Christ the King

Today was the feast of Christ the King for those of us following the vetus ordo calendar. To be honest, it is not a feast I ever really gave any serious consideration to either on the vetus or novus calendars. This year, however, for whatever reason, the feast has merited a bit more of my attention. This post will be a collection of lose thoughts about what we are commemorating today.

I suspect that the annual threefold reading of the Holy Rule might have something to do with the feast’s grabbing my attention as in the Prologue our Holy Patriarch says that those who submit to it take up arms “to battle for Christ the Lord, the true King”; later on in the Rule he mentions the acceptance of good monks from other monasteries because they “all serve one Lord and fight under one King everywhere”; the Kingdom of God is mentioned throughout the Rule, a kingdom that must be fought for.

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I must say that for a long time I understood this feast of Christ the King as just an “eschatological” feast, pointing to Chirst’s Parousia, His Second Coming, when He shall come as Judge to “judge the living and the dead and the age by fire” [this ending of quite a few prayers of exorcism has always stuck in my head]. Yet lately I’ve found myself wondering about the “immediate” implications of Chirst’s kingship, of what that means for us while we’re in the world. The Epistle reading today mentions:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in Him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers. All things have been created through and unto Him, and He is before all creatures, and in Him all things hold together. [..]He, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the first place. For it has pleased [God the Father] that in Him all fullness should dwell […]

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Pilgrimage

While on holiday back home I decided that, being the centenary, it was a good occasion to go on pilgrimage to Fatima. For several reasons the family could not accompany me so, as head of the family, I did the pilgrimage on their behalf as well.

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The pilgrimage took up all of one morning, as my wife’s city is not that far from Fatima. As traveling companions I had my Monastic Diurnal, a rosary, and a branch for a walking stick (and protection as well – lot’s of stray dogs on the way!). After praying the Itinerarium I set off. It took me about an hour to get to the city outskirts, out in the countryside. Once out there it was just the sounds of nature and the occasional automobile. Living in a big city and in a very small house with two little children, one doesn’t have many opportunities for complete silence during the day. The silence was like a breath of fresh air. You might say it was a very Marian/”Fatimite” pilgrimage. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so many consecutive rosaries in all my life! At the churches on the way, I would stop to make a “pilgrimage of the altars” (a somewhat forgotten practice in Portugal which, from what I’ve read, is of Benedictine origin), as well as visit the Blessed Sacrament to pray the prayers taught by the Angel of Portugal. One can still find many “Alminhas” – shrines to the Holy Souls in Purgatory – on the country roads; prayers were offered for them as well. When I finally arrived at Fatima I went to Mass at the basilica. After Mass I went to pray at the tombs of the “new” saints, Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto. The ambiance in the basilica left much to be desired, however. Instead of being a place of silence, of recollection, of prayer, there was incessant chatter, people answering their mobiles during Mass… Around the tombs were groups of people, each person shoving and groping, trying to get a better view… There is a certain irony in the fact that while these groups were there to pay homage to two young saints who had a deep understanding and respect for the Blessed Sacrament, they showed such a nonchalant attitude, passing in front of the tabernacle with no acknowledgement whatsoever, and even going so far as to turn their back on it to take selfies…

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At the risk of sounding cliché, the pilgrimage was a very much a condensed version of one’s life, especially the Christian life. My companions – the Wood, symbolic of the Cross, there to support me and to be my protection if there was any danger; the Rosary, the “poor man’s psalter”, the recourse to constant prayer, to recollection. The silence gave one time to reflect on life, especially recent events, of vices overcome, of other ongoing battles, of occasions to be thankful for. The unforgiving heat and the upward paths provided more than enough penance and mortification, symbolic of the hardship and struggles in daily life. The mind would occasionally wander; at times the thought “what do you think you’re doing? Are you crazy? What do you hope to accomplish with this madness?” would race through my mind, like a pesky gnat buzzing around; at others, thoughts of the world would make me forget why I was on this pilgrimage. Always, it was necessary to return to prayer, to focus on what was being done and why. At the end of the road the Eucharist, the Communion of the Saints, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

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Alminhas

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Church of St. Catherine

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Tombs of St. Jacinta Marto and Bl. Lucia
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The tomb of St. Francisco Marto

