Actions not words

English: Illustration of Petrarch's Triumph of...

English: Illustration of Petrarch’s Triumph of Chastity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“To daily fulfill in one’s actions
the precepts of God;
to love chastity.”
(Rule of Benedict 4.63-64)

Organizations promote training to boost team spirit, reduce conflict, improve communication, or increase appreciation of diversity. Workers willingly adopt the ideas and language, but lasting change rarely occurs.

StBenedict’s plan of action is different. The measure is daily action, not ready acceptance of God’s precepts; he lists several. “Show me your generosity, your calm temper,” he seems to say.

The secular world sees chastity as repressive hindrance rather than spiritual practice to “maintain the integrity of the powers of life and love.” Benedictine life is “an apprenticeship in self-mastery”1 embraced willingly, able to love the limits that give us freedom.

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church §2334


Tooling Through Lent is a series of brief reflections on Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict, The Tools for Good Works.

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Tend the Knitting

St Benedict teaching

St Benedict teaching (Photo: Lawrence OP)

“To listen willingly to holy readings,
to prostrate frequently in prayer.”
(Rule of Benedict 4.55-56)

Sixth century monks had holy readings all day, in chapel and refectory. They sang the psalms with  pauses, often kneeling or prostrating in prayer.  So StBenedict’s focus in this instruction must be on “willingly” and “frequently.”

Holy readings and liturgical prayer can fade into life’s background, done regularly but with little awareness. Work, visitors, plans, events – changeable things – easily grab our attention.  “Tend to your knitting,” StBenedict says, “Listen with your heart! Participate!”

Benedictine living can transform hearts and brings us closer to God, but attendance is not enough. Monastic life is not a spectator sport.


Tooling Through Lent is a series of brief reflections on Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict, The Tools for Good Works.

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What? No laughing? Surely you jest…

“Not to speak words that are vain
or apt to provoke laughter,
not to love frequent or raucous laughter.
(cf. 2 Tim 2:16, Sir 21:23; Rule of Benedict 4.#)

StBenedict’s words against laughter are central to Umberto Eco‘s The Name of the Rose.  A literal interpretation strikes at the heart of community life and the human spirit, even unto death.

A better interpretation recognizes varieties of laughter. Toddlers’ antics evoke smiles everywhere. It is healthy to find humor, rather than drama, in the foibles of everyday life. Teasing or practical jokes can be unkind; perhaps StBenedict had that in mind. Surely he is thinking of the crushing effect of hostile humor (ridicule, taunting).  The Rule prompts us to discern carefully, that even our laughter have a share of holiness.


(Never read The Name of the Rose?  The book has great depth – far beyond the film adaptation – but either shows the grim consequences of a poor interpretation of StBenedict’s words.)


Tooling Through Lent is a series of brief reflections on Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict, The Tools for Good Works.

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Posted in Benedictine, Culture, Film, Lent, Monastic Way of Life, Rule of St Benedict | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment