In the first place (IV:1)

CHAPTER IV. What are the Instruments of Good Works
18 Jan. 19 May. 18 Sept.

In the first place, to love the Lord God with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, and all one’s strength.
2. Then one’s neighbour as oneself.
3. Then not to kill.
4. Not to commit adultery.
5. Not to steal.
6. Not to covet.
7. Not to bear false witness.
8. To honour all men.
9. Not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.
10. To deny oneself, in order to follow Christ.
11. To chastise the body.
12. Not to seek after delicate living.
13. To love fasting.
14. To relieve the poor.
15. To clothe the naked.
16. To visit the sick.
17. To bury the dead.
18. To help in affliction.
19. To console the sorrowing.
20. To keep aloof from worldly actions.
21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

Our monastic life is always about beginning again. Today we begin, once again, the reading of Chapter IV and the rehearsal of the 72 Instruments of Good Works. It is very foolish to say, or even to think, “Ah, Chapter IV again! Nothing new here. I’ve heard it all before.” The wise man says, “Ah! Chapter IV again! Deo gratias! I so need this opportunity to begin afresh, to become a novice all over again, and to discover the Instruments of Good Works as if for the first time.” God never refuses the grace of a new beginning to the man who asks for it humbly. And if a brother should feel that he hasn’t in him so much as the smallest desire to begin again, that brother should go before Our Lord and say:

Lord Jesus Christ, Thou who who gavedst strength and movement to the paralytic of Capharnaum (Luke 5:17–26); Thou who calledst Lazarus out of the tomb, and commandedst him to be unbound and let go (John 11:44), I am altogether without strength and incapable of movement. I am like one bound in a winding sheet and laid in a tomb. Call me forth. Give me strength and movement to begin afresh. Remove from me all of the hidden resistances to Thy grace, that by Thy grace, I may at least begin to want to begin again.

A prayer to which I sometimes return, and that is in the same vein is Psalm 12. It is a very short psalm, but one that can open the weary soul to inexhaustible graces. Here it is in Monsignor Knox’s version:

Lord, must I still go all unremembered, must thy look still be turned away from me? Each day brings a fresh load of care, fresh misery to my heart; must I be ever the sport of my enemies? Look upon me, O Lord my God, and listen to me; give light to these eyes, before they close in death; do not let my enemies claim the mastery, my persecutors triumph over my fall! I cast myself on thy mercy; soon may this heart boast of redress granted, sing in praise of the Lord, my benefactor. (Psalm 12)

Having prayed in these or similar words, a brother is ready to begin again with Chapter IV. Never become so jaded and comfortable in hearing the Holy Rule or in reading it that it fails to pierce your heart or to call you out of your lethargy. Let this new reading of Chapter IV make you want to become a novice again.

Add a comment