Chapter four of The Rule of St. Benedict is a list of good works Christians ought to do.
Seriously, its just a list of about 100 spiritual acts. Is there use in such a list?
My Facebook feed is daily filled with shared articles on all sorts of random things (“17 Questions Elf Left Unanswered“, for example). I may shy away from reading a long blog post, especially without any headings, but when it comes to a list I will probably quickly peruse it. And I am not unique in this, studies have shown that we read differently online. While I can sit and read hundreds of pages in a book, on the internet I am drawn to lists. When it comes to the internet, we tend to skim and scan.
So a list like the one Benedict gives us in chapter four may be the perfect thing for the contemporary reader. Go ahead and read it right now for free.
It is not surprising the list starts with love God and love neighbor, since Jesus put those as the top two commandments. The next few are from the Ten Commandments, followed by a few on caring for the poor and needy in the world.
Its a great and helpful list. I think the goal of Christian life is to move beyond such lists, to train ourselves to do such things naturally, without having to consult the list. But as we start it may not be bad to make our own list, to identify actions we want to do and others we want to stop. It is like following a recipe in cooking, following the directions to the letter will help make a good meal. Likewise, making a list and following it can be a good first step of living well.
But beware seeing the list as the be-all and end-all. If you see success in following the list as the final goal, you miss the final goal which is having your character shaped to be like Jesus Christ. A list points you in the right direction, but won’t, by itself, take you the whole way there.