. . . If we were to sum up Benedict's spirituality, it would be ora et labora: "prayer and work." However, his understanding of the purpose of work was far different from the contemporary attitude in which work is viewed through the lenses of materialism, pragmatism and single-minded efficiency. Today, it is often thought that man is made for work. Taken in its extreme, people are exploited as objects to be manipulated for profit and material gain.
Further, it is easy to make of ourselves slaves to work: in an effort to acquire all the more unnecessary material possessions, we become so immersed in work that God is relegated far down on the list of priorities. We may even become consistently forgetful of God's immanent presence, which is a not infrequently encountered spiritual malady. As an additional effect of this type of self-induced bondage, our family suffers: even when we are home, we remain preoccupied by the demands of work or feel too stressed and exhausted to interact with our children or our spouse. In this way, we are more absent than present.
St. Benedict understood that work is for man, not vice-versa. While he saw work as necessary for man and "essential for him as a Christian," serving human nature as a disciplinary force against idleness and temptation and acting as a means to enhance spiritual growth (The Catholic Encyclopedia), it was to be subordinate to one's primary purpose in life: to love God for his sake and attain eternal beatitude. Benedict, then, believed in a balanced life of prayer and work that had as its ultimate goal human sanctity and union with God. He saw prayerfully infused work as the path to holiness.
While there are many other things that can be said of the human person's work, such as its dignity, its positive contribution to society, its relationship to human fulfillment and so forth, there is indeed spiritual profit to be gained from the perennial values of Benedict's Rule and his understanding of ora et labora. Above all, the eyes of St. Benedict's soul remained fixed on life in and through and with Christ from the present and on into eternity: he saw with clarity and wisdom the goal of the human person -- a sublime vision which he ardently sought to impart to others.
"Just as there exists an evil fervor, a bitter spirit, which divides us from God and leads us to hell, so there is a good fervor which sets us apart from evil inclinations and leads us toward God and eternal life. Monks should put this fervor into practice with an overflowing love: that is, they should surpass each other in mutual esteem, accept their weaknesses, either of body or of behavior, with the utmost patience; and vie with each other in acceding to requests.
"No one should follow what he considers to be good for himself, but rather what seems good for another. They should display brotherly love in a chaste manner; fear God in a spirit of love; revere their abbot with a genuine and submissive affection. Let them put Christ before all else; and may he lead us all to everlasting life" -- from the Rule of St. Benedict
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