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In what order the Psalms are to be said (I)

Let this verse be said: “Incline unto my aid, O God;
O Lord, make haste to help me,” and the “Glory be to the Father” then the hymn proper to each Hour. Then at Prime on Sunday four sections of Psalm 118 are to be said; and at each of the remaining Hours, that is Terce, Sext and None, three sections of the same Psalm 118. At Prime on Monday let three Psalms be said, namely Psalms 1, 2 and 6. And so each day at Prime until Sunday let three Psalms be said in numerical order, to Psalm 19, but with Psalms 9 and 17 each divided into two parts. Thus it comes about that the Night Office on Sunday always begins with Psalm 20.

Instead of writing something myself on today’s reading, I would like to share a passage from St. John Cassian’s Conferences which was brought to my attention on the Vultus Christi blog. The passage pertains to the introduction of the hours – Deus in adjutorium meum intende – a prayer that has been very dear to me ever since visiting Silverstream.

For keeping up continual recollection of God this pious formula is to be ever set before you. O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me, for this verse has not unreasonably been picked out from the whole of Scripture for this purpose. For it embraces all the feelings which can be implanted in human nature, and can be fitly and satisfactorily adapted to every condition, and all assaults.

Since it contains an invocation of God against every danger, it contains humble and pious confession, it contains the watchfulness of anxiety and continual fear, it contains the thought of one’s own weakness, confidence in the answer, and the assurance of a present and ever ready help. For one who is constantly calling on his protector, is certain that He is always at hand.

It contains the glow of love and charity, it contains a view of the plots, and a dread of the enemies, from which one, who sees himself day and night hemmed in by them, confesses that he cannot be set free without the aid of his defender. This verse is an impregnable wall for all who are labouring under the attacks of demons, as well as impenetrable coat of mail and a strong shield. It does not suffer those who are in a state of moroseness and anxiety of mind, or depressed by sadness or all kinds of thoughts to despair of saving remedies, as it shows that He, who is invoked, is ever looking on at our struggles and is not far from His suppliants. It warns us whose lot is spiritual success and delight of heart that we ought not to be at all elated or puffed up by our happy condition, which it assures us cannot last without God as our protector, while it implores Him not only always but even speedily to help us.

This verse, I say, will be found helpful and useful to every one of us in whatever condition we may be. For one who always and in all matters wants to be helped, shows that he needs the assistance of God not only in sorrowful or hard matters but also equally in prosperous and happy ones, that he may be delivered from the one and also made to continue in the other, as he knows that in both of them human weakness is unable to endure without His assistance.

I am affected by the passion of gluttony. I ask for food of which the desert knows nothing, and in the squalid desert there are wafted to me odours of royal dainties and I find that even against my will I am drawn to long for them. I must at once say: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. I am incited to anticipate the hour fixed for supper, or I am trying with great sorrow of heart to keep to the limits of the right and regular meagre fare. I must cry out with groans: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. Weakness of the stomach hinders me when wanting severer fasts, on account of the assaults of the flesh, or dryness of the belly and constipation frightens me. In order that effect may be given to my wishes, or else that the fire of carnal lust may be quenched without the remedy of a stricter fast, I must pray: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. When I come to supper, at the bidding of the proper hour I loathe taking food and am prevented from eating anything to satisfy the requirements of nature: I must cry with a sigh: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

When I want for the sake of steadfastness of heart to apply myself to reading a headache interferes and stops me, and at the third hour sleep glues my head to the sacred page, and I am forced either to overstep or to anticipate the time assigned to rest; and finally an overpowering desire to sleep forces me to cut short the canonical rule for service in the Psalms: in the same way I must cry out: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. Sleep is withdrawn from my eyes, and for many nights I find myself wearied out with sleeplessness caused by the devil, and all repose and rest by night is kept away from my eyelids; I must sigh and pray: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. While I am still in the midst of a struggle with sin suddenly an irritation of the flesh affects me and tries by a pleasant sensation to draw me to consent while in my sleep. In order that a raging fire from without may not burn up the fragrant blossoms of chastity, I must cry out: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. I feel that the incentive to lust is removed, and that the heat of passion has died away in my members: In order that this good condition acquired, or rather that this grace of God may continue still longer or forever with me, I must earnestly say: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

