62. To fulfill God’s commandments daily in one’s deeds.
63. To love chastity.
64. To hate no one.
65. Not to be jealous, not to harbor envy.
66. Not to love contention.
67. To beware of haughtiness.
68. And to respect the seniors.
69. To love the juniors.
70. To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with one’s adversary before the sun sets.
72. And never to despair of God’s mercy.
These, then, are the tools of the spiritual craft. If we employ them unceasingly day and night, and return them on the Day of Judgment, our compensation from the Lord will be that wage He has promised: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
Now the workshop in which we shall diligently execute all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community.
And so we come to the end of the Instruments as laid out by our holy father. It is quite interesting that today’s reading should fall on the feast of St. Agnes. (St. Agnes is one of the most well known Roman martyrs of the early Church. She was held in such esteem that she is one of the saints mentioned in the Canon of the Mass; for nearly 1500 years at least she has been invoked daily at Holy Mass!) Agnes – either “purity” or “lamb”, depending on the etymology one prefers. Agnes – the pure lamb; the spotless victim; another christ, martyr (witness) of Christ. Though centuries before St. Benedict, can we not hear echoes of St. Agnes in these instruments? How is it that? He did not invent these instruments, they aren’t the product of his imagination; no, he looked to the example of the saints, of those who trod the via crucis, the way of holiness, before him. The tried way is the true way, and there can be no other.
As I prayed Sext today it was St. Agnes I heard praying those Psalms:
Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us: for we are greatly filled with contempt.
Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us to be a prey to their teeth. Our soul hath been delivered as a sparrow out of the snare of the fowlers.
They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Sion: he shall not be moved for ever that dwelleth in Jerusalem. Mountains are round about it: so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth now and for ever.
These are the Gradual Psalms, the Psalms of Ascent, sung by pilgrims as they approached the Temple in Jerusalem. And could not have St. Agnes prayed these as she made her way to her martyrdom, ascending to the “altar” where she would be presented as a victim and sacrificed?
In the whole Rule, all St. Benedict has to say about chastity is this: love chastity. No long list of commands on how to remain chaste; simply, to love chastity. Chastity permits one to see with a pure heart, and when it pertains to seeing others of the opposite sex, to see them as persons. Even within the married life chastity is applicable; the sexual appetite, while legitimate, must be chastised, must be brought under control, so that it may be used properly, with charity, that I may see my wife as a person and not someone there to satisfy my urges and lusts. Chastity, I dare say, is a very underrated and forgotten virtue these days.
“And never to despair of God’s mercy.” Everytime I read this, or remember it, I am reminded of one of Father Prior’s homilies, where he mentioned that this instrument is last as though to say “even if you are unable to do any of the things set down before; if you are unable to pray; unable to remain chaste; unable to dread Hell; unable to relieve the needy… Even if you are unable to do any of this, if you find you are too weak for any of it, even then do not dispair of God’s mercy.”
“Now the workshop in which we shall diligently execute all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community.” I think one can replace “monastery” with “home” and “community” with “family” and it will still be applicable. That, at least, is what we are trying to do as married oblates; that is the point of this blog.