Category Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

The Night Office

CHAPTER VIII. Of the Divine Office at Night
10 Feb. 11 June. 11 Oct.
In winter time, that is, from the first of November until Easter, the brethren shall rise at what may be reasonably calculated to be the eighth hour of the night; so that having rested till some time past midnight, they may rise having had their full sleep. And let the time that remains after the Night-Office be spent in study by those brethren who have still some part of the Psalter and lessons to learn. But from Easter to the first of November let the hour for the Night-Office be so arranged that, after a very short interval, during which the brethren may go out for the necessities of nature, Lauds, which are to be said at day-break, may follow without delay.

I have often, in the past, commented on the passage from Chapter VII to Chapter VIII in the light of the inclinato capite of John 19:30 and the glory of the Resurrection in the opening psalm of the Night Office:

Ego dormivi, et soporatus sum; et exsurrexi, quia Dominus suscepit me.
I have slept and have taken my rest: and I have risen up, because the Lord hath lifted me up. (Psalm 3:6)

It seems to me, as I continue to read the Holy Rule through a kind of Marian lens, that with Chapter VIII we pass from the life of the Mother of God after the Ascension of her Son and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost to the heavenly life that is hers in the glory of her Assumption, where she is hidden with her Son in God.

Therefore if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you also shall appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1–4)

The Assumption is the mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary in which we discover a clear image of the monastic life such as we propose to live it here: (1) in a real separation from the world by means of  enclosure and silence; (2) in giving absolute primacy to the liturgical worship of God, according to that word of Dante, disposto a sola latria; (3) in an adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament that becomes, over time, a participation in the humility, hiddenness, and silence of the Host. Not for nothing does the traditional Gospel for the feast of the Assumption give us the words of Our Lord concerning Mary of Bethany applied liturgically to Mary, the Mother of God:

Now it came to pass as they went, that he entered into a certain town: and a certain woman named Martha, received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sitting also at the Lord’s feet, heard his word. But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me. And the Lord answering, said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38–42)

Nothing in our observance expresses the meaning of the monastic life as clearly as does the Night Office. There is no earthly reason for us to rise while it is still dark and spend an hour or more in psalmody, readings, and responsories. When we come down to choir for the Night Office, it is for God alone. No one from the outside is waiting for us to begin; there is only the hidden presence of Christ in the tabernacle and, always, the anticipation of His return as Bridegroom, King, and Judge. Matins, or Vigils as it may also be called, is, I think, of all the Hours the one that most effectively strengthens a monk in his vocation to the purely contemplative life.

The structure of Matins with its succession of prolonged psalmody, lessons, and responses is a monk’s first and indispensable initiation into monastic prayer: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. The psalmody and lessons constitute our lectio. The responsories constitute our meditatio. The hymn, the blessings, and the Collect constitute our oratio. The silence that follows upon the Night Office and prepares us for the Office of Lauds disposes us, better than anything else, to contemplatio, that is, to a gratuitous and patient waiting upon God for God’s sake alone.

Our monastery will not begin to realise its potential until the Night Office becomes an indispensable element of our daily round of prayer. This will require much preparation and sacrifice, but it promises much fruit. Our particular dedication to reparation comes into play here. A French Trappist known for his holiness, — one Père Jérôme of the Abbey of Sept–Fons (1907–1985) — says that we monks are bound to pray on behalf of a sleeping world that cannot, or will not, or knows not how to pray. We are also bound to supply in a maximal way for those who, while belonging to the Church, are calculating and minimalist in offering God the faith, hope, charity, praise, and thanksgiving that are His due.

The Night Office, precisely because it has no pragmatic finality, and because it gets men out of bed to do nothing other than watch and pray, is properly constitutive of the contemplative monastic life. The prophet Jeremias says:

Consurge, lauda in nocte, in principio vigiliarum; effunde sicut aquam cor tuum ante conspectum Domini: leva ad eum manus tuas pro anima parvulorum tuorum, qui defecerunt in fame in capite omnium compitorum.

