Category Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

Angels appointed to watch over us (VII: The First Degree)

29 Jan. 30 May. 29 Sept.
Let us be on our guard, then, against evil desires, since death hath its seat close to the entrance of delight; wherefore the Scripture commandeth us, saying: “Go not after thy concupiscences” (Ecclesiasticus18:30). Since, therefore, “The eyes of the Lord behold the good and the evil,” and “The Lord is ever looking down from heaven upon the children of men, to see who hath understanding or is seeking God” (Psalm 13:2), and since the works of our hands are reported to Him day and night by the angels appointed to watch over us; we must be always on the watch, brethren, lest, as the prophet saith in the psalm, God should see us at any time declining to evil and become unprofitable; and lest, though He spare us now, because He is merciful and expecteth our conversion, He should say to us hereafter: “These things thou didst and I held my peace” (Psalm 49:20).

“Go not after thy concupiscences” (Ecclesiasticus18:30). One understands that concupiscence, as Saint Benedict uses the word here, refers to the craving after pleasure that drives a man towards what is evil. Concupiscence is not, however, in itself, sinful; rightly harnessed, one’s concupiscence can become a driving force towards what is good. One can, for example, crave the delight that comes from wisdom, or virtue, or living in the presence of God. Concupiscence moves a man towards a pleasurable good, towards an object in which he will take delight. To show that concupiscence can be directed towards God, Saint Thomas quotes the psalmist: “My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God” (cf. First Part of the Second Part: Question 30).

Our Lord says, “And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away” (Matthew 11:12); and concerning Himself, He says, “I am come to cast fire on the earth: and what will I, but that it be kindled?” (Luke 12:49). On the night before He suffered, He says,”With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). It is a good thing to show oneself passionate about our monastic vocation, provided that one’s passion does not turn to a bitter zeal. A monk without passion for his vocation is salt that has lost its savour. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men” (Matthew 5:13). When a man knocks at the door of our monastery, I look to see if there is fire in his eyes.

When concupiscence is misdirected it becomes like a missile gone off course. All sort of desires rise in a man’s consciousness. Not all of them are good. Not all of them are healthy. Not all of them are aligned with the Will of God. The tricky part is that sometimes things that are very wrong can tickle one’s fancy. All a man’s thoughts and desires must be scrutinised in the light of God. A man’s every thought must be taken captive and brought into subjection to Christ, according to the word of the Apostle:

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications, destroying counsels, and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthian 10:4–5)

A man cannot control the emergence of every desire and impulse. Certain evil thoughts — pride, rash judgment, vainglory, violence, suspicion, sadness, and impurity, to name just a few — can present themselves unsolicited and unannounced, like an unwelcome visitor who shows up at one’s door. As soon as one becomes aware of the arrival of such an unwelcome visitor, he must be sent packing. Over time one becomes more experienced at recognising such intruders. One can almost hear their menacing footsteps on the path that leads up into one’s consciousness; this gives one time to secure one’s house and send to the intruder the clear message that he is unwanted and unwelcome.

But this know ye, that if the goodman of the house knew at what hour the thief would come, he would certainly watch, and would not suffer his house to be broken open. (Matthew 24:43)

Saint Benedict proposes a powerful defense against evil thoughts; it is the practice of the presence of God. I said to you in Monday’s Chapter:

If you work or study in your cell, never let a quarter of an hour pass without pausing, however briefly, to acknowledge “the eye of the Divine Majesty” and to lift your heart and mind in prayer.