I am disturbed by the pangs of anger, covetousness, gloominess, and driven to disturb the peaceful state in which I was, and which was dear to me: In order that I may not be carried away by raging passion into the bitterness of gall, I must cry out with deep groans: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. I am tried by being puffed up by accidie, vainglory, and pride, and my mind with subtle thoughts flatters itself somewhat on account of the coldness and carelessness of others: In order that this dangerous suggestion of the enemy may not get the mastery over me, I must pray with all contrition of heart: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

I have gained the grace of humility and simplicity, and by continually mortifying my spirit have got rid of the swellings of pride: In order that the foot of pride may not again come against me, and the hand of the sinner disturb me, and that I may not be more seriously damaged by elation at my success, I must cry with all my might, O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. I am on fire with innumerable and various wanderings of soul and shiftiness of heart, and cannot collect my scattered thoughts, nor can I even pour forth my prayer without interruption and images of vain figures, and the recollection of conversations and actions, and I feel myself tied down by such dryness and barrenness that I feel I cannot give birth to any offspring in the shape of spiritual ideas: In order that it may be vouchsafed to me to be set free from this wretched state of mind, from which I cannot extricate myself by any number of sighs and groans, I must full surely cry out: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

Again, I feel that by the visitation of the Holy Spirit I have gained purpose of soul, steadfastness of thought, keenness of heart, together with an ineffable joy and transport of mind, and in the exuberance of spiritual feelings I have perceived by a sudden illumination from the Lord an abounding revelation of most holy ideas which were formerly altogether hidden from me: In order that it may be vouchsafed to me to linger for a longer time in them I must often and anxiously exclaim: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

Encompassed by nightly horrors of devils I am agitated, and am disturbed by the appearances of unclean spirits, my very hope of life and salvation is withdrawn by the horror of fear. Flying to the safe refuge of this verse, I will cry out with all my might: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. Again, when I have been restored by the Lord’s consolation, and, cheered by His coming, feel myself encompassed as if by countless thousands of angels, so that all of a sudden I can venture to seek the conflict and provoke a battle with those whom a while ago I dreaded worse than death, and whose touch or even approach I felt with a shudder both of mind and body: In order that the vigour of this courage may, by God’s grace, continue in me still longer, I must cry out with all my powers: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

We must then ceaselessly and continuously pour forth the prayer of this verse, in adversity that we may be delivered, in prosperity that we may be preserved and not puffed up. Let the thought of this verse, I tell you, be conned over in your breast without ceasing. Whatever work you are doing, or office you are holding, or journey you are going, do not cease to chant this. When you are going to bed, or eating, and in the last necessities of nature, think on this. This thought in your heart maybe to you a saving formula, and not only keep you unharmed by all attacks of devils, but also purify you from all faults and earthly stains, and lead you to that invisible and celestial contemplation, and carry you on to that ineffable glow of prayer, of which so few have any experience. Let sleep come upon you still considering this verse, till having been moulded by the constant use of it, you grow accustomed to repeat it even in your sleep. When you wake let it be the first thing to come into your mind, let it anticipate all your waking thoughts, let it when you rise from your bed send you down on your knees, and thence send you forth to all your work and business, and let it follow you about all day long. This you should think about, according to the Lawgiver’s charge, at home and walking forth on a journey, (Deuteronomy 6:7) sleeping and waking. This you should write on the threshold and door of your mouth, this you should place on the walls of your house and in the recesses of your heart so that when you fall on your knees in prayer this may be your chant as you kneel, and when you rise up from it to go forth to all the necessary business of life it may be your constant prayer as you stand. (Conference X, Chapter 10)

Pax Christi [I]

This past Sunday’s Epistle reading managed to capture my attention much more than the Gospel, especially the following part:

Brethren: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. Bear with one another and forgive one another, if anyone has a grievance against any other; even as the Lord has forgiven you, so also do you forgive. But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts; unto that peace, indeed, you were called in one body.