Arise, give praise in the night, in the beginning of the watches: pour out thy heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands to him for the life of thy little children, that have fainted for hunger at the top of all the streets. (Lamentations 2:19)

In some way, monks do nothing other than repeat the cry that rose from Mount Carmel after the fire of the Lord consumed Elias’s holocaust:

And when it was now time to offer the holocaust, Elias the prophet came near and said: O Lord God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Israel, shew this day that thou art the God of Israel, and I thy servant, and that according to thy commandment I have done all these things. Hear me, O Lord, hear me: that this people may learn, that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart again. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the holocaust, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw this, they fell on their faces, and they said: The Lord he is God, the Lord he is God. (3 Kings 18:36–39)

So long as there are men rising in the watches of the night to say only this, The Lord he is God, the Lord he is God, there is yet hope for the conversion of the nations. You will recall that, in October 1917, when the Mother of God showed herself to the three shepherds of Fatima, there was a moment at which they recognised her as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Various reasons have been advanced to explain this particular phase of the apparition. For me, at least, upon reflection, this was the Mother of God’s appeal to all those who, like the prophet Elias, stand before the face of the Lord of Hosts (3 Kings 18:15), and who perpetuate the cry of the adoring people on Mount Carmel, The Lord he is God, the Lord he is God. What do we chant in the Invitatory Psalm that opens the Night Office?

Venite, adoremus, et procidamus,
et ploremus ante Dominum qui fecit nos:
quia ipse est Dominus Deus noster.

Come let us adore and fall down:
and weep before the Lord that made us:
For he is the Lord our God. (Psalm 94:6–7)

Show thyself a Mother (VII: The Twelfth Degree)

9 Feb. 10 June. 10 Oct.
The twelfth degree of humility is, that the monk, not only in his heart, but also in his very exterior, always shew his humility to all who see him: that is, in the work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the field or wherever he may be, whether sitting, walking or standing, with head always bent down, and eyes fixed on the earth, that he ever think of the guilt of his sins, and imagine himself already present before the terrible judgment-seat of God: always saying in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said with his eyes fixed on the earth: “Lord, I a sinner am not worthy to raise mine eyes to heaven.” And again, with the prophet: “I am bowed down and humbled on every side.”

Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear: whereby he shall begin to keep, without labour, and as it were naturally and by custom, all those precepts which he had hitherto observed through fear: no longer through dread of hell, but for the love of Christ, and of a good habit and a delight in virtue which God will vouchsafe to manifest by the Holy Spirit in his labourer, now cleansed from vice and sin.

It is always with a certain regret that I arrive at the 12th Degree of Humility in our reading of the Holy Rule. I have the sentiment of having left so much unsaid, of having failed to draw out of Chapter VII all that it contains for our conversion, our healing, and our sanctification. This being said, I know that we shall return again to Chapter VII in October and I pray that the Holy Ghost will give me then a tongue to say what up until now I have left unsaid.

Saint Benedict is no dualist. The monk, he writes, is always to show his humility to all who see him, “not only in his heart, but also in his very exterior”. While it is true that what a man is in his heart will influence and shape his exterior, it is also true that how a man conducts himself outwardly will influence and determine the innermost dispositions of his heart. Those who are suspicious of the outward practices of the monastic observance are, at bottom, suspicious of the whole sacramental economy of the Incarnation, by which God touches man, heals him, and lifts him up by means of sacramental signs. To the brother who says to me, “I do not feel humble”, or “I am not humble”, I reply, “Then act as if you were, until, over time, your outward actions have their effect on the inner man”. This is why in our Benedictine life we hold to certain ritual practices and customs: by these actions and conventions — not invented, but received from the tradition — we extend the great sacramental principle of the Incarnation into all of life, even into our manner of speaking and doing “in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the field or wherever one may be”.

We must be on our guard against the creeping Protestantism that has its roots in a kind of Manichæan Dualism. This way of thinking often appeals to people who think themselves intellectually superior and more rational than the poor benighted Catholic and Orthodox riffraff who bow and kneel before sacred images and relics, who walk in processions, get themselves doused with Holy Water and anointed with Holy Oil, tell their beads, and abstain from eating meat. There is a certain diffidence towards the mystery of the Incarnation that one encounters still among rationalists and among the positivist critics of sacramental religion. As for us, ours is the religion of Saint John the Theologian:

Our message concerns that Word, who is life; what he was from the first, what we have heard about him, what our own eyes have seen of him; what it was that met our gaze, and the touch of our hands. Yes, life dawned; and it is as eye-witnesses that we give you news of that life, that eternal life, which ever abode with the Father and has dawned, now, on us. (1 John 1:1–2)

The man who waits to act humbly until he has the inward certainty of being humble will never be humble at all. The divine pedagogy never departs from the principles set in motion by the Incarnation and extended into all of life by the sacraments and sacramentals of the Church.

As I meditate the joyful mysteries of the Rosary, I sense the humility of the Blessed Virgin Mary in all the circumstances of her life. In the Immaculate Virgin there was nothing feigned, nothing forced: her whole being radiated grace. How many saints have learned that one cannot abide for very long in the presence of the Blessed Virgin without being changed by her. Our Lady effects real changes in souls, not by doing violence to them, nor by imposing harsh exigencies, but simply by the communication of grace, sweetly and silently, to those who welcome her into their lives. Rightly do we sing in the Ave Maris Stella:

Show thyself a Mother,
may the Word divine
born for us thine Infant
hear our prayers through thine.

Virgin all excelling,
mildest of the mild,
free from guilt preserve us
meek and undefiled.

Keep our life all spotless,
make our way secure
till we find in Jesus,
joy for evermore.

To the brother to struggles to be humble, to the brother who struggles to keep his heart pure, to the brother who rebels against the rhythm of the observance and the practice of obedience, I say: “Stop struggling. Go to Mary and remain close to her, like a little child content to play quietly at its mother’s feet. Lay aside your worries, set aside your fears, and tell your beads. Over time you will begin to see that so often as you do this you go away a changed man, a man in whom the fruits of the Holy Ghost are beginning to bud, and blossom: “charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity” (Galatians 5:22–23).

The Power of Silence (VII: The Eleventh Degree)

8 Feb. 9 June. 9 Oct.
The eleventh degree of humility is, that when a monk speaketh, he do so gently and without laughter, humbly, gravely, with few and reasonable words, and that he be not noisy in his speech, as it is written: “A wise man is known by the fewness of his words.”

Recent events here in Ireland, as well as certain things written or spoken in political and social commentaries, compel me to reflect deeply on this 8th Degree of Humility. Certain Catholics, dismayed by the state of things in society and even in the Church, have allowed themselves to use a discourse full of invectives, bitter denunciations, and an intemperate zeal. Our Lord will not acknowledge as His own those moved by what Saint Benedict calls “a bitter zeal” (Chapter LXXII).

And he sent messengers before his face; and going, they entered into a city of the Samaritans, to prepare for him. And they received him not, because his face was of one going to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John had seen this, they said: Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them? And turning, he rebuked them, saying: You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of man came not to destroy souls, but to save. And they went into another town. (Luke 9:52–56)

The Kingdom of God is not served by clamourous discourses and bitter reclamations. Even in impassioned public debate, disciples of the Lamb will avoid a contentious tone. Silence is the way of Jesus, meek and humble of heart, concerning whom the prophet Isaias said:

He shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth. (Isaias 53:7)

One can never contemplate enough the meekness of Our Lord, a meekness in the midst of men that He willed to perpetuate in the silence of the Host:

Behold my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom my soul hath been well pleased. I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not contend, nor cry out, neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. (Matthew 12:18–19)

How can one hear this prophecy and not recognise its fulfillment in the silence of the Host hidden in the tabernacles of the world? The Deus Absconditus (Hidden God, cf. Isaias 45:15) of the tabernacle neither contends, nor cries out, nor shall any man hear His voice in the streets.