This is more than a rule for living well in one’s cell; it is a principle that one can practice with great profit throughout the whole day, and wherever one happens to be. Repeated acts of acknowledgement of the presence of God are the beginning of a life of perpetual adoration. I have, in the past, suggested to you simple practices that foster an unbroken awareness of the presence of God: the habitual use of Holy Water; frequent and very brief random visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament; the rumination of a verse of Sacred Scripture; the repetition of an invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus; the Rosary prayed throughout the day; frequent spontaneous prayers to the Mother of God; and there are many others besides these. Saint Benedict speaks explicitly of the Holy Angels appointed to watch over us, that is, our Holy Guardian Angels. There is a long Benedictine tradition of devotion to the Holy Guardian Angels; one sees a compelling example of this in the life of Dom Gérard, the founder of Le Barroux. Do not fail to enlist the good services of your Guardian Angel in routing evil thoughts and desires. Some sophisticated and clever types may scoff at such simple expressions of devotion. Their pride will be their undoing. The monk who, in spite of his learning and theological qualifications, has preserved a childlike and humble faith, will never disdain such lowly means: simple practices that are within the reach of all, even of the littlest souls.

The monk who has opened the door of his heart to the Mother of God, in imitation of the Beloved Disciple who, as he himself relates it, “took her to his own” (John 19:27), will be spared many exhausting struggles against evil thoughts. When a novice or a monk abandons himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s guidance and begins to follow her inspirations, he experiences that the battle with his thoughts is simplified and, in effect, reduced to a single tactic. Such a brother casts every evil thought under the feet of the Immaculate Mother of God and, then, goes his way peacefully, without fear, in holiness and rightmindedness. After each victory over his thoughts, he recognises that the Blessed Virgin Mary has visited him and helped him. “And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43).

There is one other thing that I want to share with you in this regard: five years ago I read Yves Chiron’s biography of Blessed Louis–Edouard Cestac (1801–1868), a French priest beatified in May 2015. Monseigneur Marc Aillet wrote the introduction to the book. On 13 January 1864, Blessed Father Cestac was suddenly struck by a ray of divine light. He saw devils scattered throughout the earth, wreaking inexplicable ravages. At the same time, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him. The Mother of God told Blessed Father Cestac that devils had indeed been let loose in the world, and that the hour had come to pray to her as Queen of Angels. The Mother of God invited Blessed Father Cestac to pray her to send out legions of Angel to fight and rout the powers of Hell. “Mother”, said Father Cestac, no mean theologian, “thou who art so good, couldst thou not send them without being asked?” “No”, answered the Blessed Virgin Mary. “Prayer is a condition set by God Himself to obtain graces”. “So Mother”, replied the priest, “wouldst thou thyself teach me how one must pray to thee?” And Blessed Father Cestac received from the Most Blessed Virgin the prayer: August Queen. Immediately, Father Cestac submitted the prayer to Msgr Lacroix, the Bishop of Bayonne, who deigned to approve it. Blessed Father Cestac had  500,000 copies printed and had them sent everywhere. At the time of the first printing, the printing press broke down twice. I find Blessed Cestac’s prayer pertinent at the present hour in Ireland, but also whenever one senses that “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 6:12). Here is the prayer:

August Queen of Heaven, sovereign Mistress of the Angels, thou who from the beginning hast received from God the power and the mission to crush the head of Satan, we humbly beseech thee to send thy holy legions, that under thy command and by thy power they may pursue the evil spirits, encounter them on every side, resist their bold attacks, and drive them hence into eternal woe.

Who is like unto God?

O good and tender Mother, thou willest always to be our love and our hope.
O Mother of God, send thy holy Angels to defend us and drive far from us the cruel enemy.
Holy Angels and Archangels, defend us and keep us. Amen.

That His will may be done in us (VII: The First Degree)

28 Jan. 29 May. 28 Sept.
We are, indeed, forbidden to do our own will by Scripture, which saith to us: turn away from thine own will. (Ecclesiasticus 18:30) And so too we beg of God in prayer that His will may be done in us. (Matthew 6:10) Rightly therefore are we taught not to do our own will, if we take heed to the warning of Scripture: “There are ways which to men seem right, but the ends thereof lead to the depths of hell” (Proverbs 16:25); or, again, when we tremble at what is said of the careless: “They are corrupt and have become abominable in their pleasures” (Psalm 12:2). And in regard to the desires of the flesh, we must believe that God is always present to us, as the prophet saith to the Lord: “O Lord, all my desire is before Thee” (Psalm 37:9).

The word voluntas (will) appears five times in today’s appointed portion of Chapter VII. We must, before anything else, make the distinction between our own will, sometimes called self–will, and the simple will, by which a man chooses to act. Lesser creatures act out of necessity: only man has the capacity to reflect, to choose a course of action, and either to carry out what he has chosen or to abstain from the thing he has not chosen.

The will is naturally oriented to a good. Inscribed in every human being is the desire to choose and to do the thing that promises happiness. God, in creating each one of us, had our happiness, our eternal happiness in view. When a man’s will is not aligned with God’s will for his eternal happiness, it becomes self–will, a divergence from the will of God, a turning aside from the way that leads to the happiness for which he was created. There is a prayer of Mother Yvonne–Aimée that I often say, because it speaks directly to this dilemma:

Most Holy Trinity,
do in me whatsoever you want to find in me,
so as to draw out of my nothingness
all the love and all the glory which you had in view
when you created me.

All sin is a twisting of the will away from “things no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart conceived, the welcome God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9). Man’s twisted will, his self–will sets its sights on something that presents the appearances of a good but that, in the end, offers a man not happiness, but desolation, not fulfilment, but emptiness. God speaks to the soul by many and sundry means to say, “Child, your happiness is not in this thing that you crave; you may think it promises sweetness, but I tell you that it will bring you nothing but bitterness. You may think that this thing that so fascinates you will also fulfil you, but I tell you that it will leave you empty. In your desire for happiness, your will has become twisted and misdirected; give your will back to me that I may realign it with My plan for your happiness, with My plan for your life”.

All of Psalm 118, the great Psalm of the Law that we pray every Sunday and Monday at the Little Hours is a prayer for the realignment of one’s will with the Will of God:

Deliver me from every false thought; make me free of thy covenant.
Duty’s path my choice, I keep thy bidding ever in remembrance.
Disappoint me, Lord, never, one that holds fast by thy commandments.
Do but open my heart wide, and easy lies the path thou hast decreed.
Expound, Lord, thy whole bidding to me; faithfully I will keep it.
Enlighten me, to scan thy law closely, and keep true to it with all my heart.
Eagerly I long to be guided in the way of thy obedience.
Ever let my choice be set on thy will, not on covetous thoughts.
Eyes have I none for vain phantoms; let me find life in following thy ways. (Psalm 118:29–37)

It takes great faith to ask God to redirect one’s will to what He wills for one’s life, or even for one moment of one’s life. This is where humble prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary becomes indispensable. Let us just say that a man can know, either from reason, or from divine revelation, or from woeful past experience, that his self–will is not aligned with the Will of God. A man can, all the same, cling to his self–will, fearing that if he surrenders to the Will of God he will be cheated out of something that is his due, or suffer the deprivation of some perceived good, or find himself visited by all the woes of Job. It is an old temptation; it is as old as sin. It plays upon all our worst fears. The Blessed Virgin Mary does not condemn one caught in such a quandary. Our Lady looks upon Eve’s exiled children with eyes of mercy, and stretches forth her hand to help. It may take much prayer before a man’s will is untwisted and redirected to its proper end, but there is no prayer so effective as humble recourse to the Mother of God. I know of no recourse to the Mother of God as humble and, at the same time, as efficacious as the Rosary.

Brothers sometimes say to me, “But, Father Prior, you are always going on about the benefits of the Rosary. I find it hard to say the Rosary. Frankly, I find it rebarbative. You present the Rosary as a kind of spiritual panacea. It may work for you, but I can’t do it”. Fair enough. I will listen patiently to the brother who comes to me with these or similar objections, and then I will say: “Put your objections aside, stop focusing on the difficulties that you anticipate, force yourself a little to make a beginning. You will see that after one decade of the Rosary, you will be able to pray two; and after two, three; and after three, four; and after four, five. And after five, you will begin to experience something changing in you: a mysterious stirring of grace”.

