Good Zeal

Good Work

Sister Adrian at the pottery wheelWhile St. Benedict says in his Rule that nothing is to be preferred to the Opus Dei or the Work of God (contemporarily known as the Liturgy of the Hours) (43.3), the wise abbot also recognizes the value of human work. In the Prologue he writes: “Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works (bonorum actuum), 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” (v.21). He follows this by saying, “If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds (bonus actibus)” (v.22).

In Chapter 4 of the Rule, St. Benedict provides a long list of “tools” for doing good works (bonum operum), a list that includes Jesus’s commandment of love, the ten commandments, and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Chapter 48, dedicated to daily manual labor (opera manum), points out that specified times for manual labor and prayerful reading are to be established so that no one is to remain idle. Idleness, which is mindless inactivity without a purpose, is “the enemy of the soul” (48.1) because it easily leads one away from the path of virtue.

Reflecting on these and other passages, it becomes clear that in St. Benedict’s mind all the activities of a faithful monastic disciple are to be seen as “good work,” meaning that it is done for the purpose of seeking God together in community. Whether praying together or alone, whether involved in some form of manual labor or intellectual pursuit, whether at the monastery or away, whether in conversation or in silence, the orientation of one’s inner disposition is to be toward God. A good life, which is a good spiritual life, is found when our energies are properly ordered to the quality of our activities. Even leisure is to have a holy quality to it, imitating our Creator who rested from work on the seventh day of creation in Genesis 1.

St. Benedict did not expect perfection, efficiency, or maximum productivity. Rather, he insisted on mindfulness, humility, good stewardship, and loving service. Artisans are to practice their craft in a way that does not lead to pride. Kitchen workers are to have help if it is needed. The weak are to have their infirmities considered, and the strong are to have something to strive for. Work of any kind should be done to the best of one’s ability and not begrudgingly, even if the work itself is unpleasant, boring, or likely to go unnoticed. Moderation and love are the keys to a happy and holy life.

Work is a gift and a blessing in a monastery, an opportunity to glorify God with thanksgiving and praise. When one’s mind and heart are oriented toward Christ and the Gospel, then all activity undertaken will naturally become “good work” advancing the way to the Kingdom of God.

By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB

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