Col 3:12-15

What was it about the reading that made me pause? While I try as best as I can to accompany the readings in the missal, looking after two fidgety children makes for a distraction-ridden Mass. Still, as  the priest intoned the words pax Christi, suddenly my attention re-directed from the kids to the reading. Since reading Chapter IV of the Rule some weeks ago, instrument no. 25 – “Do not give a false peace” – has stuck in my mind, almost as though a splinter, a source of constant “irritation”. What does it mean to give a false peace? And before we can even speak of a false peace, what is the peace that St. Benedict speaks of?

I will be dividing this topic into two posts as a matter of practicality, allowing me to flesh out the ideas as I write.

A much forgotten aspect (at least in the Western world) of the spiritual life is that it is a struggle, a combat. I say this at the risk of sounding repetitive, but it bears repeating again and again. The Christian spiritual life is not something merely therapeutic, a form of spiritual hygiene, the finding of an inner equilibrium. Our communion with God, our participating in the life of the Trinity is to be fought on three fronts – the Devil, the World, and the Flesh. It is a prize that does not come cheaply. If I was already aware of this, the reading of the Desert Fathers has hammered the lesson home quite emphatically. In the words of the Apostle Paul:

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.

Eph 6:12

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If we do think of the spiritual life of a struggle at all, then perhaps we relegate it to the monastic life. After all, aren’t monks and nuns the ones’ who have answered the call to remove themselves from the world to do spiritual battle? “I’m OK aren’t I? Sure I may gossip and get drunk and vent my frustration on others and completely forget to pray, but I haven’t killed anyone; I haven’t done any of that negative stuff explicitly stated in the Decalogue. I don’t notice any struggle at all…” In such a case, of course there is no struggle because the demons need not bother with one in such a state. Monastic literature speaks constantly of how material complacency is an enemy of the spiritual life, that it deadens the fear of the Lord, of how it lulls the soul into a torpor, and how one goes on to become little better than the beasts. I often wonder if that is not was has happened with us in the modern world, if we have not become too soft, too puny, too lethargic due to all the comfort that is available to us if only we have the ability to purchase it.

But if one does decide to be faithful to one’s baptismal vows, if one does decide to take up the standard of Christ, then one will see how much of a struggle the Christian life is, not only exteriorly, but interiorly as well. Are there not days when one can almost feel the struggle within? Days when it is as if a fierce war is being waged in one’s heart, that temptations of all sorts come in wave after wave, that the passions inflame, either individually or in concert, and beat down relentlessly upon one’s heart? And in these moments one realises how utterly fragile, utterly weak one is, and one’s only defence is to cry out “O God come to my assistance; o Lord make haste to help me”! No, spiritual warfare is not only the portion of the monastic.

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We fight then to attain peace, but this peace is not the absence of conflict. The conflict will be within till our last dying breath, for the Enemy is a relentless one and will not give quarter until then end. Paradoxically, we are fighting so that we may die in order to live. We are putting to death the Old Man each and every day, so that the New Man may be born within and, in His being born, bring us to life.

 

 

 

Wisdom of the desert

During Lent we took up some extra reading (apart from the daily readings of the Rule), and we’ve pretty much tried to keep it up even after Lent. Having read two encyclicals (Arcanum and Casti conubii, both dealing with Matrimony), we have moved on to the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

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I won’t go into an explanation of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) “phenomenon”  simply because I couldn’t do justice to the theme, and there are already enough sources for that on the Internet. If you would like to get a taste of what a modern Desert Father is like, check out the video below, about Fr. Lazarus.

I would like to comment, however, on our impression of them. I was already somewhat acquainted with the Desert Fathers, having read bits and bobs of their sayings over the years, but for my wife this is something new. Reading the sayings with her has helped me to remember the freshness and wonder (and even oddity) I felt when I first discovered them.

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What do these men and women of extraordinary ascetical feats have to teach us? While some of the sayings seem to us strange as we don’t know the context in which they were said, others make one reflect deeper on one’s own life. We find the Fathers severe, sometimes coarse even, and yet on the other hand they are merciful almost to the point of being blind to others’ sins. Their lives, if one is able to see beyond the superficial differences with ours, have much to teach us. They remind us that the spiritual life is one of struggle, that it is a battle against the flesh, the world and the Enemy (a message that I was not getting when I returned to the Church). They remind us that severity is not for the other, but for ourselves, as we tend to squander the graces God gives us. They remind us that just as God is merciful with us, so too must we be with our brothers and sisters. They remind us of the need of tears, of compunction, for our sins (I often wonder if frequent confession hasn’t done away with, from a psychological point of view,  crying over one’s sins. Perhaps the thought of knowing one can have recourse to Confession at any time keeps one from dwelling too much on the reality that is sin in our lives.) They remind us that the Christian life isn’t simply an ethical life, a life of “rules”, of dos-and-don’ts, but rather it is about conversatio morum – a conversion of life.