There is no difficulty that the prayer of the Rosary cannot resolve; no struggle over which it cannot triumph; no resistance that it cannot overcome. Why is this so? For three reasons. First, because the Rosary is a humble prayer; it is dear to the humble of heart, and humbles those who persevere in saying it. And God never resists the humble. Second, because to say the Rosary is an act of obedience to the Mother of God. The Rosary figures prominently in the message of the Mother of God at Lourdes and at Fatima. Even the Russian Saint Seraphim of Sarov told his disciples that it is a prayer dear to the Mother of God. It doesn’t matter that a man have or not have a personal attraction to these things; it is enough that he put his objections and preferences aside and say to himself, “I will do this because reliable witnesses have said that it is what the Mother of God asks; I will do it because hundreds of thousands of pilgrims — the poor, the sick of mind and body, the halt, the blind, and those in the grip of vice — have done it and obtained grace in time of need”. Humility and obedience are, need I say, fundamental Benedictine virtues. Third, the Rosary quiets the internal din that so often keeps a man from being still enough to hear “the whisper of a gentle breeze” (3  Kings 19:12) that announces the passage of the Lord.

One who perseveres in praying the Rosary will, after time, find himself saying with complete submission and abandonment to the Will of God, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). I remember — it must have been in the very early 1980s — suffering from a terrible strain of acedia and, at the same time, battling demons that left me exhausted. Only the Rosary brought me relief. I remember that on one occasion I went to my abbot to pour out my distress. He immediately asked, “Have you been saying the Rosary?” I had to admit that I had grown so weary that I had, for a time, laid aside this powerful “sword of the Spirit”. No sooner had I taken it up again than I began to emerge from the particular emotional and spiritual pathology that had laid me low.

There are two mysteries of the Rosary well suited to today’s portion of Chapter VII: the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation, and the First Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in Gethsemani. I have already said something about the Annunciation; allow me to say, in conclusion, something about the Agony in Gethsemani. I seem always to hear in a kind of counterpoint to this text of the Holy Rule the poignant Communion Antiphon of Palm Sunday with its mysterious 8th mode melody: Pater . . . fiat voluntas tua, “Father . . . Thy will be done”. Saint Benedict sets forth his doctrine clearly: “We are, indeed, forbidden to do our own will by Scripture, which saith to us: ‘turn away from thine own will'” (Ecclesiasticus 18:30). How can one not relate this to the prayer of Our Lord in Gethsemani?

And he was withdrawn away from them a stone’s cast; and kneeling down, he prayed, saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done. And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground. (Luke 22: 41–44)
The Mother of Jesus was not present in person at Gethsemani, but I think she was present by the effect of the prayer by which she accompanied her Jesus there, watching and praying with Him while the Apostles slept. Who is to say that it was not the Mother who obtained for her Son the ministrations of the comforting Angel from heaven, who, according to Saint Luke, strengthened Jesus in His agony?  The monk who is a son of Mary can rely on her maternal intercession, even in the hours when he is most alone, forsaken, and overcome by dread.

Beheld from heaven by God (VII: The First Degree)

27 Jan. 28 May. 27 Sept.
Let him consider that he is always beheld from heaven by God, and that his actions are everywhere seen by the eye of the Divine Majesty, and are every hour reported to Him by His angels. This the prophet telleth us, when he sheweth how God is ever present in our thoughts, saying: “God searcheth the heart and the reins.” And again “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of men.” And he also saith: “Thou hast understood my thoughts afar off”; and “The thought of man shall confess to Thee.” In order, therefore, that he may be on his guard against evil thoughts, let the humble brother say ever in his heart: “Then shall I be unspotted before Him, if I shall have kept me from mine iniquity.”

