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The Tools for Good Works

Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Chapter 4

Place your hope in God alone. If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself, but be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge.

Grace and goodness come from God, the Rule insists. We are not the sole authors of our own story. What does come from us, though, are the decisions we make in the face of the graces we receive. We can either respond to each life grace and become what we might be in every situation, whatever the effort, or we can reject the impulses that the magnate in us called goodness brings in favor of being less than we ought to be.

It is those decisions that we must bend our lives to better.

Live in fear of the day of judgment and have a great horror of hell. Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire. Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die. Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, aware that God's gaze is upon you, wherever you may be. As soon as wrongful thoughts come into your heart, dash them against Christ and disclose them to your spiritual guide. Guard your lips from harmful or deceptive speech.

Motives for the spiritual life change as we change, grow as we grow. At earlier stages it is the fear of punishment that controls passions not yet spent. At a more developed stage, it is the desire for ceaseless life that impels us. At another point, it is the shattering awareness of our own mortality that brings us to brave the thought of a life beyond life and its claim on us.

Whatever the motive, Benedict reminds us that the consciousness of God's presence, behind us, within us, in front of us demands a change of heart, a change of attention from us. From now on we must think differently and tell a different truth.

Prefer moderation in speech and speak no foolish chatter, nothing just to provoke laughter; do not love immoderate or boisterous laughter.

A Jewish proverb reads: "Not every heart that laughs is cheerful" and Ben Sirach taught in Ecclesiasticus,21:20 "Fools raise their voices when they laugh, but the wise smile quietly."

Unlike a culture that passionately pursues unmitigated and undisciplined bliss, Benedict wants moderation, balance, control in everything. Life, he knows, is more than one long party. He wants a spirituality in which people are happy but not boisterously unaware of life in all its aspects, responsive but thoughtful, personable but serious. He wants us to keep everything in perspective. Benedict warns us over and over again in the Rule not to be overtaken, consumed, swept up, swallowed by anything because, no matter how good the thing that absorbs us, we lose other goods in life because of our total lack of discipline about a single part of it.

The Talmud writes: The Torah may be likened to two paths, one of fire, the other of snow. Turn in one direction,and you die of heat; turn to the other and you die of the cold. What should you do? Walk in the middle. (Hagigah, 2:1)