Rule of Benedict Daily Reading

January 18, 2019
Chapter 4
The Tools for Good Works

First of all, "love God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-31; Lk 10:27)." Then the following: "You are not to kill, not to commit adultery; you are not to steal nor to covet (Rom 13:9); you are not to bear false witness (Mt 19:18; Mk 10:19; Lk 18:20). You must honor everyone (1 Pt 2:17)," and "never do to another what you do not want done to yourself (Tb 4:16; Mt 7:12;Lk 6:31)."

At first glance, of course, this opening paragraph on the instruments of the spiritual art seems to be a relatively standard and basic reference to a biblical description of the holy life. And that seems sound. The trouble is that it also seems strange.

The surprise is that Benedict does not call us first to prayer or sacrifice or devotions or asceticisms. This is, after all, a contemplative lifestyle. It is at the same time, however, a communal lifestyle for "that most valiant kind of monastic heart," who sets out to find the holy in the human. The call to contemplation here is the call not simply to see Christ in the other but to treat the other as Christ. Benedict calls us first to justice: love God, love the other, do no harm to anyone.

Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ (Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23); discipline your body (1 Cor 9:27);" do not pamper yourself, but love fasting. You must relieve the lot of the poor, "clothe the naked, visit the sick (Mt 25: 36)," and bury the dead. Go to help the troubled and console the sorrowing.

First, Benedict instructs the monastic to keep the commandments. Then, in this next paragraph, the Rule requires the keeping of the corporal works of mercy. Benedictine monasticism is, apparently, not an escape from life. This spirituality is life lived with an eye on those for whom life is a terrible burden. "Do not pamper yourself," the Rule insists. "Relieve the lot of the poor."

The monastic heart is not just to be a good heart. The monastic heart is to be good for something. It is to be engaged in the great Christian enterprise of acting for others in the place of God.