Prayers, please, for Nancy H., end stage ovarian cancer, and for her
family. God's will is best. All is mercy and grace. Thanks so much! JL
January 20, May 21, September 20
Chapter 4: What Are the Instruments of Good Works
To fear the Day of Judgment.
To be in dread of hell.
To desire eternal life with all the passion of the spirit.
To keep death daily before one's eyes.
To keep constant guard over the actions of one's life.
To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
When evil thoughts come into one's heart, to dash them against Christ
And to manifest them to one's spiritual mother.
To guard one's tongue against evil and depraved speech.
Not to love much talking.
Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter.
Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
To listen willingly to holy reading.
To devote oneself frequently to prayer.
Daily in one's prayers, with tears and sighs, to confess one's past
sins to God, and to amend them for the future.
Not to fulfil the desires of the flesh; to hate one's own will.
To obey in all things the commands of the Abbess, even though she
herself (which God forbid) should act otherwise, mindful of the
Lord's precept, "Do what they say, but not what they do."
Not to wish to be called holy before one is holy; but first to be
holy, that one may be truly so called.
The first four on today's list are not very palatable to many modern
ears, but, like all of the Instruments of Good Works, they are
important, they are interrelated and each one helps one fulfill the
others. Arguably, one could say that the focus of the first four is
the fifth: "To keep constant guard over the actions of one's life."
We have largely "gotten over" dreading Judgment. We went from a
paralyzing, Jansenistic, scrupey fear of it right into a smug
assurance that everyone aces the test. Well, there's got to be truth
hidden between those two extremes somewhere!
I know, beyond any doubt that I shall be both delighted and very,
very embarrassed and ashamed to meet God face to face, to find that
my faith has been confirmed. Ah, joy at the confirmation, but
crushing shame at the simultaneous confirmation of how very far short
of Him I have fallen, through choice, through laziness, through
negligence. One can dread that without thinking that God is some
intrinsically mean sort, just waiting for one to trip up.
It's merely an affirmation that we have been all too good at tripping
on our own: God has no need to duplicate services there! Fearing
judgment is part and parcel of knowing who we are. We have all
sinned. And I know I have failed love, again and again and again,
usually with no more excuse than selfishness.
We keep goals in sight while training. Forget the Olympic gold and
you will quite likely forget why you are training so hard. For us,
between now and the "Olympics" of death, it is only the training that
matters. It is also good to recall that, as Benedictines, our goal is
NOT simply to "pass", but to stand on the podium. (Figuratively
speaking. Don't carry this limping analogy too far, or you'll wind up
with only three people getting saved, all of them Benedictine. Not
only is that NOT where I am heading, but it would annoy the Jesuits
terribly.) That's not because we are any better, it is only because
we ourselves have added great holiness to our goal. Why else embrace
All of these four lead to the fifth, keeping guard over one's
actions, or mindfulness. Here is a great connection between the
Benedictine way and the Buddhist way. Mindfulness is the vestibule of
ecstasy. That is no exaggeration!
One of the principle similarities noted between religious mystical
experience and drug-induced euphoria was that both result in the "de-
automatization" ordinary, daily events. One hates to be crass here,
but three hits into a joint and one "sees" the daffodil or tastes the
pizza "for the first time." It all seems new, as if one had never
experienced it before.
So, also with religious mystical experience. St. Teresa of Avila
could not make it through the Our Father without falling into
ecstasy. Whoa! How many times do we make it through without ecstasy,
even with full attention? The ordinary becomes ecstatic in mysticism
because of grace, working on mindfulness and purity of heart, which
are so clearly linked.
Kierkegaard was right about this one: "Purity of heart is to will one
thing." When that one thing is God, grace can lead us to dizzying
heights. And purity of heart is a very, very Benedictine concept!
The Buddhists have a saying that monastics can preach a sermon just
by the way they walk. That's what the care of mindfulness can do!
Just wait till we get to the 12th degree of humility, which says that
the monastics' humility will shine through their outward appearance,
whether walking or sitting or working or praying.
Love and prayers,