St. Benedict: The Tools for Good Works

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The following was a college essay written by Jessica Lincoln. It has been edited and approved by Mary Boneno. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

“Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ” (RB 4.10). These are some of St. Benedict’s simplest yet most difficult words to follow. We all want to follow Christ, but whether or not we admit it, we also often want that following to look suspiciously like the plans we have already laid out for ourselves that involve our own personal gain in some way, shape, or form. We think we want to follow Christ, but in reality, we usually end up following our own appetites and desires. This is why Benedict exhorts us to renounce ourselves- it is only in going to the extreme of rejecting the things we most wish to possess that we will learn how to love. To follow Christ is to love, and to love is to will the good of the other by giving of oneself to the point of unity. It is impossible to love without self-sacrifice, and therefore it is impossible to follow Christ without the same. As students, it is easy for us to get caught up in our own little worlds, learning and socializing and going about our lives without realizing how self-focused we are. It would serve us well to offer up small sacrifices every day in order to train ourselves to say no to our desires, as well as to intentionally shift our thoughts off of ourselves and onto Christ and other people throughout the day.

“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else” (RB 4.20-21). As Christians, our lives should look radically different than the rest of the world’s, and as Benedictines, this is especially true. It is a sad reality that our world does not understand the way of the Cross to be the way of true happiness, but we know better. Benedict’s statement is an urging to proclaim the Gospel boldly by our lives. We are called to love, to serve, to evangelize, to listen attentively, to act compassionately, to forgive the unforgiveable, and be whatever it is that our brothers and sisters in Christ need us to be for them at that moment. To love is to always keep the good of the other at the forefront of our minds. While society preaches lavish self-pampering and selfish materialism, Benedict (and Christ!) proposes a different path: the path of self-emptying for love of God and neighbor. To put the love of Christ before all else may entail keeping that holy hour instead of taking a nap or taking the time to listen to a friend who is struggling even when you know your homework pile is taller than your desk. The world tells us to put our needs before everyone else’s, but the only way we will be truly joyful is if we adopt Christ’s agenda rather than our own.

“Bear injuries patiently” (RB 4.30). I find myself easily tempted to get fired up at the slightest hint of a perceived injustice, to say nothing of an injury willfully inflicted upon me. We are all tempted at times to fight fire with fire, and no one likes the idea of a wrongdoer getting off the hook scot-free. However, Benedict calls us to respond to grievances in a radical way: with patience. We are not to react in anger or in blinding rage but in patient, steadfast meekness. Although this is a foreign concept to today’s society, we are not supposed to look at others with resentment and suspicion. When we are tempted to judge someone else for their actions against us, we must remember that while actions may have clear-cut moral standards, we by no means have any right to judge another person’s heart. Instead of assuming the worst in someone who causes us harm, we can heed Benedict’s advice, bear the wrong patiently, and view the other person through a gaze of compassion that always assumes the best.

“Do not grumble” (RB 4.39). Benedict cautions against complaining, one of the deadliest sins of our time. How easy it is to find fault in the world and how quickly we find ourselves grumbling about our every circumstance! Is it not our natural response to complain when something does not go our way, from the largest predicament down to the smallest annoyance? Yet Benedict plainly states that we are not to grumble. To complain is to say that I wish there were a world other than the one which God created, and in that world, I am God, because I decide what is best. In this way, complaining becomes a form of idolatry, of putting oneself above God, whether intentionally or not. As college students, it is easy for us to complain about everything from homework to the weather to other people to the quality of Caf food. Nonetheless, Benedict calls us to a higher standard and specifically rebukes this vice. If we are to live out the Rule of St. Benedict and live as Christians in the world, one of the first things we must renounce is our habitual grumbling.

“Devote yourself often to prayer” (RB 4.56). This particular tool is simultaneously obvious and elusive to many who desire to live for Christ, but Benedict clearly finds it of utmost importance. If we do not spend time in prayer every day, we cannot have a real relationship with God. This relationship is the foundation of our mission and of our lives, and therefore we cannot afford to ignore it. While different people may be at different stages on their journey and thus spend different amounts of time in prayer each day than others do, it is vital that every single one of us spend some time alone in one-on-one personal conversation with God. If we do not get this right, we will not accomplish anything else worthwhile in our lives.

“Do not aspire to be called holy before you really are, but first be holy that you may more truly be called so” (RB 4.62). In this message, Benedict reminds us what true humility is: honestly admitting where you stand. In our lives, we should not desire honor or praise from anyone else, nor should we perform actions for the sake of what others will think of us. If we do a great act of charity but act out of our own selfishness rather than love, the act means nothing at all. Similarly, if we, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, kneel down in prayer so that others may see us and call us holy, rather than doing so out of a recognition of our need for God, we are prideful hypocrites. This is something that is easy to fall into on our campus- because holiness abounds here, and we want others to see us as holy too, we can easily slip into a habit of publicly going to daily Mass, praying the rosary, or doing service for the wrong reasons. However, Benedict’s instruction is twofold: while we are not to aspire to being called holy, we are to aspire to actually being holy. Benedict does not discourage us from going to Mass, praying, or serving others- on the contrary, he encourages and even mandates those things- but he urges us to do them from a place of love and a genuine desire to grow in holiness- in other words, to grow in relationship with the Lord. If we do that, then we may, in all honesty and humility, one day be called holy.

“Never lose hope in God’s mercy” (RB 4.74). Last but not least, Benedict reminds us of the great promise God made us, that He is a merciful God and He will always welcome back the Prodigal Son with open arms. We have no need to be afraid of God’s mercy, and we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by running back into His arms every time we fall. We need never lost hope in God’s abounding love for us because He already proved it on the Cross. In fact, there is literally no reason to despair because Christ already won the battle over sin and death. Redemption is possible for anyone, and no matter what weaknesses, faults, and failures we may find in ourselves, God’s merciful love is always greater than everything we face. If we remember that and keep our eyes always fixed upon Christ, then we have all the tools we need live the life for which God made us.

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