And what of us monks, figli dell’Ostia all’Ostia, sons of the Host for the Host? Saint Benedict says that a monk is to prefer silence to speech, but when he does speak, he is to “do so gently and without laughter, humbly, gravely, with few and reasonable words”. A son of Saint Benedict will not be noisy in his speech nor will his conversation be strident, harsh, or hurtful. A certain meekness, humility, reticence, and nobility of style ought always characterise the discourse of a monk, be it spoken or written. When a monk goes down into the public arena, or accepts an invitation to speak, or puts his pen to paper, or his fingers to the keyboard, he risks losing the adoring silence that, more than anything else, is constitutive of his vocation. For this reason, Saint Benedict says, “A wise man is known by the fewness of his words”.

I myself, being of a passionate and ebullient nature, have, in the past, been carried away in speaking and writing. How much I regret every excess of speech and every intemperate word! One must make reparation for such sins by applying oneself to silence in the presence of the Lamb, for such silence repairs the damage done by too many words. At the same time, it is only reasonable that a monk should love language and seek to use words reverently and rightly, and this because all words refer to The Word and derive their truth from Him. Read Dom Jean Leclercq’s classic, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, on this very point.

I have been pondering the wondrous apparition at Knock on the evening of August 21, 1879. Surely the Immaculate Mother of God came to this island home of ours to bring us a message. Could not the message of Knock be more for today than yesterday? Our Lady was silent; her hands and her eyes were raised to heaven. Our Lady of Knock is the icon of the Ecclesia Orans, the Church–in–Prayer; the Blessed Virgin Mary’s whole demeanour images the monastic vocation to ceaseless prayer. And what more can I say of the silence of the Lamb upon the altar?

At the present hour, Ireland stands in need of much silence and prayer. What men have not been able to achieve, or correct, or restore, God can achieve, correct, and restore by the secret action of His grace in even a few souls utterly abandoned to Him in prayer. The soul who allows herself to be repaired by abiding quietly in the presence of the Lamb, becomes the entrance point of a powerful grace of reparation for the whole Church and, especially, for the most broken and diseased members of the Body of Christ. The remedy for the wounds of the Church in Ireland and in every place is a profound humility, an adoring silence before the Host, and a prayer of reparation. One victim soul abiding humbly and silently before the Host does more good than a thousand militant crusaders. Our Lord will repair the Church in Ireland through the humility and hiddenness of little souls drawn by grace into the silence of the Lamb, that is, into the silence of the Host. The prophetic message of Knock is what His Eminence, Cardinal Sarah, calls la force du silence, the power of silence. In the present hour of cosmic spiritual combat, adoring silence is the Church’s most powerful arm.

Finally, brethren, be strengthened in the Lord, and in the might of his power. Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. (Ephesians 6:10–12)

(VII: The Ninth Degree)

6 Feb. 7 June. 7 Oct.
The ninth degree of humility is, that a monk refrain his tongue from speaking, keeping silence until a question be asked him, as the Scripture sheweth: “In much talking thou shalt not avoid sin”: and, “The talkative man shall not be directed upon the earth.”

All the Fathers teach that talkativeness is a sure sign of a diseased heart and a restless spirit. Likewise, all the Fathers recommend holding one’s tongue lest, in giving way to much talk, one fall into sins of pride, vainglory, exaggeration, mendacity, rash judgment, impurity, vulgarity, backbiting, and deprecation. So much of life in the world consists in talking. In the electronic age, the vice of talkativeness, while not altogether silencing the wagging tongue, makes use of fingers flying across the keyboard. How many sins are committed by way of the electronic media: instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging, and so many other means of which I have not heard! How many friendships are poisoned, how many reputations damaged, how many families divided, how many lies propagated in this way! At no time in one’s life ought one desist from praying: “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: and a door round about my lips.” (Psalm 140:3). For Saint John Climacus,

Talkativeness is the throne of vainglory on which it loves to show itself and make a display. Talkativeness is a sign of ignorance, a door to slander, a guide to jesting, a servant of falsehood, the ruin of compunction, a creator of despondency, a precursor of sleep, the dissipation of recollection, the abolition of watchfulness, the cooling of ardour, the darkening of prayer.