“Let him consider that he is always beheld from heaven by God, and that his actions are everywhere seen by the eye of the Divine Majesty, and are every hour reported to Him by His angels”. The monk, even when he retires to his cell and closes the door, is not alone. The cell, especially in our form of Benedictine life, is where the monk goes not only to sleep, to read, to study, and even, exceptionally, given our lack of space, to work. The cell is a place of prayer. Live in your cell as in a sanctuary. I insist on this and ask you to remain faithful to the little practices that foster recollection in the cell. Take holy water upon entering and leaving the cell. Greet the Blessed Virgin Mary often in the course of the day by honouring her image in the cell. Do nothing, say nothing, keep nothing in your cell that would risk troubling the peace of the place. Make an effort to keep your cell clean and in good order; if your cell is pleasant and attractive — conditions that I have tried to provide for each one of you — you will be happy to spend time there.

Learn to love the cell, first of all, as a place of prayer. Your prayer in the cell is not the same as your prayer in choir, even if some elements of liturgical prayer may be of great value in solitary prayer as well. In the cell, one is free to kneel or to fall prostrate; to pray lying down or standing up; to murmur quietly the invocations that rise in one’s heart. If you work or study in your cell, never let a quarter of an hour pass without pausing, however  briefly, to acknowledge “the eye of the Divine Majesty” and to lift your heart and mind in prayer. I think that Our Lady was among the first disciples of Jesus to put into practice what He taught concerning solitary prayer, even if this was something to which she was long accustomed:

But when thou art praying, go into thy inner room and shut the door upon thyself, and so pray to thy Father in secret; and then thy Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward thee. (Matthew 6:6).

It is altogether possible that when Our Lord uttered these words, he had the living example of His Mother in mind. Would not Jesus, during the years of His hidden life, have observed His Mother praying in secret? The interior life of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a great mystery. I think it was utterly simple: an abiding beneath the gaze of God in humility and in love. When the Angel Gabriel came to Mary at Nazareth, he greeted her with the words, Dominus tecum, “The Lord is with thee”. The Angel found Mary in the presence of God or, if you will, he recognised in Mary the fulfilment of the tabernacle that Moses built:

A cloud covered the tabernacle, and it was filled with the brightness of the Lord’s presence. (Exodus 40:32).

There is a tradition that attributes to Mary, even in the years before the Annunciation, a predilection for silence and solitude. I would be happy if one day, someone of our community could study the depiction of solitude, prayer, and reading in Western iconography of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It could well begin with Blessed Fra Angelico’s many paintings of the Annunciation. Our Lady is often depicted seated in an alcove, or in a kind of cell or little oratory, with the book of the Scriptures open before her. In some paintings Our Lady appears to be reading her Book of Hours! An anachronism? No, it is rather the representation of a mystery: Mary, the Virgo Orans (the praying Virgin) is, at every moment, the perfect image of the Ecclesia Orans (the praying Church).

There is an Annunciation from the early Renaissance by Boccaccio Boccaccino (c. 1467 – c. 1525) that depicts the Angel surprising Our Lady while she is at prayer; her book lies open on her prie–dieu, suggesting that she only just turned from it. The Word written on the page is about to be inscribed, by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the Virgin’s flesh. In the background there is a rounded apse, like that of a small church, and within the apse an altar covered with a fair linen; this points to the Eucharistic Body of Christ, and to His sacrifice. Any one of these paintings of the Annunciation could be titled “Our Lady of Solitude”, or “Our Lady of the Presence of God”, “Our Lady in Prayer”. Taken together, these paintings constitute a precious initiation into the holy solitude, the Marian solitude, that even for cenobites remains indispensable.