In closing, I would like to leave you with some of the sayings that have caught my attention so far:

[Abba Anthony] said, “Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.”

Three Fathers used to go and visit Blessed Anthony every year and two of them used to discuss their thoughts and the salvation of their souls with him, but the third always remained silent and did not ask him anything. After a long time, Abba Anthony said to him, ‘You often come here to see me, but you never ask me anything,’ and the other replied, ‘It is enough for me to see you, Father.’

A brother in a monastery was falsely accused of fornication and he arose and went to Abba Anthony. The brethren also came from the monastery to correct him and bring him back. They set about proving that he had done this thing, but he defended himself and denied he had done anything of the kind. Now Abba Paphnutius, who is called Cephalus, happened to be there, and he told them this parable: “I have seen a man on the bank of the river buried up to his knees in mud and some men came to give him a hand to help him out, but they pushed him further in, up to his neck.’ Then Abba Anthony said this about Abba Paphnutius: ‘Here is a real man, who can care for souls and save them.’ All those present were pierced to the heart by the words of the old man and they asked forgiveness of the brother. So, admonished by the Fathers, they took the brother back to the monastery.

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Someone said to blessed Arsenius, “How is it that we, with all our education and our wide knowledge get nowhere, while these Egyptian peasants acquire so many virtues?” Abba Arsenius said to him, “We indeed get nothing from our secular education, but these Egyptian peasants acquire the virtues by hard work.”

One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, ‘Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with such a good Latin and Greek education ask this peasant about your thoughts?’ He replied, ‘I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.’

What Are the Instruments of Good Works (2)

22. Not to give way to anger.
23. Not to nurse a grudge.
24. Not to entertain deceit in one’s heart.
25. Not to give a false peace.
26. Not to forsake charity.
27. Not to swear, for fear of perjuring oneself.
28. To utter truth from heart and mouth.
29. Not to return evil for evil.
30. To do no wrong to anyone, and to bear patiently wrongs done to oneself.
31. To love one’s enemies.
32. Not to curse those who curse us, but rather to bless them.
33. To bear persecution for justice’s sake.
34. Not to be proud.
35. Not addicted to wine.
36. Not a great eater.
37. Not drowsy.
38. Not lazy.
39. Not a grumbler.
40. Not a detractor.
41. To put one’s hope in God.
42. To attribute to God, and not to self, whatever good one sees in oneself.
43. But to recognize always that the evil is one’s own doing, and to impute it to oneself.

Continuing with the list of instruments, it seems that a good many are related to anger. If one lets the sun go down on one’s anger, it can grow inside, festering and lead to a number of sins. I’m not a person easily roused to anger, but when I am it’s not a pretty sight. And how many times if I pay attention, if I catch myself in the moment, does it not seem like the anger wants to  be “fed”, as if there is a needling inciting one to stoke the flames.

The home, especially when one falls on hard times, may be a battlefield. Nerves may be wracked, tiredness may be taking its toll, a sickness or indisposition… Then suddenly the noise the children are making is unbearable; a word the spouse says is interpreted in the wrong way; the noise coming from the neighbors is purposely to annoy us… Small things are blown out of proportion and the more one fans the flames, the more distorted they become.

One thing I have tried to do since the beginning of the relationship with my wife is to not let the sun go down on our anger. I was very aware of the effects of not addressing anger from my home growing up as a child, where problems were ignored, swept under the rug where they festered until they finally blew up. The more one gives way to anger, the more one is inclined to act out of spite, to repay evil for perceived evil, to be uncharitable, to bear grudges…

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Angel with Temperance and Humility versus Devil with Rage and Anger (Bulgaria)

St. Benedict mentions grumbling. He will return to murmuring several times over the course of the Rule. Murmuring is infectious; it spreads easily, and causes havoc. What springs most to mind as I write this is the workplace, where murmuring can always be heard. And even if one is not inclined to it, after hearing it so often and from so many fronts one is is caught up in it in the moment if one is not on guard. It makes for a bad atmosphere, of mistrust, of laziness, of cynicism.

