20 Jan. 21 May. 20 Sept.
44. To fear the Day of Judgment.
45. To be in dread of hell.
46. To desire with a special longing everlasting life.
47. To keep death daily before one’s eyes.
48. To keep guard at all times over the actions of one’s life.
49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
50. To dash down on the (Rock) Christ one’s evil thoughts, the instant that they come into the heart.
51. And to lay them open to one’s spiritual father.
52. To keep one’s mouth from evil and wicked words.
53. Not to love much speaking.
54. Not to speak vain words or such as move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or excessive laughter.
56. To listen willingly to holy reading.
57. To apply oneself frequently to prayer.
58. Daily to confess one’s past sins with tears and sighs to God, and to amend them for the time to come.
59. Not to fulfil the desires of the flesh: to hate one’s own will.
60. To obey in all things the commands of the Abbot, even though he himself (which God forbid) should act otherwise: being mindful of that precept of the Lord: “What they say, do ye; but what they do, do ye not.”
61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is so: but first to be holy, that one may be truly so called.

The first four Instruments of Good Works in today’s portion of the Holy Rule address the four last things: death, judgment, hell, and heaven.

44. To fear the Day of Judgment.
45. To be in dread of hell.
46. To desire with a special longing everlasting life.
47. To keep death daily before one’s eyes.

Saint Benedict, however, presents the four last things in a different order. The fear of the Day of Judgment and the dread of hell come first because he who fears the Day of Judgment is, at every moment, compelled to seek the mercy of Christ; and because he who dreads hell will, instinctively, draw back from the occasions of sin. He will make his own the prayer before Holy Communion recited by the priest in every Holy Mass:

Deliver me by this Thy most holy Body and Blood from all my transgressions and from all evils; make me always adhere to Thy commandments and never suffer me to be separated from Thee.

An intense longing for heaven and a sober readiness for death go hand in hand. The monk who longs for heaven with all spiritual desire will say always in his heart:

My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? (Psalm 41:3)

And with the Angelic Doctor, he will love to say:

Jesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio,
Oro, fiat illud quod tam sitio:
Ut te revelata cernens facie,
Visu sim beátus tuæ gloriæ.

Jesus, here Thy Face is hid, from my sight concealed,
How I thirst to meet Thy gaze gloriously revealed!
After life’s obscurity, let me wake to see
Beauty shining from Thy Face for eternity.

The characteristically Benedictine longing for heaven goes hand–in–hand with hunger for the Most Holy Sacrament. In a sense, one’s longing for heaven is proportionate to one’s longing for “the living Bread come down from heaven” (John 6:51). The Most Holy Eucharist is the pledge and foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Again, one does well to enter into the sentiments attributed to Saint Thomas in the Prayer After Holy Communion given in the Missal:

I beseech thee that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to bring me, sinner as I am, to that ineffable banquet where Thou, with the Son and the Holy Ghost, art to Thy saints true and unfailing light, fullness and content, joy for evermore, gladness without alloy, consummate and everlasting bliss.

Every evening after Compline we sing the antiphon Stans in Oratorio* in commemoration of the Eucharistic death of Saint Benedict. Saint Benedict’s death, standing before the altar, is the spontaneous flowering of a life–long desire for heaven, nourished by the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. A Benedictine monk is a man who, like other men, bears within himself an aching nostalgia for paradise; unlike most men, he lives already, even in this valley of tears ubi vera sunt gaudia (where true joys are found).

48. To keep guard at all times over the actions of one’s life.
49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
50. To dash down on the (Rock) Christ one’s evil thoughts, the instant that they come into the heart.
51. And to lay them open to one’s spiritual father.

A man comes to the monastery resolved to learn how to live with himself beneath the gaze of God. A monk forsakes the pervasive contemporary “get–away” culture, and renounces the compulsion to seek distraction. Pascal describes why a man finds it so difficult to live quietly with himself:

Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair. (Pascal, Pensées)

Saint Benedict speaks of the thoughts that one must dash against the rock of Christ, the instant that they come into the heart. What are these thoughts? They are the logismoi (assailing thoughts) identified by Evagrius Ponticus: gluttony, greed, sloth, sorrow, lust, anger, vainglory, and pride. It often happens that a brother convinces himself that he should not trouble the abbot with his thoughts, or thinks that he can sort them out by himself. The best way to deal with such thoughts is by disclosing them to the abbot. Unmasked, and conquered by the humility of the brother who lays them before the abbot, the assailing thoughts lose their power.

56. To listen willingly to holy reading.
57. To apply oneself frequently to prayer.
58. Daily to confess one’s past sins with tears and sighs to God, and to amend them for the time to come.

The true son of Saint Benedict has an insatiable appetite for the Word of God. He cannot let a day pass without opening the tabernacle of the Sacred Scriptures, there to encounter the Word of God. He resonates that Saint Jerome gave to Eustochium:

Read often, learn all that you can. Let sleep overcome you, the roll (of the book) still in your hands; when your head falls, let it be on the sacred page. (Letter to Eustochium)

The monk who listens willingly to holy reading will, quite easily, fall to frequent prayer. In addition to the Sacred Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, a monk should, I think, never be without the life of a saint on his nightstand. The lives of the saints illustrate the Word of God; they are a fresh articulation of the Word of God. The Word of God—in the Sacred Liturgy, in  Sacred Scripture, in the teachings of the Fathers, and in the lives of the saints—ignites the fire of prayer in the heart. This was the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus:

And they said one to the other: Was not our heart burning within us, whilst he spoke in the way, and opened to us the scriptures? (Luke 24:32)

Reading and prayer keep a monk in a spirit of compunction. Compunction is the state of a heart pierced through by the two–edged sword of the Word of God. The monk graced with compunction will weep bitterly for his sins, and he will weep sweetly from having tasted, in however small a way, “the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).

*Antiphon: Stans in Oratorio
Benedict, the beloved of our Lord, whilst standing in the Church, having been fortified with the Body and Blood of the Lord, supporting his failing limbs on the arms of his disciples, with his hands upraised to Heaven, breathed forth his soul amidst words of prayer, and was seen ascending into heaven by a path most richly hung with tapestry, and made bright with countless lamps.

V. Thou didst appear glorious in the sight of the Lord.
R. Therefore did he clothe thee with beauty.

O God, who didst lead our holy father Saint Benedict into solitude, that he might become to Thee the father of many children in Christ, grant that those who taste of the Eucharistic manna, may know Thy way in this world, and happily arrive at Thy rest. Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, forever and ever.