Spem suam Deo committere (IV:II)

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19 Jan. 20 May. 19 Sept.

22. Not to give way to anger.
23.  Not to harbour a desire of revenge.
24. Not to foster guile in one’s heart.
25. Not to make a feigned peace.
26. Not to forsake charity.
27. Not to swear, lest perchance one forswear oneself.
28. To utter truth from heart and mouth.
29. Not to render evil for evil.
30. To do no wrong to anyone yea, to bear patiently wrong done to oneself.
31. To love one’s enemies.
32. Not to render cursing for cursing, but rather blessing.
33. To bear persecution for justice’s sake.
34. Not to be proud.
35. Not given to wine.
36. Not a glutton.
37. Not drowsy.
38. Not slothful.
39. Not a murmurer.
40. Not a detractor.
41. To put one’s hope in God.
42. To attribute any good that one sees in oneself to God, and not to oneself.
43. But to recognise and always impute to oneself the evil that one doth.

The Instruments of Good Works spring from the words of Our Lord in the Gospels. The light of the Beatitudes shines through them. The monk who prefers nothing to the love of Christ attaches himself to the words of Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:69). Every Sunday and Monday at the Little Hours we sing Psalm 118 in praise of the words of Christ. On Tuesday, at Prime, we sing, “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried by the fire, purged from the earth, refined seven times” (Psalm 11:7).

Every monk will have an intense personal devotion to the words of Our Lord, reading them, whenever possible, on his knees, and kissing the sacred page that makes it possible to read them, and so to hear them again. It is by the words of Christ that a monk is cleansed inwardly.  “Now”, says Our Lord to the Apostles, “you are clean by reason of the word, which I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3). Rightly do we say each day before Holy Communion, “Only say the word, and my soul shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8).

Instruments 22—28 describe the monk as a man changed by grace. His thoughts, his speech, and his deeds will be those of the new man in whom Christ lives by grace, according to the word of Saint Paul:

And be renewed in spirit of your mind: And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth. Wherefore putting away lying, speak ye the truth every man with his neighbour; for we are members one of another. Be angry, and sin not. Let not the sun go down upon your anger. Give not place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:23–27)

The influence of grace will be evident in a monk’s speech:

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth that which is evil. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. (Luke 6:45)

Instruments 29—33 invite the monk to break the diabolical chain of hatred and violence:

Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: (Matthew 5:10–11)

And again:

Bless them that curse you, and pray for them that calumniate you. (Luke 6:28)

A Benedictine monk is one who blesses, according to the word of the psalmist that we so often repeat in the responsory at Vespers: “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall be always in my mouth: (Psalm 33:2). The son of Saint Benedict blesses God ceaselessly: in the Divine Office, which is a school of praise, and in all the circumstances of daily life. A monk’s first impulse is to bless God. The soul who is humble and grateful will bless the hand of Divine Providence in every event. I encourage you to develop the habit of blessing God always, in imitation of Saint Job the Long–Suffering, who said:

The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)

Instruments 34–40 all begin with the negative “Not”. They aim at pulling out the very roots of sin in one’s life, beginning with pride. They enjoin a monk to practice self–denial in little things—drink, food, and sleep—so as to be prepared to renounce bigger things. Here, Saint Benedict, is following the doctrine of Evagrius Ponticus, as transmitted by Saint John Cassian, on the eight logismoi, or thoughts, that are the roots of sin: gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, sadness, acedia, vainglory, and pride.

Saint Benedict often speaks of the vice of murmuring. The murmurer is critical of everyone and everything. He has a morbid compulsion to look for faults, to point to deficiencies, imperfections, and shortcomings in others. He is, more often than not, oblivious to deficiencies, imperfections, and shortcomings in himself. The murmurer’s food is never as he would like it; the temperature is either too hot or too cold; he finds his clothes unsuitable; he is unhappy in his cell; the liturgy is not as he thinks it ought to be; the abbot is insensitive, or too strict, or too lax; the brethren are not observant enough, or are too observant. The murmurer will often ask to change his diet, his choir stall, or his room. He will become obsessed with wanting to go to another monastery where the abbot is wiser, the brethren holier, the chant more perfect, the life better ordered, and the climate ideal. The murmurer will never be happy because the root of his unhappiness in in himself.

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