For if we wish to dwell in the tent of that kingdom, we must run to it by good deeds or we shall never reach it. But let us ask the Lord, with the Prophet, “Lord, who shall dwell in Your tent, or who shall rest upon Your holy mountain”?
After this question, brothers and sisters, let us listen to the Lord as He answers and shows us the way to that tent, saying, “The one Who walks without stain and practices justice; who speaks truth from his heart; who has not used his tongue for deceit; who has done no evil to his neighbor; who has given no place to slander against his neighbor.”
This is the one who, under any temptation from the malicious devil, has brought him to naught by casting him and his temptation from the sight of his heart; and who has laid hold of his thoughts while they were still young and dashed them against Christ.
It is they who, fearing the Lord, do not pride themselves on their good observance; but, convinced that the good which is in them cannot come from themselves and must be from the Lord, glorify the Lord’s work in them, using the words of the Prophet, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give the glory”. Thus also the Apostle Paul attributed nothing of the success of his preaching to himself, but said, “By the grace of God I am what I am”. And again he says, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord”.
The Prologue continues with the laying out of the steps of seeking the Kingdom. Previously St. Benedict told us that we must awaken from slumber. Once awake, we are now told to run. Here we find St. Paul’s comparison of the spiritual life to a race re-echoed. Running brings to mind effort, training, discipline. St. Augustine said that in the spiritual life, if one is not progressing towards God then one is regressing (Non progredi, jam reverti est). There is no place for lukewarmness; there is no middle ground. If one is not running towards the goal then sooner or later one becomes complacent, lukewarm, and eventually gives up.
You can see this even in family life, between husband and wife (I believe the analogy is apt since Holy MAtrimony is an icon of our relationship with God). If the couple is not growing in love the relationship does not stay as it had began; it begins, rather to deteriorate.
How many times has it happened that daily routine gets in the way of prayer, for example? We say to one another “today was too tiring; tomorrow we’ll pray. The Lord will understand.” Today it is this excuse, tomorrow another, and when we realize it we have lost our prayer routine, we have been falling even into those “insignificant” sins which we thought we were above, we have forgone the sacraments… Then we need to start all over again. Or how many times do we ttell ourselves “I’m keeping away from sin; this is enough.”
The race is run by good deeds. Our love of God is shown in our love of neighbor, for, as St. John says, how can we say we love God who we have not seen when we do not love our brother who we do see? This doing good is not “being nice”; it is giving testimony. Aren’t there so many occasions when we’re afraid to give witness, not only to those without our family, but also to those within?
When temptation strikes we are told to dash those thoughts immediately against Christ. The imagery is vivid. There are certain temptations which, the Fathers tell us, if we engage them even the slightest bit then we have already lost the battle. I think this advice is especially pertinent for those.
In a day and age when we are told that we have to prove our worth, that it all depends on us, the Rule reminds us that it is not ultimately up to us. This is not, however, an invitation to laxity or indifference. We must cooperate with the Lord’s grace, trusting that He will bring things to fruition and trusting in His providence. We begin to see here already St. Benedict’s insistence on humility, perhaps the quintessential Benedictine characteristic. To be humble is to know one’s self and one’s dependency on the Lord, to recognize that all that is good comes from Him. The “steps of humility” will be addressed later on in the Rule and at length, so tied are they with Benedictine life.