CHAPTER XLVII. Of signifying the hour for the Work of God
27 Mar. 27 July. 26 Nov.
Let the announcing of the hour for the Work of God, both by day and night, be the Abbot’s care: either by signifying it himself, or by entrusting the duty to such a careful brother, that all things may be done at the appointed times. Let the Psalms and antiphons be intoned by those whose duty it is, each in his order, after the Abbot. Let no one presume to sing or to read except such as can so perform the office that the hearers may be edified. And let it be done with humility, gravity, and awe, and by those whom the Abbot hath appointed.
Today’s Chapter returns to the question that Saint Benedict addressed in Chapter LXIII, where he says:
At the hour of Divine Office, as soon as the signal is heard, let every one, leaving whatever he had in hand, hasten to the Oratory with all speed, and yet with seriousness, so that no occasion he given for levity. Let nothing, then, be preferred to the Work of God.
One must, from the very beginning of one’s monastic life, develop the practice of leaving whatever one has in hand to hasten to the Work of God, and this as soon as the signal is heard. In some way, this prompt obedience to the sound of the bell is what confers upon Benedictine life rhythm, order, and alacrity. We are, all of us, tempted at the sound of the bell to attend to “one last thing”. Saint Benedict would have us quit whatever we are doing and betake ourselves speedily to the Oratory, moved by the Holy Ghost to put “The One Thing Necessary” of the Gospel (Luke 10:42) before all else.
Prompt obedience to the signal for the Divine Office seems, to the unpracticed in monastic discipline, a relatively easy thing. In fact, it is one of the most difficult habits to acquire. One is always tempted to put off moving until the last possible moment. Foolish men that we are, we think that in so doing we are saving time, or getting more done, or legitimately excused from leaving whatever we have in hand. Saint Benedict invites us to be generous in going to God, to surround the times of the Divine Office with space to breathe, with freedom from the cares and troubles for which Our Lord chided Martha.
The monk who puts God first always and in all circumstances will experience that his work suffers fewer impediments, that problems are more easily solved, that he has enough time to do what must be done. The psalmist says, that “those who fear him never go wanting” (Psalm 34:9). In the same psalm we read:
The rich have wanted, and have suffered hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good. (Psalm 33:10)
Fundamentally, what is at issue is our trust in the Providence of God. In the first years of this monastery, Our Lord made it clear to me that He would do his part, and do it munificently, if we would do our part by putting Him first.
And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit? And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is to day, and to morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith? Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore solicitous for to morrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:27–34)
Our Lord gave to me understand that this monastery would be built by hours of adoration. We must give to the term “adoration” its highest and fullest sense: it is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the daily solemn offering of the Lamb, the unbloody immolation of “the pure victim, holy victim, the spotless victim”. It is the Divine Office celebrated with reverence, attention, and beauty. It is the lavish outpouring of time in silent adoration, in a simple abiding in the radiance of Our Lord’s Eucharistic Face, close to the Heart that beats with love so close, so very close to us. I am always moved when I am able to remain in choir after Compline on Thursdays and Fridays: I am aware of the presence of so many of you gathered unto Our Lord, not out of obligation, but out of love, or out of a great poverty that needs to cast itself before Our Lord, or out of a desire to make up by a gratuitous investment of time for every moment squandered, every moment taken from prayer, every impulse of grace ignored in favour of something else, anything else. When I am conscious of us present to Our Lord in this way, it seems to me that He repeats what He has often given me to understand in the past: “For this did I bring you to this place”.
There is not one among us who does not need to make reparation for time lost, for moments squandered in the pursuit of trivial things, for having preferred the satisfaction of curiosity and the itch of novelty to silence and apparent inactivity of sheer adoration. Our Lord’s reproaches to Simon are, in fact, addressed to me and to you:
And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon: Dost thou see this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she with tears hath washed my feet, and with her hairs hath wiped them. Thou gavest me no kiss; but she, since she came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but she with ointment hath anointed my feet. (Luke 7:44–46)
The extraordinary thing is that Our Lord uses even the smallest act of reparation on our part to repair us. We may think that we are offering Him something when, in fact, Our Lord seizes upon even our smallest attention paid to Him, and by it, repairs us. This is not a mathematical equation. There is no proportion between our meagre investment of time and the operations by which Our Lord cleanses us, makes us whole, and lifts us up to Himself. Never think, “I have only a minute to give; it is better used doing something else”.
Give, and it shall be given to you: good measure and pressed down and shaken together and running over shall they give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you shall mete withal, it shall be measured to you again. (Luke 6:38)
Saint Benedict concludes today’s chapter by setting forth the three distinctive qualities of Benedictine prayer. He says, Quod cum humilitate et gravitate et tremore fiat. Humility, gravity, and a holy fear. These qualities apply first to our corporate liturgical prayer and, then, to our secret prayer, for the secret prayer of the monk is but the overflowing of the Opus Dei into whatever moment he gives purely to God. There is a marvelous resonance between this sentence of the Holy Rule and the Hymn of the Cherubim that is sung in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy during the transfer of the Holy Gifts to the altar:
“Let us, who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-giving trinity, lay aside all worldly cares, that we may receive the King of all, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
Every time a monk lays aside all worldly cares in obedience to the sound of the bell, he opens his soul to the King of All, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. The arrival of the King is, more often than not, imperceptible, secret, and silent. He comes all the same, and in coming, He works marvels of love in every soul that opens the door to Him.
Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Apocalypse 3:20)