3 Jan. 4 May. 3 Sept.
And the Lord, seeking His own workman in the multitude of the people to whom He thus crieth out, saith again: “Who is the man that will have life, and desireth to see good days. And if thou, hearing Him, answer, “I am he,” God saith to thee: “If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, “Behold, I am here.” What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.
Saint Benedict shows us God in search of man — Ubi es? (Genesis 3:9) — before he shows us man in search of God. Saint Benedict will insist on the priority of divine grace throughout the Holy Rule, even to the very last page. Today’s section of the Prologue opens with an image taken from the parable of the householder:
The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. (Matthew 20:1–2)
The householder is none other than Our Lord Himself, God come out in search of man, even as He did after the fall in the garden.
And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise. And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: Where art thou? (Genesis 3:8–9)
Doth not wisdom cry aloud, and prudence put forth her voice? Standing in the top of the highest places by the way, in the midst of the paths, beside the gates of the city, in the very doors she speaketh, saying: O ye men, to you I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. (Proverbs 8:1–4)
One already recognises in Wisdom the person of the Word crying out in the Fourth Gospel:
And on the last, and great day of the festivity, Jesus stood and cried, saying: If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. (John 7:37)
And one can hear the gentle invitation of the Master who is meek and humble of heart:
Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. (Matthew 11:28)
Christ, the Divine Householder, in seeking His workman, appeals to the deepest desires of every human heart: “Who is the man that will have life, and desireth to see good days?” Life and happiness. Even the secular humanists, guided only by the light of natural law, have to admit that man carries within himself the desire for life and for happiness. In His humility, in His exquisite respect for human freedom, God waits for the answer freely given: Ego, “Here am I. I am thy man. Take thou me.” Here, already, is the great cry of the Suscipe me that will mark the profession of the monk in Chapter LVIII:
Let the Novice himself immediately begin this verse: “Take thou me unto Thyself, O Lord, according to Thy Word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation.” And this verse let the whole community thrice repeat, adding thereto Gloria Patri. (Chapter LVIII)
God proposes a response to His initiative in the form of a covenant. God goes out in search of a workman (operarius) for His work (the Opus Dei); God invites. The response of man takes the form of a conversatio morum, a different and new way of living: “If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it.” The new manner of living begins with the control of the tongue, for the tongue is to the body what the rudder is to the ship.
For in many things we all offend. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man. He is able also with a bridle to lead about the whole body. For if we put bits into the mouths of horses, that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body. Behold also ships, whereas they are great, and are driven by strong winds, yet are they turned about with a small helm, whithersoever the force of the governor willeth. Even so the tongue is indeed a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold how small a fire kindleth a great wood. (James 3:2–5)
This response to the initial grace offered — Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it — disposes a man to receive yet another grace, this one surpassing all that one could have asked for or imagined, the promise of the divine friendship, of intimacy with God: “And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, “Behold, I am here.” For us, Benedictine Monks of Perpetual Adoration, the last phrase of this section of the Prologue, holds a particular significance: Ecce adsum. “Behold, I am here.” We hear it in our silence before the tabernacle. In response, we say with the Angelic Doctor, Adoro te devote, latens Deitas, “With all that I am, I adore Thee, O hidden God.” The Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is the mystery of the Word become very nigh unto us, waiting to fill our mouth with His sweetness, and our heart with His presence.
This commandment, that I command thee this day is not above thee, nor far off from thee: Nor is it in heaven, that thou shouldst say: Which of us can go up to heaven to bring it unto us, and we may hear and fulfil it in work? Nor is it beyond the sea: that thou mayst excuse thyself, and say: Which of us can cross the sea, and bring it unto us: that we may hear, and do that which is commanded? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayst do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11–13)
Saint Benedict himself is moved by the accents of the divine response: Quid dulcius nobis, “What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.” Saint Benedict, then, presents the monastic journey as the way of life charted for us by the Word. The monk can go forward full of confidence, with the assurance of being loved and sustained every step of the way. Adiuvante Christo, perfice. (With Christ helping, thou shalt carry through.) Deo protegente, pervenies. (Under God’s protection, thou shalt arrive.) (Chapter LXXIII). Each one of us is invited, then, to make the experience of Saint John his own:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life: For the life was manifested; and we have seen and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father, and hath appeared to us. (1 John 1:1–2)