Rule of Benedict Daily Reading

January 19, 2018
Chapter 4
The Tools for Good Works

Your way of acting should be different from the world's way; the love of Christ must come before all else. You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love. Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue.

The end of Benedictine spirituality is to develop a transparent personality. Dissimulation, half answers, vindictive attitudes, a false presentation of self are all barbs in the soul of the monastic. Holiness, this ancient Rule says to a culture that has made crafty packaging high art, has something to do with being who we say we are, claiming our truths, opening our hearts, giving ourselves to the other pure and unglossed. Shakespeare's Hamlet noted once: "A man can smile and smile and be a villain." Benedict is intent on developing people who are what they seem to be.

"Do not repay one bad turn with another (1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9)." Do not injure anyone, but bear injuries patiently. "Love your enemies (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27)." If people curse you, do not curse them back but bless them instead. "Endure persecution for the sake of justice (Mt 5:10)."

A peacemaker's paragraph, this one confronts us with the Gospel stripped and unadorned. Nonviolence, it says, is the center of the monastic life. It doesn't talk about conflict resolution; it says, don't begin the conflict. It doesn't talk about communication barriers; it says, stay gentle even with those who are not gentle with you. It doesn't talk about winning; it talks about loving.

Most of all, perhaps, it offers us no false hope that all these attempts will really change anything. No, it says instead that we must be prepared to bear whatever blows it takes for the sake of justice, quietly, gently, even lovingly with never a blow in return.

A story from the Far East recounts that a vicious general plundered the countryside and terrorized the villagers. He was, they said, particularly cruel to the monks of the place, whom he despised.

One day, at the end of his most recent assault, he was informed by one of his officers that, fearing him, all the people had already fled the town, with the exception of one monk who had remained in his monastery going about the order of the day.

The general was infuriated at the audacity of the monk and sent the soldiers to drag him to his tent.

"Do you not know who I am?" he roared at the monk, "I am he who can run you through with a sword and never bat an eyelash."

But the monk replied quietly, "And do you not know who I am? I am he who can let you run me through with a sword and never bat an eyelash."

Nonviolence plunges the monastic into the core of Christianity and allows for no rationalizations. Monastic spirituality is Christianity to the hilt. It calls for national policies that take the poor into first account; it calls for a work life that does not bully underlings or undercut the competition; it calls for families that talk to one another tenderly; it calls for a foreign policy not based on force. Violence has simply no place in the monastic heart.

"You must not be proud, nor be given to wine (Ti 1:7; I Tm 3:3)." Refrain from too much eating or sleeping, and "from laziness (Rom 12:11)." Do not grumble or speak ill of others.

In the Tao Te Ching it reads:

Be content with what you have;

rejoice in the way things are,

When you realize there is nothing lacking

the whole world belongs to you.

Benedict reminds us, too, that physical control and spiritual perspective are linked: pride and gluttony and laziness are of a piece. We expect too much, we consume too much and we contribute too little. We give ourselves over to ourselves. We become engorged with ourselves and, as a result, there is no room left for the stripped down, stark and simple furniture of the soul.