Saint John Climacus goes on to say that,

Deliberate silence is the mother of prayer, a recall from captivity, preservation of fire, a supervisor of thoughts, a watch against enemies, a prison of mourning, a friend of tears, effective remembrance of death, a depicter of punishment, a meddler with judgment, an aid to anguish, an enemy of freedom of speech, a companion of quiet, an opponent of desire to teach, increase of knowledge, a creator of contemplation, unseen progress, secret ascent.

And the Saint concludes:

He who has become aware of his sins has controlled his tongue, but a talkative person has not yet got to know himself as he should. The friend of silence draws near to God, and by secretly conversing with Him, is enlightened by God. The silence of Jesus put Pilate to shame, and by a man’s stillness vainglory is vanquished. (Saint John Climacus, The 11th Step, On Silence and Talkativeness)

Five hundred years after Saint John Climacus, Saint Bernard, who knew well how to use wit and sarcasm in order deliver a point, presents a portrait of the talkative monk:

When vanity increases, and the bladder begins to be inflated, it becomes necessary to loosen the belt and allow a larger outlet for the air, otherwise the bladder will burst. So the monk who is unable to discharge his superabundant store of unseemly merriment by laughter or by gesture, breaks forth with the words of Elihu, “My belly is as new wine which wanteth vent, which bursteth the new vessels” (Job 22:19). He must speak out or break down. “For he is full of matter to speak of, and the spirit of his bowels constraineth him” (Job 22:18).

He hungers and thirsts for hearers, at whom he may throw his banalities, to whom he may pour out his feelings, and let them know what a fine fellow he is. But when he has found his opportunity of speaking — if the conversation turns on literary matters — old and new points are brought forward; he airs his ideas in loud and lofty tone. He interrupts his questioner and answers before he is asked. He himself puts the question and gives the answer, nor does he even allow the person to whom he is talking to finish his remarks.

When the striking of the silence gong puts a stop to conversation, he complains that a full hour is not a sufficient allowance, and asks for indulgence that he may go on with his gossip after the time for it is over — not to add to the knowledge of any one else, but to boast of his own. He has the power but not the purpose of giving useful information. His care is not to teach you or to learn from you things which he does not know, but that the extent of his learning may be made known. If the subject under discussion is religion, he is forward with his vision and his dreams. He upholds fasting, prescribes vigils, and maintains the paramount importance of prayer. He enlarges at great length but with excessive conceit on patience, humility and all the virtues in turn, with the intention that you on hearing him should say, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34) and that, “a good man out of his good treasure bringing forth good things” (Matthew 12:35).

If the talk turns on light subjects he becomes more loquacious, because he is on more familiar ground. If you hear the torrent of his conceit you may say that his mouth is a fount of such buffoonery as to move even strict and sober monks to light laughter. To put it shortly, mark his swagger in his chatter. (Saint Bernard, The Twelve Degrees of Humility and Pride, Chapter XIII)

The author of the Imitation of Christ teaches nothing different, but he expresses it differently, and with a persuasiveness that never fails to touch the heart:

If you withdraw yourself from unnecessary talking and idle running about, from listening to gossip and rumors, you will find enough time that is suitable for holy meditation.

Very many great saints avoided the company of men wherever possible and chose to serve God in retirement. “As often as I have been among men,” said one writer, “I have returned less a man.” We often find this to be true when we take part in long conversations. It is easier to be silent altogether than not to speak too much. To stay at home is easier than to be sufficiently on guard while away. Anyone, then, who aims to live the inner and spiritual life must go apart, with Jesus, from the crowd.

