To be read: January 23, May 23, September 23
Behold, these are the instruments of the spiritual art, 76which, if they have been applied without ceasing day and night and approved on judgment day, will merit for us from the Lord that reward which He has promised: 77“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”(1 Cor 2:9). 78But the workshop in which we perform all these works with diligence is the enclosure of the monastery, and stability in the community.
Benedict summarizes his listing of the tools available in God’s tool chest by saying, “Behold, these are the instruments of the spiritual art…” We are to use them “without ceasing day and night…” He uses the Latin word instrumenta. This word is also used for musical instruments, and as such begs a metaphor. Just as there are a large number of tools available to be used for the work of living in community, so there are a large number of musical instruments available to be used in the composition and performance of a symphony. Each musical instrument has a specific role in the composition of a symphony, and must be played at the appointed time, in the right tempo, and at the appropriate volume. There is a logic and flow to a symphony, with each instrument playing its crucial part. Out of context the notes played by any one instrument might seem odd, even dissonant. But in the context of the whole composition, each instrument adds its unique part to the complete work of art. There is a beauty to the crafted whole, and when each piece has played its part well the work holds together and paints an auditory picture for the audience. So it is with the tools of the spiritual art. When we employ each tool, and use it properly, our lives and that of the community become a complete work, a masterpiece—beautifully framed and forged, proclaiming a glorious message.
This may all sound wonderful, but in the last verse Benedict declares that “the workshop in which we perform all these works with diligence is the enclosure of the monastery…” That would be a problem for us. Is there some means or provision for an alternate reading, or an adaptation of verse 78? The beginning of the verse reads, “the workshop in which we perform all these works with diligence is the enclosure of the monastery…”, but then Benedict adds, “and stability in the community.” Even if we are not cenobitic, we do live in community. Whether as professed Benedictines, or faithful Christians living in the world, we promise “stability” in our profession of promises according to chapter 58 of the Rule. These monastic promises are reflected in every Christian’s baptismal vows: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching…? Will you persevere in resisting evil…? Will you proclaim…the Good News…? Will you seek and serve Christ…? Will you strive for justice and peace…?” All of these speak to stability in relationship with Christ and community. And in order to properly employ “the instruments of the spiritual art” we must be walking in the way of the Spirit, in fidelity to the calling, and in obedience to the Word. Therefore, we must practice “stability in the community” wherever we live and work, be it the monastery or the world.
Maintaining a stable relationship with Christ and with His Church is invaluable. It is hard enough to live in the world as a Christian, to do so without Christ and His Church would be impossible. So, Benedict has given us this chapter on the “instruments of the spiritual art”. He has shown us how to employ the tools. Now we need to maintain stability in our relationships with God and one another in order to utilize these gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ and the spread of His Kingdom.