CHAPTER IV. What are the Instruments of Good Works
21 Jan. 22 May. 21 Sept.
62. Daily to fulfil by one’s deeds the commandments of God.
63. To love chastity.
64. To hate no man.
65. Not to give way to jealousy and envy.
66. Not to love strife.
67. To fly from vainglory.
68. To reverence the Seniors.
69. To love the juniors.
70. To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
72. And never to despair of God’s mercy.
Behold, these are the tools of the spiritual craft, which, if they be constantly employed day and night, and duly given back on the day of judgment, will gain for us from the Lord that reward which He Himself hath promised – “which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love Him.” And the workshop where we are to labour at all these things is the cloister of the monastery, and stability in the community.
“Daily to fulfil by one’s deeds the commandments of God.” Saint Benedict insists on deeds. His is no armchair monasticism of lofty ideals removed from the actions that make up the humble quotidian of life in the cloister. Here, our father Saint Benedict echoes Our Lord’s own words: “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). There are some who like to dream about monasteries and monks; theirs is a monasticism of fantasies and picture books. There are some who like think about monasteries and monks; theirs is a monasticism of theories and bookish constructs. There are some who like to talk about monasteries and monks; these may, all too often, make of monasticism a kind of quaint hobby, a favourite topic of conversation. And there are, by Our Lord’s grace, those who hear this word of His and put it into practice: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
“To love chastity.” For Saint Benedict, chastity is not something to be suffered with groans and lamentations, something to be endured with clenched teeth and white knuckles; nor something to be feared because it is so fragile a virtue and set about on every side with searing temptations and delectable enticements. No, chastity is to be loved; loved because it is the beautiful virtue; loved because it promises and delivers a joy that, even in this valley of tears, is heavenly and divine. There are men who, in their anxiety to be chaste, become neurotic and gloomy. The chastity that Saint Benedict would have us love crowns the fruits of the Holy Ghost and cannot be separated from the eleven fruits that precede it: “But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity” (Galatians 5:22-23).
“To hate no man. Not to give way to jealousy and envy. Not to love strife. To fly from vainglory.” Hatred is an insidious vice; it grows like a poisonous mushroom in the dark place of the heart amidst the secretions of resentment, unforgiveness, and pride. Close by hatred, jealousy and envy spring up, equally poisonous and exhaling nearly invisible toxic spores.
There are individuals who thrive on strife; they must, at all times, be at odds with someone. Such individuals need conflict because conflict gets them the attention that they crave. It is a paradoxical thing: a who man feels lonely, forsaken, and unloved may have somehow learned in his earliest years that if he is very naughty, or throws down his bowl of porridge, or kicks his playmate, or uses a bad word, or flies into a rage, that he will get attention. This sort of attention, he reasons, is better than no attention at all, and so the wee lad who threw tantrums in the nursery grows into a man stirs up strife wherever he goes.
Saint Benedict gives a wise warning when he enjoins his monks to fly from vainglory. Thoughts and sensations of vainglory assail every man, in every situation, and at every age. To fly from them means that one is not to entertain them, nor engage them in conversation, not try to reason with them. One must rather turn one’s back to them and quickly engage in an action that pulls one out of oneself and obliges one to serve another.
“To reverence the seniors. To love the juniors.” The Benedictine family is characterised by reverence and by love. Blessed Schuster speaks of signorilità, that is, of courtesy and of an exquisite attention to others. Reverence is an appropriate expression of filial affection, loyalty, and humility. A monk reverences his seniors. Love is an appropriate expression of brotherly affection, courtesy, and bonding in the noblest and best sense of the word. Saint John says, “My little children, let us not love in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Reverence and love are not vague sentiments; they flourish where they are translated into acts, into acts that are costly because they oblige a man to forsake his own will and lay down his life for the father or the brother whom he professes to reverence and to love.
“To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ. To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.” Herein lies the secret of the pax benedictina. It is hardly possible to get through a day without experiencing impatience, annoyance, disappointment, movements of anger and, worst of all, thoughts of judgment and condemnation. As soon as such a thought rears its ugly head, dash it against the Rock, who is Christ, and offer a humble prayer of intercession and blessing for the brother who, wittingly or unwittingly, may have provoked it. Monasteries can become toxic places when monks go to bed with resentments, hurts, and disagreements. Such things fester during the night. They begin to emit a fetid odour. They affect the monk at Matins, at Lauds, at breakfast, at Prime, at Chapter, and throughout the day. Never sleep with such things. Rather, ask forgiveness before the setting of the sun, and then make a litany of thanksgiving for all the good and lovely things that have come your way in the course of the day. You will be surprised to discover all the things for which you can be grateful; these far outnumber all one’s petty pretexts for self-righteous indignation, resentment, and outrage.
“And never to despair of God’s mercy.” A boundless confidence in the mercy of God is the last and most important of the 72 Instruments of Good Works. A man may judge himself a complete failure. He may say, “I have failed to use the Instruments of Good Works. I am a failure and a sham. My brethren despise me and the angels look away from me in disgust.” To such a man, Saint Benedict holds out the one Instrument of Good Works that redeems every failure, that supplies for every deficiency, and that restores every loss: Et de Dei misericordia numquam desperare. “And never to despair of God’s mercy.”
Chapter IV ends with a word of encouragement and of hope, and with an insistence on monastic enclosure that Saint Benedict will address again, at the end of the Holy Rule, in Chapter LXVI. Saint Benedict wants his sons to lift their minds and hearts to heaven, ubi vera sunt gaudia, “where true joys are to be found.” And so he cites the Apostle, who speaks of, “Things no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart conceived, the welcome God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
With regard to enclosure, Saint Benedict presents the monk as the operarius Domini, the Lord’s workman. The 72 Instruments of Good Works are his tools. The workshop in which he spends himself for God, his officina, is “the cloister of the monastery, and stability in the community.” Our monastic forefathers tell us that we are to be amatores loci et fratrum, lovers of the place and of the brethren. Save, in the case of things blessed by obedience, anything that separates a monk from the enclosure of the monastery and from his brethren constitutes a threat to one’s vocation for, as Saint Benedict says, “this is by no means expedient for their souls” (Chapter LXVI). Learn then to say with the psalmist, especially in hours of temptation against enclosure and against the vow of stability: Hæc requies mea in sæculum sæculi; hic habitabo, quoniam elegi eam. “Here, for ever, is my resting-place, here is my destined home” (Psalm 131:14).