No man appears in safety before the public eye unless he first relishes obscurity. No man is safe in speaking unless he loves to be silent. No man rules safely unless he is willing to be ruled. No man commands safely unless he has learned well how to obey. No man rejoices safely unless he has within him the testimony of a good conscience. (The Imitation of Christ, Chapter XX)

Concretely, what means can a monk take to mortify talkativeness and become a lover of silence. I shall propose three means:

  • The first means is to frequent the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary — even more, to live habitually in her presence — by invoking her sweet name, by going before her images, and especially by praying the Rosary. There is a beautiful icon of Saint Seraphim of Sarov that depicts the holy elder kneeling, with his hands crossed on his breast, before an icon of the Mother of God holding her hands in the same position. The icon teaches a profound truth: the Mother of God imparts something of the silence and humility of her Immaculate Heart to those who persevere in calling upon her. The love of silence is one of the signs of a true devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Every man needs to pour out his heart to one who listens with attention, sympathy, and compassion. Learn to pour out your heart to the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Every time you pray to the Mother of God, you will come away with a quieted heart, and loving silence more.
  • The second means is to practice lectio divina assiduously.  Lectio divina is the ladder of monks; the summit of the ladder opens onto the silence of God. Love the Word of God. Read the Word of God in order to hear it. Listen to it in order to repeat it and learn it by heart. Repeat it in order to make it your prayer. Make it your prayer in order to become wholly docile to the operations of the Holy Ghost, and through His operations, united to the Father through the Son. Thus will you pass, adoring, into the silence of the Holy Trinity.
  • The third means is to go before the Sacred Host and to enter, by adoration, into the silence of the Host. Once a man has experienced the silence of the Host, he will want to return to it again and again. He will want to hold it in his heart and flee from anything that would sully it, profane it, or diminish it. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is the great school of monastic silence. You will learn more from abiding in the silence of the Host than from sitting at the feet of the world’s greatest theologians.  There you will learn the meaning of Our Lord’s words: “Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).

And Mary the mother of Jesus (VII: The Seventh Degree)

4 Feb. 5 June. 5 Oct.
The seventh degree of humility is, that he should not only call himself with his tongue lower and viler than all, but also believe himself in his inmost heart to be so, humbling himself, and saying with the prophet: “I am a worm and no man, the shame of men and the outcast of the people” (Psalm 21:7). “I have been exalted, and cast down, and confounded” (Psalm 87:16). And again: “It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I may learn Thy commandments” (Psalm 118:71).

The seventh degree of humility is indispensable to one who, according to Saint John Cassian, has set his sights on the immediate goal of the monastic life, that is purity of heart. “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). For this a man willingly suffers all the losses inherent to the monastic way and embraces all its rigors and hardships. Saint John Cassian writes:

Our profession too has its own goal and end, for which we undergo all sorts of toils not merely without weariness but actually with delight; on account of which the want of food in fasting is no trial to us, the weariness of our vigils becomes a delight; reading and constant meditation on the Scriptures does not pall upon us; and further incessant toil, and self-denial, and the privation of all things, and the horrors also of this vast desert have no terrors for us. And doubtless for this it was that you yourselves despised the love of kinsfolk, and scorned your fatherland, and the delights of this world, and passed through so many countries, in order that you might come to us, plain and simple folk as we are, living in this wretched state in the desert. (Conference I, Chapter 2)

What could possibly sully the heart of a man who has left all things to follow Christ as a monk?  First, a man’s heart is sullied whenever he allows himself to judge his brother severely. Secondly, a man’s heart is sullied whenever he takes pleasure in his own works and secretly admires his own virtue. This was the double sin of the Pharisee who went up into the temple to pray. He took pleasure in reviewing his good works and, from the height of his self–exaltation, looked down on the poor publican who made his own humble prayer as best he could.

The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner. (Luke 18:11–13).

The sin of the Pharisee was but the replication in a man of the sin of Lucifer, who, enamoured of his own beauty and perfections, compared himself to the other Angels. Lucifer found himself magnificent, and this he was, but being imbued with the certainty of his own excellence, he became inflated with pride. He thought himself a being altogether different from others; he saw himself as equal to God, and for this enormity was cast into the abyss.

