The ordinary way (IV:3)

CHAPTER IV. What are the Instruments of Good Works
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 44th to the 51st Instruments of Good Works treat of the means to purity of heart and point to the 5th degree of humility in Chapter VII. The 52nd to the 55th refer to Chapter VI on the practice of silence, and also to the 9th, 10th, and 11th degrees of humility in Chapter VII. The 56th to the 58th describe how one is to go about praying secretly, and so relate to Chapter XX. The 59th to the 61st have to do with obedience and humility, and so are directed to Chapters V and VII.

There emerges from this group of the Instruments of Good Works a constellation of five inter-related monastic virtues: purity of heart, humility, silence, secret prayer, and obedience. All of these are gifts of God; the means proposed in this group of Instruments of Good Works are themselves the fruits of grace and dispose a monk to receive in ever increasing measure the gifts of purity of heart, humility, silence, secret prayer, and obedience.

Chapter IV is, in some way, an introduction to Chapters V, VI, and VII. Obedience (Chapter V), silence (Chapter VI), and humility (Chapter VII) correspond to the Passion and Death of Christ, and so prepare a monk for the Opus Dei, that is, for participation in the prayer of the risen and ascended Christ to the Father, which is the subject of Chapters VIII through XX.

Jesus continues for ever, and his priestly office is unchanging; that is why he can give eternal salvation to those who through him make their way to God; he lives on still to make intercession on our behalf. Such was the high priest that suited our need, holy and guiltless and undefiled, not reckoned among us sinners, lifted high above all the heavens (Hebrews 7:24-26)

Chapters XXI through LXXIII correspond to the Acts of the Apostles, that is, to life in the particular embodiment of the Church, the Body of Christ, that is the monastic family. You are all familiar with Dom Morin’s precious little book that develops this idea: The Ideal of the Monastic Life Found in the Apostolic Age.

An apprentice learns how to use a tool correctly by observing the master craftsman. And so it is with us. If you would learn how to use the Instruments of Good Works correctly, observe the saints, especially those saints who went to God under the Rule of Saint Benedict. Père Thomas of Rougemont used to say that a monk ought always to have on his night table the life of a saint. He himself was a great reader of biographies of the saints. In some way, each of us needs the concrete examples provided by the lives of holy men and women in order to see how one goes about using the Instruments of Good Works in the changing and challenging circumstances of life. The brother who is not reading the lives of the saints deprives himself of a powerful stimulus towards holiness. Reading the lives of the saints leads to the friendship of the saints, and this, in turn, leads to an experience of their intercession. The brother who is not a reader of the lives of the saints risks over-intellectualising the virtues. The saints show us that the virtues set before us in the Holy Rule are not beyond the reach of ordinary men like ourselves: flawed, broken, weak, and infirm. Listen to Caryll Houselander on this question:

Again and again we read of Saints who suffered acute and critical psychological illness, who at one stage seemed doomed to become failures as human beings, incapable of happiness, incapable of living fully, yet who at the “touch of God” recovered completely, to live gloriously.

Everyone knows the story of the illness of St. Therese of Lisieux, which was cured by a smile from Our Lady, a smile which not only dispelled the terrors afflicting the child but changed her from a tortured, oversensitive, neurotic to a person of extraordinary emotional and mental balance. . . . There are many other Saints too, who might have been neurotic instead of being saints but for a moment when God came to them, and their complete surrender to Him when He came.

Certainly everyone who is cured of a neurosis does not become a saint (I did not, as you will learn), though everyone could do so, if all surrendered to God as the Saints did. But all the evidence we have points to the fact that only God, brought to the tormented soul, somehow, by someone, can permanently cure psychological suffering, and then only if the will of the sufferer responds to God.

The “cure” is not, therefore, confined to the chosen few who receive direct visitations from Heaven; it is available to everyone. Certainly God can choose to come to any particular man in whatever way He wishes, and in the case of those who are deprived of the Blessed Sacrament for any reason—such as inculpable ignorance, or being in circumstances that put them out of the reach of a priest—He can, if He does wish to, come in extraordinary ways.

One thing, however, is certain; when He comes, He will always come in the way that the particular soul can most easily realise and most easily respond to, and which is least likely to be confused with the possibility of hallucination. The ordinary way—and how amazing that it is the ordinary way—is in the Blessed Sacrament; this is the way that even little children can realise, it is as simple to accept as the bread on the table, and it is the way that Christ Himself desires to come. That, surely, is one reason why He has given Himself to the Church, not only into the hands of Saints, but into the hands of all kinds of men, many of whom are sinners.  (Caryll Houselander, A Rocking Horse Catholic, 1955, Sheed & Ward, New York)

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