The man who flees solitude, or tries to fill his solitude with many things, is afraid of the silence and emptiness that are the ground of Benedictine humility. There is, to be sure, a humility that grows through our life together; every day the cenobitic life affords a monk countless opportunities to put others before himself; to work at tasks that are common, and lowly, and obscure; and to admire in his brethren virtues that are utterly lacking in himself. Benedictine humility grows, when, according to Saint Benedict in Chapter LXXII, we most patiently endure one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of mind; vie with one another in obedience; and follow not what one thinks good for himself, but rather what seems good for another.

Alongside of the humility that grows in our life together, Saint Benedict proposes the humility that grows in the man who abides in hiddenness beneath “the eye of the Divine Majesty”. Saint Gregory recounts that after Saint Benedict’s rejection and attempted poisoning by the monks of Vicovaro, he “returned back to the wilderness which so much he loved, and dwelt alone with himself, in the sight of his Creator, who beholdeth the hearts of all men” (Second Book of the Dialogues, Chapter III). Humility is not far from the monk knows how to be content in solitude; who resolutely rejects the temptation to escape into the avenues of diversion that, even, in his cell, can be close at hand; and who prays, as Saint Benedict himself suggests: Et ero immaculatus cum eo; et observabo me ab iniquitate mea, “And I shall be immaculate with him: and shall keep myself from my iniquity” (Psalm 17:24).

When all is said and done, a monk’s shortest and safest way to humility may be the Immaculata herself, the Virgin of Nazareth who, as we sing in an antiphon, “was pleasing to God in her littleness”. True devotion to the Mother of God is a continuous exorcism of pride. Wheresoever Mary is welcomed, she crushes the head of the ancient serpent, and teaches souls to repeat after her:

He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. (Luke 1:51–52)

Avoid all forgetfulness (VII:The First Degree)

26 Jan. 27 May. 26 Sept.
The first degree of humility, then, is that a man, always keeping the fear of God before his eyes, avoid all forgetfulness; and that he be ever mindful of all that God hath commanded, bethinking himself that those who despise God will be consumed in hell for their sins, and that life everlasting is prepared for them that fear Him. And keeping himself at all times from sin and vice, whether of the thoughts, the tongue, the hands, the feet, or his own will, let him thus hasten to cut off the desires of the flesh.

In yesterday’s appointed portion of Chapter VII, Saint Benedict gave singular importance to Psalm 130 with its image of a little child on its mother’s breast. Spiritual childhood is a Marian grace; one who abandons himself unconditionally to the maternal heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary will be converted and become as a little child.

Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

The man who opens his life to the Blessed Virgin Mary must be prepared to change. The one grace that Our Lady always communicates to those abandon themselves to her is a conversion to lowliness of heart. There are two sorts of monks who need Mary in their life: the ones who appear to go from strength to strength, and the ones who appear to go from struggle to struggle.

First, the man who appears to go from strength to strength: he may have a penetrating intelligence, an indomitable strength of will, and a physical resistance equal to every adversity, and yet remain strangely impenetrable to grace. Why? What is missing? A monk may be outwardly observant; he may surpass all his brothers in austerity, in self–discipline, and in rubrical exactitude; still, if he does not become as a little child, he will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Such a man’s apparent record of success may well be the very thing that is keeping him from growth in holiness. There is no growth in holiness without growth in humility, and no growth in humility without becoming Mary’s little child. Without attempting to analyse here just why this is so, I can affirm that spiritual childhood and growth in humility are somehow bound up with saying the Rosary.

Second, the man who appears to go from struggle to struggle: I have known men to wrestle for years, and even for decades, against certain sins without being able to emerge from them. The reason is simple: a man’s openness to grace is directly proportionate to the degree of his humility. Our Lord may allow a man to suffer one defeat after another; he may allow a man to fail repeatedly, and to fall hard and low. It sometimes happens that, even after experiences that are, by any standard, painful and humiliating, a man persists in being self–reliant and, therefore, resistant to grace. For such a man there is but one way of breaking the cycle of sin: he has to become Mary’s little child. Again, without attempting to analyse just why this is so, I can affirm that spiritual childhood and liberation from from certain engrained habits of sin are somehow bound up with saying the Rosary. Father Cajetan Sheehan, O.P. (1903–1997) used to comfort his woeful young penitents by asking, “Do you say the Rosary, son?” From the other side of the confessional a choked voice would stammer, “I do, Father”. To which the wise old Dominican would invariably respond, “Ah, then you’ll be alright”. The Rosary is somehow incompatible with pride

