how to continue in this struggle without losing hope. Not losing hope is at the heart of our monastic life: trust in the Lord.

Perhaps even more difficult that the struggle with the lusts of the flesh is the struggle to obey the abbot unreservedly in all that he asks of us. This obedience is put into the context of our not wanting to look holy but a deeper desire to be holy.

May the Lord help us live these teachings of our Father Benedict with great depth!

Verse 63 - 78
63Live by God’s commandments every day; 64 treasure chastity, 65harbor neither hatred 66nor jealousy of anyone, 67and do nothing out of envy. 68 Do not love quarreling; 69shun arrogance. 70Respect the elders 71and love the young.
72Pray for your enemies out of love for Christ. 73If you have a dispute with someone, make peace with him before the sun goes down. 74And finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy. 75These, then, are the tools of the spiritual craft.
76When we have used them without ceasing day and night and have returned them on judgment day, our wages will be the reward the Lord has promised: 77What the eye has not seen nor the ear heard, God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).
78The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community.
Reflection
These final tools of good work might possibly have been taken for granted among Christians at the time that Saint Benedict was writing.
Today they seem to be counter cultural in many parts of the world. Living by God's commandments is clearly seen as important. Today more and more people do not even know those commandments, even new monks coming into the monastic community.

We are invited to treasure chastity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that chastity is the integration of sexuality. The Catechism also tells us that man either governs his passions and finds peace or is dominated by his passions and becomes unhappy.

This domination of the passions is also necessary in not harboring hatred or jealousy and in not doing anything our of envy.

Although we often think of monks as strong Christians, how difficult it is to make peace with our brothers before the sun goes down when we have had some conflict!
Anyone who has lived a serious monastic life for years come to know the strength of these tools of good works. Such a monk understands why Saint Benedict encourages us with this long list of good works and understands the joy that begins to come into one's life after many years of struggle.

Saint Benedict makes a point here to emphasize that the place of struggle is within the enclosure of the monastery and with stability in the community.

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