The Rule of Benedict--An Introduction--Week 5

Week Five---Work

In the monastic mind, work is not for profit. In the monastic mentality, work is for giving, not just for gaining. In monastic spirituality, other people have a claim on what we do. Work is not a private enterprise. Work is not to enable me to get ahead; the purpose of work is to enable me to become more human and to make my world more just.~~Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today.

Benedict placed a great emphasis on work. All monks were required to work, to the level of their capabilities. There were no slaves on monastery grounds, even in times of slavery, and there were no servants. The most surprising aspect of the monastic tradition of work is the belief that no work is more important than any other work-- all work is required for the smooth running of the monastic community. A passage in Will Derske makes this perfectly clear:

"Tasks and activities may indeed differ in weight, but the one is not worthy of more attention (is "more sacred") than the other. This attitude is especially difficult to cultivate. It is very tempting and quite natural to view some activities is more worthy of our time and attention than others: the writing of an important executive notice, the preparation for crucial meeting with a generous philanthropist, the writing of a keynote lecture for an international scientific Congress, or the composing of a report for a meeting of bishops. But we might be tempted to consider other activities less important such as the following: repairing your daughter's bicycle tire, the recreational reading of a bedtime story to a child, or the careful scrubbing of your kitchen floor. But when we realize that all of these tasks, though not the same, are equally worthy, and that all of them deserve to be done attentively, as opportunities "to praise God," or, in a more secular vein, to attend and get things right, and when we respond to this awareness then all activities will increase in quality."

1. What rhythms of prayer and work shape your life? Whether you are together or not, how do you share those rhythms with others?

2. "The Benedictine view of work is rooted in spirituality. Through our work we serve God by serving one another. In our work we use the gifts that God has given us in a generous, responsible, and humble way. Work is important but it doesn't define who we are. Work is an occasion to "step aside" and let our actions glorify God. Through work we can exercise and hold our "Christian muscles." We can seek God as we do each task of the day. Our true work as Christian people is to be Christ's body here on earth, committed to the work of fulfilling the promises we make in our baptismal covenant: to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being."

What does this mean to you, and how does it work out in your own life?

3. John McQuiston II, while not speaking specifically about professional work, has some interesting things to say about works, and it relates to what we have been talking about above:

If you want to live

the life that only you can live,

do good for others,

and when you have done good,

you will have life abundantly.

A life without good works

is a shadow life.

A life centered on itself

is an empty life.

Seek to do good for others, and you will find fulfillment.

Forget yourself

and you will discover what you're seeking.

And if we do good works,

we should not do them in the hope of reward,

nor in the desire for betterment,

nor can we be proud or self-righteous

on account of our good works.

We must credit the good we do

to the hidden foundation of good,

and be grateful to serve as its medium.

How do you think this relates to your own specific professional work?


Try to incorporate the information given in these five lessons into a one-paragraph summary and affirmative statement of how the Benedictine way could improve your life significantly.