"First of all, love the Lord God ... and your neighbor as yourself."
Rule of St. Benedict 4:1-2
The Rule of St. Benedict contains a lengthy chapter that is essentially a list of good works. RB 4 is meant to be an inventory of the "tools of the spiritual craft" (4:75) that monks/nuns utilize in the monastic "workshop," the enclosure of the monastery (4:78), as they shape their lives in the image of Christ.
In the prologue to the Rule, Benedict refers to faith and good works as the “clothing” that makes us fit to see him who has called us to his kingdom (RB Prol. 21).
Often the Kingdom of heaven is likened to a banquet (see Matt 8:11; Matt 25:10; Luke 14:16; Rev 19:9). When I read this part of Benedict’s prologue to his Rule, I think of the parable of the Great Banquet found in Matthew 22. The story is about a king whose son got married. Many were invited to the wedding banquet, but those invited did not come. So, the king opened his banquet to the whole town and sent his servants out “to gather all whom they found, both good and bad, so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
Sounds great! But then Jesus gives his disciples something to think about by ending the parable with a troubling incident. The king comes into the hall to greet his guests and notices a man not wearing a proper wedding garment. Why has he come to a wedding banquet improperly dressed? The man gives no reply, so the king regards him as a “party crasher” and throws him out of the banquet hall – a bit of a cloud over an erstwhile happy ending.
Benedict refers to faith and good works, the actions we take to exhibit our faith (James 2:22), as what “clothes” us. Like a wedding garment worn to a wedding banquet, faith’s outward appearance, our good works, are what make us true guests of the Bridegroom, those “invited.” We get ourselves ready for the Great Banquet by clothing ourselves in the good works that shape us in the image of Christ.
By striving every day to practice good works in the “workshop” of community, we prepare ourselves to see him who has called us to his Kingdom. RB 4 starts with love of God and love of neighbor, then offers a long list of items, which includes things such as striving to honor everyone, never doing what you’d not want another do to you, renouncing self, thinking of the needs of others, forgiving one another, speaking truth with heart and tongue, loving enemies, enduring persecution for the sake of justice, placing hope in God, and day by day reminding yourself that you are going to die one day, and so forth and so on.
There are 73 “good works” listed in RB 4. That is a lot to pay attention to – and yes, we will fall short, often, which is why Benedict includes never lose hope in God’s mercy as the final and perhaps most important “good work” of all. Wellness and blessing to you all!