You may have heard it said before: it’s better not to go to bed angry with someone you love. If you let an argument drag on before going to sleep, it will create more lasting resentment. While researchers today confirm that sleep does indeed participate in anchoring negative feelings in the brain, St. Benedict, a Roman monk born 1500 years ago, already gave this advice, with a much more profound and enlightening explanation.
Reestablishing peace before sunset
When he began to found monasteries in Italy, notably that of Subiaco and Montecassino in 529, Benedict of Nursia noted the lack of common rules that established a discipline of life for the brothers. Like all forms of life, the cloistered monastic life is not lacking in daily annoyances and frustrations. Around 530, he decided to write the Rule to guide his disciples and orient their spirituality — guidelines that he himself followed first. St. Benedict offers a long list of spiritual counsels, called “instruments of good works,” including the following:
Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
Do not wish to be called holy before you are, but be so first, whereby you would be so called the more truly.
Never despair of the mercy of God.
St. Benedict gives another one that interests us in particular here: “In case of discord with anyone, make peace before the setting of the sun.” This gesture of offering and receiving forgiveness allows us to rediscover our relationship in truth, and to learn to love and be loved.
In fact, Pope Francis restated this very concrete piece of advice in his own way in 2013: “Argue as much as you like. If the plates fly, let them! But never end the day without making peace! Never!”
During that visit to Assisi, the pope said that forgiveness, if it came early enough, could save many marriages. In this address at the Cathedral of St. Rufino in Assisi, Francis returned to a theme dear to his heart: that of “acknowledging one’s mistakes and asking for forgiveness, and also by accepting the apologies of others by forgiving.” He made this appeal to both clergy and families.
Live each day as if it were your last
However, forgiveness is not an easy thing; sometimes it even seems beyond the realm of possibility. To practice it, St. Benedict gives this advice that radically changes our perspective: “Live every day as if you had death before your eyes, and one day you will be right.” According to him, to achieve a happy life we must be careful to love first of all. The monk wrote in his Prologue:
(T)he Lord says again: “Who is the man that wishes for life, and desires to see good days?” And if hearing this thou dost answer “I,” God then says to thee: “If thou dost wish for life true and eternal, refrain thy tongue from evil and let not thy lips speak guile. Turn aside from evil and do good; seek out peace and follow it.”
Thus, it is appropriate to live each day as if it were our last, remembering at all times that grace is given to each one of us, and when it is given, it guides us “with heart enlarged and in ineffable sweetness of love.”
As St. Benedict points out, sunset symbolizes the passage from death and darkness to the resurrection of Christ. To “desire eternal life with all spiritual ardor” means, for him, to be constantly oriented toward the final goal; having the expectation of death before our eyes every day and remembering that this life has an end allows us to live fully now, focusing on what is essential.
Adopting a loving outlook
Forgiving and putting ourselves at peace means definitively “tearing up the page on which we have written with malice or rage the debtor account of our neighbor,” said Fr. Henri Caffarel. Forgiving means finally changing our view of other people in order to adopt an outlook of love. It’s a moment of total self-denial. To forgive is to find in Christ, the one who died forgiving His executioners, the energy to speak from the depths of our heart a true word that liberates and opens to reparation, to true love and to the eternal.