Over the years since my return to the Church, after fighting with what I thought were my main sins I have gone on to discover others which I was not aware of, sins which I ignored and seemed new to me until I looked back and realized that they had always been there in one form or another and I just hadn’t really considered them. I have come to do good things over the years, taken steps to walk down the straight and narrow, and these steps I know are not of my own doing because I am aware of my weaknesses (though they aren’t always before my eyes as often as they should be).

 

“So, brothers and sisters”

So, brothers and sisters, we have asked the Lord who is to dwell in His tent, and we have heard His commands to anyone who would dwell there; it remains for us to fulfill those duties.

Therefore we must prepare our hearts and our bodies to do battle under the holy obedience of His commands; and let us ask God that He be pleased to give us the help of His grace for anything which our nature finds hardly possible. And if we want to escape the pains of hell and attain life everlasting, then, while there is still time,
while we are still in the body and are able to fulfill all these things by the light of this life, we must hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity.

St. Benedict tells us we should prepare our hearts and our bodies for battle. Our heart – the immaterial part of ourselves, from whence come our thoughts, acts of will, affections. It is a lifelong process of purifying one’s will, ordering it to the Lord; of extirpating vices acquired over years; of being vigilant of our thoughts… Our bodies – especially in our current society, we have become all too quick to pamper our body, of giving into the natural appetites indiscriminately (after all, isn’t that the “freedom” we’re sold every day). While the monk may have more rigorous fasting and ascetical practices, we as baptized Christians are also called to this (according to our state in life, obviously). The monk’s fight is not different in kind, but only in degree, so we support one another by our prayers and struggles – we believe in the Communion of the Saints, after all; we are not isolated Christians. And lest we be overwhelmed by the thought of the difficulties we have to overcome, our holy father reminds us that the Lord’s grace will provide for what is lacking; in Him is our strength.

As a father the preparation of my children for spiritual combat is an ever-present concern. I have to teach them about preparing their heart and body; I don’t wish for them the same path I tread, growing up not knowing about this, learning only after coming into adulthood. So many vices that could have been uprooted early on, but now find themselves like weeds entrenched, in need of constant work. Just as St. Benedict speaks to us with authority, I as a father have to speak to my children with authority. But this authority is not about lording it over them, an exercise in power, but an authority that finds its origin and understanding in the Author of Life. I exercise authority over them, not for my sake, but for theirs, to help bring them to the Lord. There are things about being a parent that I’d rather avoid, that may sometimes be unpleasant, but they too are a part of my own preparation.

“For if we wish to dwell”

For if we wish to dwell in the tent of that kingdom, we must run to it by good deeds or we shall never reach it. But let us ask the Lord, with the Prophet, “Lord, who shall dwell in Your tent, or who shall rest upon Your holy mountain”?

After this question, brothers and sisters, let us listen to the Lord as He answers and shows us the way to that tent, saying, “The one Who walks without stain and practices justice; who speaks truth from his heart; who has not used his tongue for deceit; who has done no evil to his neighbor; who has given no place to slander against his neighbor.”

This is the one who, under any temptation from the malicious devil, has brought him to naught by casting him and his temptation from the sight of his heart; and who has laid hold of his thoughts while they were still young and dashed them against Christ.

It is they who, fearing the Lord, do not pride themselves on their good observance; but, convinced that the good which is in them cannot come from themselves and must be from the Lord, glorify the Lord’s work in them, using the words of the Prophet, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give the glory”. Thus also the Apostle Paul attributed nothing of the success of his preaching to himself, but said, “By the grace of God I am what I am”. And again he says, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord”.

