“…The emphasis on living a good life by turning away from evil and being proactive in doing good has its own dangers. Principal among them is the possibility that we leave God out of the equation and try to go it alone. When this happens all progress is stymied. Instead of becoming a call coming outside of ourselves to go beyond our limits, the attraction to a spiritual life becomes instead an instrument of self-will. We fall into the tyranny of the superego, which enslaves instead of liberates. We are constantly aiming at a perfection that we ourselves have imagined without reference to God’s plans for us or, indeed, without any recognition of who we truly are and what our final goal might be.
Fortunately this iron will for self-improvement is ineffective and so we constantly fall short of the dubious ideals we had set up for ourselves. At this point we are confronted by two negative possibilities and one positive possibility. The negative possibilities are these: first, we make up our minds to try harder, surrounding ourselves with self-made rules that are not life-giving; second, we lose heart and abandon our spiritual aspirations, writing off our losses as experience gained, and try to live with reduced ideals. The positive possibility resulting from our failure and chronic recidivism is that we turn to God with a strong sense of urgency, recognizing that the only thing we can make of our lives is a mess and calling out to be saved. We trust no longer in our own power of accomplishment but only in God’s grace.
Not surprisingly, alongside Benedict’s emphasis on the active life, we find a complementary emphasis on reliance on grace. Every good action is to be accompanied by prayer; it is the inspired Scripture that rouses us from sleep; it is the divine light that opens our eyes, just as it is the divine voice that sharpens our sense of hearing. Our work if a response to God’s daily call to conversion, calling us back from being lost and showing us the path that leads to everlasting life. The way will be long and toilsome, but it will be [God] who helps us traverse it. There will be no scope for elation because it will be the [God] who accomplishes in us the good works of which we ourselves are incapable…”