“See how the Lord in his love shows us the way of life. Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his kingdom (1 Thess. 2:12).” [Prologue 20-21]
These are, to say the least, trying and difficult times that we are living in. It would also be accurate to say that these are terribly deceptive times. These times aren’t so different from those in which St. Benedict lived. We do have modern amenities that were unknown in his day but the same base realities, those that beckon to direct the course of the moral lives of people, haven’t changed an iota. They’ve been around since the fall of man and will remain with us until the end of time. There are no new sins. There are only old ones repeated over and over.
Benedict, as a good teacher, was always careful to direct his followers toward the Teacher of teachers, toward the one who is the Way of Life and who came to show us the way to life. [John 10:10] The assurance of a safe eternal destination is indeed comforting and we should never lose sight of the fact that either heaven or hell will be the eventual eternal destination of every soul. With an eternal destination in mind it is only right to live respectively in the present. Faith is naturally followed by good works.
What are these good works that naturally follow faith and what are we doing to fulfill them?
There are, first of all, the three eminent good works that we find in Christ’s teachings – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. There are the several corporal works of mercy – feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, and burying the dead. There are also the several spiritual works of mercy – admonishing the sinner, instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving all injuries, and praying for the living and the dead.
This list of good works, considered as part of an Examination of Conscience from The Fathers of Mercy and stamped with the Imprimi Potest, takes us quickly and directly to where we really are in actually living out the expectations of the teachings of Christ. It is to a selfless life that Christ calls us, one that causes us to grow in and extend the compassion of Christ toward those around us. It is a life centered in Christ and not in ourselves. It is a life of continual conversion as we are confronted with the honest realization of who we are and how we live in light who Christ is and how he lived.
Benedict reminds us that we are called to Christ’s kingdom, that one day we will see him face to face, and that we need to mindfully live in a way in the present that is deserving of his grace and eternal favor.