The Prologue continues with the laying out of the steps of seeking the Kingdom. Previously St. Benedict told us that we must awaken from slumber. Once awake, we are now told to run. Here we find St. Paul’s comparison of the spiritual life to a race re-echoed. Running brings to mind effort, training, discipline. St. Augustine said that in the spiritual life, if one is not progressing towards God then one is regressing (Non progredi, jam reverti est). There is no place for lukewarmness; there is no middle ground. If one is not running towards the goal then sooner or later one becomes complacent, lukewarm, and eventually gives up.
You can see this even in family life, between husband and wife (I believe the analogy is apt since Holy MAtrimony is an icon of our relationship with God). If the couple is not growing in love the relationship does not stay as it had began; it begins, rather to deteriorate.
How many times has it happened that daily routine gets in the way of prayer, for example? We say to one another “today was too tiring; tomorrow we’ll pray. The Lord will understand.” Today it is this excuse, tomorrow another, and when we realize it we have lost our prayer routine, we have been falling even into those “insignificant” sins which we thought we were above, we have forgone the sacraments… Then we need to start all over again. Or how many times do we ttell ourselves “I’m keeping away from sin; this is enough.”

The race is run by good deeds. Our love of God is shown in our love of neighbor, for, as St. John says, how can we say we love God who we have not seen when we do not love our brother who we do see? This doing good is not “being nice”; it is giving testimony. Aren’t there so many occasions when we’re afraid to give witness, not only to those without our family, but also to those within?
When temptation strikes we are told to dash those thoughts immediately against Christ. The imagery is vivid. There are certain temptations which, the Fathers tell us, if we engage them even the slightest bit then we have already lost the battle. I think this advice is especially pertinent for those.

In a day and age when we are told that we have to prove our worth, that it all depends on us, the Rule reminds us that it is not ultimately up to us. This is not, however, an invitation to laxity or indifference. We must cooperate with the Lord’s grace, trusting that He will bring things to fruition and trusting in His providence. We begin to see here already St. Benedict’s insistence on humility, perhaps the quintessential Benedictine characteristic. To be humble is to know one’s self and one’s dependency on the Lord, to recognize that all that is good comes from Him. The “steps of humility” will be addressed later on in the Rule and at length, so tied are they with Benedictine life.

“And the Lord, seeking his laborer”

And the Lord, seeking his laborer in the multitude to whom He thus cries out, says again, “Who is the one who will have life, and desires to see good days”? And if, hearing Him, you answer, “I am the one,” God says to you, “If you will have true and everlasting life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips that they speak no guile. Turn away from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it”.
And when you have done these things, My eyes shall be upon you and My ears open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say to you, ‘Behold, here I am'”.
What can be sweeter to us, dear ones, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold, in His loving kindness the Lord shows us the way of life.
Having our loins girded, therefore, with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we may deserve to see Him who has called us to His kingdom.

For those that think that the Christian religion is just about “evading Hell” the Scripture verse our holy father St. Benedict choses to show with what the Lord tries to seduce us proves otherwise. “Who is the one who will have life, and desires to see good days”? The Lord puts happiness before us. To call us to Him, He appeals in a way to our self-interest. But this is no mere earthly happiness. While we may have moments of happiness and consolation in the here and now, they are fleeting. No; the happiness He proposes is eternal; it is the promise of once again walking with Him in Eden, of living in the New Jerusalem in His presence.

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If we do answer “I am the one” then there are implications. We are made for praise. We normally praise God with our mouth. Our mouth cannot at the same time be to praise Him and to curse others. Also, there should be no hypocrisy in our words: they should not be of praise while we do evil.
“Turn away from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it.” It seems like a vague proposal, but the rest of the Rule will be an elaboration on exactly what it means to turn away from evil and to do good. The spiritual life is not just made up of negatives (dont’s), but moreso of positives (do’s).
Peace – Pax – a quality that has become the motto of the Benedictines. Yet this peace is not the mere absence of conflict – how could it be when we are in a life and death battle? Pax inter spinas. No, it is the peace of having the Lord indwelling within us even when all around is conflict.

Ending today’s passage of the Prologue we are reminded that we aren’t owed Heaven; it is the Lord who calls us back out of his steadfast love. In this day and age, when we speak mostly of rights and things owed to us, this is a sobering reminder that we are not in charge: we are creatures (and rebellious ones at that); God is Creator. If we deserve to be with Him, it is because we have participated in the death and resurrection of Christ, persevering in the completion of His sufferings.

