A Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery of men

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Instruments of good works

 

Quotes from the Rule of St. Benedict

"Seeking His worker in the multitude of people, the Lord shouts over it these things, saying again and again: 'Who is the man who wants life and desires to see good days?' (Ps 34:13) And if hearing this, you respond, 'I do,' then God says to you, 'If you want to have true and unending life, then keep your tongue and your lips from evil, lest you speak deceitfully; turn from evil and do good, look for peace and follow it' (Ps 34:14-15)."


- Rule of St. Benedict prol.14-17

 

"In the first place, ‘love the Lord God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength,’ and, then, ‘your neighbor just as yourself’ (Mt 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-31; Lk 10:27). Then, ‘do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not commit thievery, do not covet’ (Rom 13:9), ‘do not speak false testimony’ (Mt 19:18; Mk 10:19; Lk 18:20), ‘honor all’ human beings (1Pt 2:17), and ‘do not do to another what you do not want done to yourself’ (Tob 4:16; Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31). ‘Deny yourself’ so that Christ is followed. ‘Discipline the body;’ do not cling to enticements; love fasting. Relieve the lot of the poor, ‘cloth the naked, visit the sick,’ bury the dead. Come to the aid of the person in trouble; console the afflicted. As for the world’s ways of acting, make yourself a stranger to them; put nothing before the love of Christ."


- Rule of St. Benedict 4.1-21

We have noted St. Benedict’s teaching that we advance toward God and His kingdom through good zeal and the good works that flow from that zeal. St. Benedict even signals an urgency to doing the good works that lead us closer to the fullness of life. He writes: “And if, fleeing the punishment of Gehenna, we want to reach everlasting life, then while there is still time and we are in this body and we have the opportunity to implement all these things through the present light of life, we must hasten to do and carry out now what will benefit us forever” (prologue, vv. 42-44). What, then, are these good works which we should hasten to carry out?


St. Benedict provides some lists of good works in his Rule. These are worth reading. One list is in the same chapter in which St. Benedict speaks of good zeal (see chap. 72, vv. 4-12). Another list of good works occurs throughout Chapter 4, which is titled, “The Instruments of Good Works.” Also, Chapter 7 describes the twelve steps of humility, which help us see the kinds of works that we should be doing. 


We have already discussed in a general way the importance of practicing listening, obedience, and humility, in order to overcome self-will, which opposes good zeal (see page, St. Benedict’s teaching, and the end of page, Good zeal). But the following practices are worth mentioning in particular, since they are especially important in Benedictine monastic life.


The first is participation in the Church’s liturgy. What is the liturgy? It consists of the official acts of worship by the Church, most importantly the Mass and other celebrations of the sacraments. Yet another important part of the Church’s liturgy is the Liturgy of the Hours, also called the Divine Office and the “work of God” by St. Benedict. These are set times of prayer throughout the day that help us to offer the whole day to God, so as to sanctify it. Each set time for prayer consists of hymns, psalms, and scriptural readings. These times for prayer can be prayed privately (here's an online version); however, monks gather together to pray them. St. Benedict says that nothing is to be preferred to doing so (chap. 43, v. 3).

Monks also spend time in private prayer and here the practice of lectio divina is especially important. Prayer normally requires having something to think about and turn over in your mind, once you have put yourself in God’s presence. Lectio divina uses the great gift of Scripture to provide what to think about while spending time with God, for in lectio divina you prayerfully reflect on a scriptural passage. For more on lectio divina see here.


Another good work is the occasional practice of silence. St. Benedict urges his monks to cultivate silence at all times (chap. 42, v. 1). Silence allows us to hear what our hearts, deep desires, and the events in our lives are saying to us – or what God is saying through them. Sometimes we prefer noise, so that we do not hear what is truly being said in these ways. We need silence to listen and hear (cf. what was said about listening under the page St. Benedict's teaching).


Doing work or labor (often these are the tasks we have to do) in the right spirit also leads us to God. St. Benedict says, "Idleness is the enemy of the soul" (chap. 48, v. 1). On the other hand, faithfully fulfilling our tasks and duties is good for the soul. It is an opportunity to grow and to use our talents for the good of all, and for the glory of God (cf. chap. 57). But we must do our work with the right spirit (see chap. 5, vv. 14-19).


The practice of patience is also very important. Patience, says Scripture, is needed to do the will of God (Heb 10:36) and to reach eternal life (Lk 21:19). Also note St. Benedict’s words: “Never swerving from His instructions, then, but faithfully observing His teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in His kingdom” (prol., v. 50).