Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Chapter 4, Part 1:The Tools of Good Works

The tools of good works are these:

(1) Firstly,to  love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole strength...
(2) Then, your neighbor as yourself (cf Mt 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-31; Lk 10:27).
(3) Then, not to kill...
(4) Not to commit adultery...
(5) Not to steal...
(6) Not to covet (cf Rom 13:9).
(7) Not to bear false witness (cf Mt 19:18; Mk 10:19; Lk 18:20).
(8) To show respect to everyone (cf 1 Pt 2:17).
(9) And what you would not have done to yourself, not to do to another (cf Tob 4:16; Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31).
(10) To deny yourself in order to follow Christ (cf Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23).
(11) To discipline the body (cf 1 Cor 9:27).
(12) Not to chase after pleasures


    This may be the strangest chapter of the Rule.  For starters, it doesn’t look like the other chapters.  It’s just a list—and a long list at that.  But Saint Benedict knows what he’s doing, and the longer you spend sorting through his ‘spiritual toolbox,’ the more sense it makes.  Some of the tools are oddly shaped, and others may not be used very often.  Still others take real training to use, and some may be downright dangerous if used the wrong way.  But you need to have them all handy, and you need to know how to use them when the time comes.  Because when something needs fixing, there’s just no substitute for the right tool.
      As you might expect, Saint Benedict finds most of his ‘holiness tools’ in the Bible, but there are some surprises too.  The bit about chasing pleasures, for example, might strike you as a little odd.  What’s wrong with pleasure, after all?  Why not chase after it?
    Still, the longer you think about it, the more sense it makes.  Pleasures (like good food
or good music or pretty much any good thing) are nice, but temporary.  When they come our way, we should enjoy them.  But when we start to chase after them, we confuse our priorities.  Think, for a moment, of the ‘rich young man’ that Jesus tried to recruit in the Gospel of Mark.  “He went away sad,” Mark tells us, because he had many possessions.  The guy in that story lost his calling simply because he was too preoccupied with chasing after pleasures.
      The kids at my school often ask me why I quit being a beach lifeguard in order to become a monk.  Isn’t being a lifeguard more fun?  Well, yes, in some respects.  But in defense of my decision, I can say this: there’s nothing more depressing than a forty-year-old lifeguard.  Because everyone comes to a point in their life when they must choose between fun and joy.  And to choose the former over the latter just leads to a whole lot of emptiness.  These decisions aren’t always life-changing, but they do have their consequences.  And they are often very difficult because joy is so frequently accompanied by suffering.  Ironically, the rich young man went away sad because he threw in his lot with fun.  Let us pray that in our daily decisions—great and small—we have the wisdom to choose joy, no matter how fun the alternative.