Today, Saint Benedict invites us to make a beginning in humility. The monk whose life corresponds to the first degree of humility lives with the Blessed Virgin Mary and, by praying the mysteries of her Rosary, learns always to keep the fear of God before his eyes. At no moment in her life did the Blessed Virgin Mary lose sight of the holiness of God. Never was she forgetful of the presence of God. Mary, whom the Greeks call the Παναγία (the All–Holy), and whom we call the Tota Pulchra (the All Lovely One) and the Immaculata (the Spotless One), kept herself , as Saint Benedict says,”at all times from sin and vice, whether of the thoughts, the tongue, the hands, the feet, or her own will”. Never did Mary, like old Eve in her foolishness and shame, attempt to hide herself from the face of God among the trees of the garden. This is the deepest meaning of the feast of her Presentation in the Temple on November 21st. Being conceived immaculate and full of grace, Our Lady lived, and moved, and had her being in God and πρὸς τὸν Θεόν (turned towards God, cf. John 1:1). At every moment of her earthly journey, the Blessed Virgin Mary held herself in state of complete readiness for the unfolding of God’s will, and this until, at the hour of her Assumption, she heard the summons into glory:

Behold my beloved speaketh to me: Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. For winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land, the time of pruning is come: the voice of the turtle is heard in our land: The fig tree hath put forth her green figs: the vines in flower yield their sweet smell. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come. (Canticle 2:10–13)

All of this goes to the heart of what we mean when we speak of perpetual adoration: it is an expression of ceaseless desire for the presence of God, a seeking after the face of God in all the circumstances of life. Mother Mectilde writes that, “the same God whom we adore in the Most Holy Sacrament is always present to us in every place”. The man who lives in the presence of the thrice–holy God begins, already here below, to sing with the Angels a ceaseless Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus in his heart. Like Jacob waking from sleep, he looks around him [as Saint Benedict will say in the twelfth degree of humility] “in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the field or wherever he may be”, and confesses, “Indeed the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not” (Genesis 28:16). In her famous Epiphany Conference of 1694, Mother Mectilde wrote

To adore continually it is not necessary to say, “My God, I adore Thee.” It is enough to tend inwardly to God [who is] present, to maintain a profound respect out of reverence for His greatness, believing that He is in us as He truly is. In fact, the Most Holy Trinity dwells in us: the Father acts and operates there with His power, the Son with His wisdom, and the Holy Ghost with His goodness. It is, therefore, in the intimacy of your soul, where the God of majesty abides, that you must adore Him continually. From time to time, place your hand over your heart, saying to yourself: “God is in me. And He is there not only to sustain my physical life, as in irrational creatures, but He is there acting and operating, to raise me to the highest perfection, if I do not put obstacles in the way of His grace.”

In a certain sense, habitual attention to the presence of God, perpetual adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and the practice of the first degree of humility are all three closely inter–related. The man who is mindful of the presence of God everywhere will be moved frequently to seek Him veiled in the Most Holy Sacrament, for there the presence of Our Lord takes on an immediacy that, even in the obscurity of faith, illumines and warms the soul. The man who, adoring, exposes himself to the Host will begin to love the humility of the Host and, over time, the humility of the Host will impress itself in his soul.

Lifted up by the Lord to heaven (VII:1)

CHAPTER VII. Of Humility
25 Jan. 26 May. 25 Sept.