A novice or monk can be rich in every manner of excellence: physically strong, intellectually superior, unequaled in his knowledge, indomitable in his ascetical rigor, and unsurpassable in his devotion to prayer. A man can have all these attributes and yet never attain the purity of heart that is the goal of the monastic life. The black secretion of pride sullies one’s heart and impairs one’s capacity to gaze upon God.

The 7th Degree of Humility relates to the word of Our Lord in the Gospel: “But when thou art invited, go, sit down in the lowest place” (Luke 14:10). Our Lord does not mean by this that one should contravene the conventions of polite society. The humble man will respect good manners and honour the dispositions of his host. Our Lord is here referring to the heavenly banquet: “Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Apocalypse 19:9). The man invited to intimate union with God — and every monk is invited to nothing less than this — risks losing everything by considering himself superior to others. He falls into the sin of Babylon:

As much as she hath glorified herself, and lived in delicacies, so much torment and sorrow give ye to her; because she saith in her heart: I sit a queen, and am no widow; and sorrow I shall not see. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine, and she shall be burnt with the fire; because God is strong, who shall judge her. (Apocalypse 18:7–8)

The novice or monk who thinks himself advanced in virtue must run to the last place of all; recumbe in novissimo loco; go, “lie down in the lowest place” (Luke 14:10). This is where each of us is to lie down: recumbere. The Latin word means to fall down, or to sink down; it also means to recline at table, and has, therefore, a Johannine, Eucharistic, and mystical connotation. Erat ergo recumbens unus ex discipulis ejus in sinu Jesu, quem diligebat Jesus. “Now there was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23)

This sinking down in the last place of all was the preference of the Mother of God, “more honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim”. It is not by happenstance that in his description of the Cenacle, Saint Luke names the Blessed Virgin Mary last of all:

And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes, and Jude the brother of James. All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. (Acts 1:13–14)

When Saint Luke wrote this account, he was himself illumined by the Holy Ghost and inspired in relating every detail. He names the Blessed Virgin Mary last of all to show that she comes at the end of all the great women of the Old Testament — Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Judith, and Esther — and that she is, by her humility, the ipsa, the mysterious woman foretold in Genesis 3:15, the one who crushes the head of the ancient serpent. The first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles corresponds to the first chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel. There is a luminous arch that stretches from Luke 1:38, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord”, and Luke 1:48, “He hath regarded the humility of his handmaid” to the naming of the Blessed Virgin in Acts 1:13–14, “All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus”. Saint Luke presents the Mother of God in her humility at the beginning of his Gospel and, again, at the beginning of the book of Acts. Our Lady of the Cenacle, the Queen of the Angels, of the Patriarchs, the Apostles, and all the Saints; the Tota Pulchra, the Παναγία in whom all the virtues are wondrously resplendent, finds grace in the last place of all. How can anyone of us ever imagine wanting a higher place than this?

 

 

 

Support the monks of Silverstream Priory:

Situated amidst pasture land and forest in the eastern reaches of County Meath, Silverstream Priory was founded in 2012 at the invitation of the Most Reverend Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, and canonically erected as an autonomous monastery of diocesan right on 25 February 2017. The property belonged, from the early 15th century, to the Preston family, premier Viscounts of Ireland and Lords of Gormanston. In 1843 Thomas Preston (1817-1903), son of Jenico Preston, the 12th Viscount (1775-1860), built what today is Silverstream Priory.

Silverstream Priory is a providential realisation of the cherished project of Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo, O.S.B. (1874–1935), who, following the impetus given by Catherine–Mectilde de Bar in the 17th century, sought to establish a house of Benedictine monks committed to ceaseless prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation. The community of Silverstream Priory holding to the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant, celebrate the Divine Office in its traditional Benedictine form and Holy Mass in the “Usus Antiquior” of the Roman Rite. Praying and working in the enclosure of the monastery, the monks of Silverstream keep at heart the sanctification of priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. They undertake various works compatible with their monastic vocation, notably the development of the land and gardens, hospitality to the clergy in need of a spiritual respite, scholarly work, and publishing.

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