Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Relying on God's Mercy

by Fr. Adrian Burke, OSB

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And finally, never lose hope in God's mercy."
Rule of St. Benedict4:74

In chapter four of his holy Rule, St. Benedict presents concrete ways to bear fruit that lasts (John 15:16) - "tools for good works." In a sense, this chapter could stand alone as a rule for Christian living. Verse 74 is the last of Benedict's "tools," and by ending with God's mercy, he reminds his monks that without grace there is no pleasing God.

The list begins with loving God and neighbor and ends with relying on God's mercy, and the verses that lie between are meant to be concrete ways to express our love for God, ways that are possible only because of our reliance on God's mercy, the final item - so the Christian life is framed in terms of love and mercy.

The pagans of ancient times engaged in religious rituals intended to placate the gods so they'd "favor" worshippers with protection, victory in war, or with food during famine, and the like. Benedict wants us instead to strive to please God, not by sacrificing animals or people (scapegoating), but by relying on God's love and trusting God's mercy. This "reliance and trust" is the essence of biblical faith.

God is not one of "the gods" - God doesn't need "placating." What pleases God is that we concretely realize who our Creator intends us to be. To do that, we must keep in mind God's intention for us. "From the beginning" God calls us God's own image and likeness, thus we must strive to be the "face of God" in the world, a visible expression of God's presence!

The beginning of Benedict's list is the first of God's commandments:"Love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength." Then, just as Jesus did in the Gospel, Benedict immediately associates the first commandment with "loving your neighbor as yourself," joining the two in a single sentence: the "greatest commandment" (Mt. 22:26-39).

After that, Benedict mentions 72 ways of accomplishing that project. By striving to practice these good works, we act as "co-creators" for our lives, collaborating with God's grace to fashion ourselves into what God intended us to be. Thus, we participate in the creative action of God - we act "like God" - and thus fulfill God's intention for us.

At the end of the long list, Benedict reminds us that though we will often fall short or fail to do these things well (or at all) because of our wounded nature and our weaknesses, we must "never lose hope in God's mercy." That's vital.

Faith requires that we rely on God's provident care and concern for us, his children, which God exercises by "writing straight with our crooked lines" and making good come from our failings, even our sins (cf. Rom 8:28), and bringing life from death. Reliance on God's mercy is the only way we can have any hope of realizing the truth of who God intends us to be.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.