Back in May I visited The Abbey at Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT. It is a “community of contemplative Benedictine women dedicated to the praise of God through prayer and work.” (http://abbeyofreginalaudis.org/) While there I picked up Seventy-Four Tools for Good Living: Reflections on the Fourth Chapter of Benedict’s Rule by Michael Casey, OCSO. It is a series of “Reflections on the Fourth Chapter of Benedict’s Rule.” Although I am a “cradle Catholic,” I had no idea what a rule was, nor any idea what the different orders did or even what occurred at a monastery, abbey, etc. However, what I experienced at Regina Laudis was a calm and rhythm of life that I have never experienced before, and when I saw the title of this book in their small book store I bought it since I was hoping to recreate the peacefulness of the Abbey in my own life. Unbeknownst to me, this book was about to dig very deeply into every little detail of life.
The Rule of St. Benedict begins with a presentation of monastic virtues and values by an ample list of 74 do’s and don’ts. He does this with monks in mind, but his list is applicable to almost anybody. (P. xvii). So, in order to help the average human, i.e. one who is not a monk or nun, to avoid going through life on cruise control (because 74 admonitions is quite a few to pay attention to!), Michael Casey spelled out in this book what it means to follow each of the items on St. Benedict’s Chapter 4 list. Incidentally, every person should read this book, not just Catholics! If every human read this book and then made it their life’s goal to follow the guidance in this book then the world would be radically different, i.e. wonderful, heaven on earth!Here is something I learned: “The vocation I received in baptism is not merely to be good but to become divine. This comes about when I respond to God’s invitation to allow my life to be configured to the life of Christ. I am called to be a presence of Christ in my small part of the world. For this to happen vices need to be subdued and virtues allowed to flourish. I have to cooperate in the processes of purification and sanctification, but I am not their initiator or even their principal agent. They are God’s work…The work is God’s; my struggles are simply the result of having to overcome my inertia and reduce my resistance to what God is achieving.” (page 144) See what I mean? Deep. Here is another tidbit from the book: “Hell is the definitive unhappy ending to a life that has been characterized by resistance to grace.” (page 153).
So, each item on the virtues/values list of St. Benedict’s rule from his Chapter 4 gets one chapter dedicated to it to explain what that virtue or value looks like when we live it out and…when we are not living it out. Michael Casey writes clearly and precisely. It is not a book that is meant to be whipped through, but rather read carefully, one chapter at a time, so as to digest it slowly and purposefully. Now go and enjoy your good life!