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So far the Rule has been straightforward. All that has been said to the monk easily applies to any Christian, even for us in the world. The Lord will call us to labour in His vineyard at any hour, so we must listen for His call. The salary, independent of the hour at which we began our toil? Eternal happiness. Could we desire anything more?

“Listen carefully, my child”

Listen carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart. Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father’s advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.

And first of all, whatever good work you begin to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it, that He who has now deigned to count us among His children may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with the good things He has given us, that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children, nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions, deliver us to everlasting punishment as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.

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Today marks the beginning of the re-reading of the Rule (I try to follow the custom of reading through it three times a year). We start with the Prologue, whose opening lines provide for the title of this blog.

St. Benedict sets out from the start that the Christian life is a life of discipleship, of master and disciple. The Christian, if he is to walk the straight and narrow, is not to make it up as he goes along, to pick and chose according to his personal whims. It is not a one man show. No; the disciple is to learn from his master; he is to receive what his master has given him, which in turn was given to him. “The disciple is not above his master: but every one shall be perfect, if he be as his master.” (Lk 6:40). We are to respect the master, to respect his experience because he has already walked down the path which we have now before us. Yet lest we think this master is cold and heartless, we are told from the start that he is a loving father – he is to help us return to the Father of Mercies.
As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, it was the realization of this basic principle of the Christian life (which seems to be much neglected) which brought me to the Benedictines: the need for guidance.

Our father among the saints speaks much about obedience. It is not by chance that he tells us to listen, for listening and obeying have a common root in Latin. One who listens well obeys well. But more than the physical ear, St. Benedict would have us attune our spiritual ear, the “ear of the heart”, heart being understood as the embodiment of all that we are, and not in the modern sense of the merely sentimental, the affective. But why this emphasis on obedience? Since we are now the Lord’s children by virtue of our mystical engrafment in Christ, His Only-begotten Son, through Baptism, since we share in His life, we are to be obedient as He was. The New Adam, who was obedient unto death to correct the mistake of Adam, who was disobedient – it is here that we are to properly understand obedience. One is to be obedient to the Lord, to submit one’s will, which was damaged by Original Sin, to Him. In submitting we will find our way back to Him; we will discover who we are really meant to be; persevering in obedience till the end the white stone shall be given to us and we will know our name. We are to hear the Word, the Logos, and to obey Him, to let our will be put in accord with His.
And if we are tempted to despair by the task before us, we are reminded that we are not Pelagians, that it does not depend upon us, but on the Lord, and that we should pray always to Him that He may bring to perfection our endeavours.

Though the Rule was written for monks, monasticism is, as D. Kirby OSB would say, “the Christian vocation writ large”. The Christian life is a battle, no matter your state in life. To tell yourself otherwise is to not want to see the truth. While the monks do battle in the cloister, we still in the world have our own struggles. Life’s vicissitudes may wear us down. We may delude ourselves into thinking that we are in control of our lives and that we know best; we may be tempted to cut corners to get ahead in life; we are full of pride and self-love, and easily feel offended when we are reminded of our littleness;… The list goes on and on.
The Christian life is martyrdom, the via crucis. For the majority of us in the Western world it will perhaps not be a red martyrdom, but a silent one, the silent witness of the Cross brought about in the daily mortifications – of our own chosing and those imposed upon us. The acts of asceticism and discipline that we may engage in in our spiritual life are so that we may listen better, and this is part of the battle as well.
St. Benedict tells us that disobedience is easy (the fruit of “sloth”) and obedience is difficult (it is a “labor”), but we must pray constantly. While the threat of Hell and punishment might seem outmoded to modern sensibilities, we will see later on in the Rule a very obvious truth: that each stage of spiritual development has its own motivation. One is to grow in love, to pass from loving the Lord out of fear of punishment to loving Him because He is. But sometimes the fear of damnation is just the motivation we need on those days that nothing else seems to work, when we feel like giving up.

One thing to keep in mind is that while the Rule never mentions it explicitly (because for St. Benedict it is a given), the Mystical Body of Christ – the Church – is the backdrop for all of this. One may follow the Rule, but one needs a sacramental life. With the constant bombardment of messages of self-sufficiency, the Holy Rule is a good reminder that we do not save ourselves.