Category Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

Pray for Ireland

O HEART OF JESUS, formed by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, have mercy on the nations soaked in the blood of the innocent. May that vast army of infants slaughtered mercilessly in their mothers’ wombs raise their voices and plead before Thy throne in glory for an end everywhere to the crime of abortion that has so rightly merited Thy Father’s wrath and caused the nations to become an abomination in His sight. Do what Thou must, O merciful Heart of Jesus, to reveal to the Irish people the horror of this sin and bring us all to repentance.

IMMACULATE VIRGIN MARY, Queen of Ireland, thou who didst bear Thy Son for nine months in the inviolate sanctuary of Thy womb, intercede today for all who, confident in thy maternal protection, will continue to defend the life of unborn children, and grant us victory over the forces of death. Amen.

Acceptable to God and sweet to men (V:2)

23 Jan. 24 May. 23 Sept.
But this very obedience will then only be acceptable to God and sweet to men, if what is commanded be done not fearfully, tardily, nor coldly, nor with murmuring, nor with an answer shewing unwillingness; for the obedience which is given to superiors is given to God, since He Himself hath said: “He that heareth you, heareth Me.” And it ought to be given by disciples with a good will, because “God loveth a cheerful giver.” For if the disciple obey with ill-will, and murmur not only with his lips but even in his heart, although he fulfil the command, yet it will not be accepted by God, Who regardeth the heart of the murmurer. And for such an action he shall gain no reward; nay, rather, he shall incur the punishment due to murmurers, unless he amend and make satisfaction.

Saint Benedict would have our obedience be acceptable to God and sweet to men. Acceptabilis Deo et dulcis hominibus. Never was the obedience of a creature so acceptable to God and sweet to men as was the obedience of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I cannot help but return again and again to the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, the Annunciation, as the paradigm of monastic obedience. Already Saint Irenaeus, writing in the second century, elucidates the obedience of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. For Saint Irenaeus, the obedience of Mary is the undoing of the disobedience of Eve.

In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word.” But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. . . . The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary for what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith. (Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, III:4)

The monk who prays the Rosary discovers that, in each of the Joyful Mysteries, the obedience of the Blessed Virgin Mary is acceptable to God and sweet to men; the Rosary thus becomes a school of monastic obedience. With each successive Ave, something of the grace of Our Lady’s obedience slowly and almost imperceptibly penetrates the soul; the monk who perseveres in  telling his beads will find that he no longer shrinks from the things that obedience may lay upon him. Things once hard and bitter will become sweet. If you pray to the Mother of God, she will lead you to her Son to hear him say:

Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light. (Matthew 11:29–30)

In the obedience of the Blessed Virgin Mary there was nothing fearful, nothing tardy, nothing cold. Her Immaculate Heart harboured no murmuring. Never did she respond unwillingly to the plan of God as it unfolded in her life. The Immaculate Conception was always a pure “Yes”to God. To souls who open themselves to her maternal influence, Mary communicates a humble participation in her pure “Yes” to God.

I have, in my own long experience, seen more than a few monks descend into a kind of acedia. I have known monks in the grip of despondency, or unable to emerge from a terrible weariness, or beset by persistent temptations to say “No” to everything the monastic life offers when, in the deepest place of their heart, all they wanted was to be able to say “Yes”. The dilemma is not unlike that of the Apostle who says:

My own actions bewilder me; what I do is not what I wish to do, but something which I hate. Why then, if what I do is something I have no wish to do, I thereby admit that the law is worthy of all honour; meanwhile, my action does not come from me, but from the sinful principle that dwells in me. Of this I am certain, that no principle of good dwells in me, that is, in my natural self; praiseworthy intentions are always ready to hand, but I cannot find my way to the performance of them; it is not the good my will prefers, but the evil my will disapproves, that I find myself doing. And if what I do is something I have not the will to do, it cannot be I that bring it about, it must be the sinful principle that dwells in me. This, then, is what I find about the law, that evil is close at my side, when my will is to do what is praiseworthy. Inwardly, I applaud God’s disposition, but I observe another disposition in my lower self, which raises war against the disposition of my conscience, and so I am handed over as a captive to that disposition towards sin which my lower self contains. Pitiable creature that I am, who is to set me free from a nature thus doomed to death? Nothing else than the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 7:15–25, Knox Translation)

The Apostle was talking about obedience to the Law; I am talking about obedience to the Rule and the abbot. The underlying conflict and the resultant distress are, nonetheless, the same. In both instances, there is but one way out; it is, as the Apostle says, “Nothing else than the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25). The man in the grip of such a suffering must be treated always with compassion and respect. The cure may require a long convalescence, but before the cure, there must be a careful diagnosis of the ailment. The onset of such a spiritual pathology is marked by certain symptoms. In nearly every instance there is, before anything else, a falling away from prayer. Where there is little prayer, there will be little grace. Sometimes a man must begin not by praying, but by praying for the grace of the desire to pray. The monk who is disaffected from prayer will become disenchanted with everything else.

