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.

The first of the 72 instruments of good works is “To love the Lord God with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, and all one’s strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Luke 10:27), and the last is “And never to despair of God’s mercy.” All of Benedictine life is contained between these two things. Saint Anthony of Egypt said, “If a man loves God with all his heart, all his thoughts, all his will, and all his strength, he will gain the fear of God; the fear will produce tears, tears will produce strength; by the perfection of this the soul will bear all kinds of fruits.”

Man is created with the capacity to love God, but this capacity remains just that, a vessel waiting to be filled, until the love of God descends and, having filled that capacity with grace, renders a man capable of returning the love of God with love. This is why the Apostle says, “And hope confoundeth not: because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us” (Romans 5:5). The infusion of divine charity by which a man is rendered capable of loving God is attributed to the Holy Ghost. As we draw closer to Pentecost, this truth ought to take hold of us and move us to ask in prayer for the Holy Ghost. To ask for the Holy Ghost is to ask for an infusion of divine charity. One of the most frequently prayers to the Holy Ghost is the Alleluia Verse of the Mass of Pentecost, which is always sung kneeling, so that the body participates in the soul’s imploring:

Veni, Sancte Spiritus, reple tuorum corda fidelium, et tui amoris in eis ignem accende.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of Thy love.

It is this love of God, the love that is God, and the love that comes down from God, that makes one capable of loving God “with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, and all one’s strength.” There is a hymn to the Holy Ghost composed by a religious of the now extinct Order of the Gesuati, otherwise known as the Apostolic Clerks of Saint Jerome, one Bianco da Siena (Siena, 1434), that expresses the soul’s great yearning for an infusion of the charity without which man cannot love God. A Dublin Protestant clergyman named Richard Frederick Littledale translated the hymn into English,

1 Come down, O Love divine,
seek Thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with Thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

2 O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let Thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

3 Let holy charity
mine outward vesture be,
and lowliness become mine inner clothing:
true lowliness of heart,
which takes the humbler part,
and o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

4 And so the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the pow’r of human telling;
no soul can guess its grace,
till he become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

Saint Benedict makes love the first of the instruments of good works and he makes confidence in the mercy of God the last of them. Mercy is the countenance and heart and hands of divine love in the face of human misery. There is no misery so great that God turns away from it. The Instruments of Good Works begin with the love of God — His love for us calling forth our love for Him — and the Instruments of Good Works end with an act of hope: total abandonment to the Mercy of God, even when everything in us and around us pushes us to despair.

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