The Christian life is a life lived in response to Grace. Grace is always first, and always primary. But in terms of human experience, the spiritual life “begins” when (as Benedict puts it) “you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all….” (Prologue, v. 3)
This is what we have called over the ages, “commitment,” “surrender,” or “abandonment.” In the Rule, the phrase “once and for all” communicates the decisiveness of our action. It reveals the radical nature of following Jesus.
But it is not as radical or abnormal as it might first appear to be. When a person goes in for a cancer operation, the surgeon only has one goal: to “get it all.” And the announcement “we got it all” is the best news a patient can ever hear. In a similar way, sin is like a cancer. If any is left in us, we can never be the people God intends for us to be. The “all-or-nothing at all” nature of the Christian life is simply saying that we do not intend to “play around” with our faith.
We demonstrate this through repentance—the act which says we have “given up” on sin, which is essentially defined as self-centeredness, self-reference, and self-reliance. We have “given up” the notion that we can be our own gods. And in giving up on that idea, we recognize with sorrow how much pain we have brought upon ourselves, upon others, and upon God in trying to live by sheer egotism. As Benedict puts it, “you are ready to give up on your own will…”
This is our first response to Grace; the first step that “begins” the lifelong journey of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—and—loving our neighbors as ourselves.