The Holy Scripture crieth out to us, brethren, saying: “Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he who humbleth himself shall be exalted.” In saying this, it teacheth us that all exaltation is a kind of pride, against which the prophet sheweth himself to be on his guard when he saith: “Lord, my heart is not exalted nor mine eyes lifted up; nor have I walked in great things, nor in wonders above me.” For why? “If I did not think humbly, but exalted my soul: like a child that is weaned from his mother, so wilt Thou requite my soul.” Whence, brethren, if we wish to arrive at the highest point of humility, and speedily to reach that heavenly exaltation to which we can only ascend by the humility of this present life, we must by our ever-ascending actions erect such a ladder as that which Jacob beheld in his dream, by which the angels appeared to him descending and ascending. This descent and ascent signifieth nothing else than that we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility. And the ladder thus erected is our life in the world, which, if the heart be humbled, is lifted up by the Lord to heaven. The sides of the same ladder we understand to be our body and soul, in which our divine vocation hath placed various degrees of humility or discipline, which we must ascend.

We come today to the heart of the Holy Rule. Chapter VII opens with a kind of clarion call from Saint Luke’s Gospel: “Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he who humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11). It is impossible to read this opening verse of Chapter VII without hearing, at the same time, the voice of the Mother of God, who bearing her unborn Son beneath her heart, sings:

He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. (Luke 1:51–53)

All of Chapter VII is intelligible only when the opening verse is joined to its closing verse:

Ergo, his omnibus humilitatis gradibus ascensis, monachus mox ad caritatem Dei perveniet illam quae perfecta foris mittit timorem.
Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that charity of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear.

The exaltation of the humble is an assumption into the glory of love, “In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because he hath first loved us” (1 John 4:10). Not for nothing do we sing in the Office of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Maria Virgo assúmpta est ad æthéreum thálamum, in quo Rex regum stelláto sedet sólio.
The Virgin Mary hath been taken into the chamber on high, where the King of kings sitteth on a starry throne.

The Blessed Virgin Mary illuminates all of Chapter VII, from beginning to end. The beginning corresponds to what Our Lady says concerning herself — Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word (Luke 1:38) — and the end corresponds to what she says concerning God — He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble (Luke 1:52). All of Benedictine life unfolds between these two utterances of the Mother of God. The life of the monk is the itinerary of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Annunciation to the Assumption.

I have always found it striking that the very word used by Our Lady in her Magnificat — suscepit — to describe the saving condescension of God is the same word that every monk sings on the day of his profession. The image evoked is that of the father who, by taking a newborn child into his arms, recognises the child as his own, becoming the child’s provider and protector. The Blessed Virgin Mary proclaims, “Suscepit Israël puerum suum, recordatus misericordiæ suæ” (Luke 1:54), and the monk, puer et filius (servant and son), sings, “Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam” (Psalm 118:116).

He hath lifted up unto Himself Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy. (Luke 1:54)
Lift Thou me up unto Thyself, O Lord, and I shall live (Psalm 118:116).

After referring to Psalm 130, the song of spiritual childhood, Saint Benedict introduces the twelve degrees of humility with the image of the ladder beheld by Jacob in dream. The ladder corresponds to the spiritual itinerary of the monk:

Whence, brethren, if we wish to arrive at the highest point of humility, and speedily to reach that heavenly exaltation to which we can only ascend by the humility of this present life, we must by our ever-ascending actions erect such a ladder as that which Jacob beheld in his dream, by which the angels appeared to him descending and ascending.

This ladder, apart from representing “our life in the world, which, if the heart be humbled, is lifted up by the Lord to heaven”, represents the Holy Mother of God. In the ladder which joins heaven and earth the Fathers saw a prefiguring of the Blessed Virgin Mary through whom the Son of God descended (and still descends) into the midst of men in order to offer them salvation by uniting them to Himself. By presenting the life of the monk under the image of Jacob’s ladder, Saint Benedict effectively points to the Blessed Virgin Mary who, in all the mysteries of Her life, from the Annunciation to the Assumption, draws the monk after her, down into the lowliness of her servanthood and upward into the glory of love.


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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