I have, in the course of my own monastic journey, known some disobedient monks, but I have not yet met the monk who wanted to be disobedient. A monk stumbles first in his thoughts — out of weakness, weariness, or the peculiar spiritual blindness that pride and certain other sins can cause — and then he falls into patterns of disobedience and chronic acedia. Even in the worst cases, however, when a brother is utterly paralysed by acedia, there remains, I am convinced, buried beneath the ashes of his heart, a little glowing ember. From this ember can come a spark capable of re–igniting the original blaze of the vocation. You know the story of Abba Lot:

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

The monastic vocation is to continue in the Church the grace that Saint John the Baptist received, while still in his mother’s womb, through the mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lord says of John: Ille erat lucerna ardens et lucens, “He was a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35). There is no heart so dark and cold that it cannot be rekindled by contact with the Blessed Virgin Mary and, through her, with Jesus, the blessed fruit of her womb. This is why I recommend the Rosary to brothers afflicted by acedia, or no longer in their first fervour, or who find themselves affected by a kind of spiritual chill. The repetition of the Aves is like striking a stone with flint to enkindle a fire. A series of sparks are often needed before one succeeds in producing a flame. I am not saying that other forms of repetitive prayer are not effective; I am saying only that, in my experience, nothing has ever been as effective as the Rosary for the recovery of fire and light.

Obedience with a good will, the obedience of the cheerful giver dear to God, comes easily to one in whose heart burns the fire of love. Every day since Pentecost Sunday we have sung: Veni Sancte Spiritus, reple tuorum corda fidelium: et tui amoris in eis ignem accende, “Come Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful; and kindle in them the fire of Thy love”. The Rosary is another way, a very humble way, of saying the same thing and of asking for the same grace. Every appeal to Mary implicitly calls down the Holy Ghost. If you would learn the secret of an obedience acceptable to God and sweet to men, pray and pray much to the Mother of God. Strike the flint until you see the spark. As Abba Joseph said to Abba Lot, “If you will, you can become all flame”.

In following her you shall not go astray (V:1)

CHAPTER V. Of Obedience
22 Jan. 23 May. 22 Sept.
The first degree of humility is obedience without delay. This becometh those who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ, and who on account of the holy servitude which they have taken upon them, either for fear of hell or for the glory of life everlasting, as soon as anything is ordered by the superior, suffer no more delay in doing it than if it had been commanded by God Himself. It is of these that the Lord saith: “At the hearing of the ear he hath obeyed Me.” And again, to teachers He saith: “He that heareth you heareth Me.”

Such as these, therefore, leaving immediately their own occupations and forsaking their own will, with their hands disengaged, and leaving unfinished what they were about, with the speedy step of obedience follow by their deeds the voice of him who commands; and so as it were at the same instant the bidding of the master and the perfect fulfilment of the disciple are joined together in the swiftness of the fear of God by those who are moved with the desire of attaining eternal life. These, therefore, choose the narrow way, of which the Lord saith: “Narrow is the way which leadeth unto life”; so that living not by their own will, nor obeying their own desires and pleasures, but walking according to the judgment and command of another, and dwelling in community, they desire to have an Abbot over them. Such as these without doubt fulfil that saying of the Lord: “I came not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me.”

A monk discovers the plan of God for his life through obedience. Once a man has said the initial “Yes” that expresses his resolve to become a monk, all the rest becomes disarmingly simple. He has only to obey. How does Saint Benedict describe a monk”? He is, explains Saint Benedict, a man who chooses the narrow way, of which the Lord says: “How small is the gate, how narrow the road that leads on to life” (Matthew 7:14). The man who comes to be a monk is resolved, for love of Christ, to live not by his own will, nor according to his own desires and pleasures, but according to the judgment and command of another. He asks to dwell in community, that is, as a member of a body. He knows full well that a living and functioning body has a head; thus he desires to have an abbot over him. Note that Saint Benedict says that such a man desires to have an abbot over him; this is very different from putting up with an abbot, or admitting that, for the good organisation of the monastery an abbot is necessary. For the man who comes to be a monk, the relationship with the abbot is of an altogether different order; it is sacramental, for the abbot is a visible sign of the headship of Christ. Saint Benedict says that he “holds the place of Christ in the monastery” (Chapter II). Obedience without delay, then, is the ordinary means by which God unfolds His magnificent designs upon a man’s life in Christ. This may strike you as very theological and lofty; and it is, but is also very quotidian and down–to–earth. It follows the logic of the Incarnation. It obliges a man to submit to the headship of Christ, for love of Christ, even in little things.

Dear sons, it is not the big things in our monastic life that are hard: leaving one’s country, family, friends, and home. The grand gesture, even when it is costly and painful, is always exhilarating. Your family and friends, if they share your faith, will tell you that you are doing something heroic and beautiful. If they do not share your faith, they will tell you that you are doing something crazy or stupid, but there is, even in being thought crazy or stupid, the glow of a certain heroism. It is not the theory of monastic life that is hard to accept. The theory is luminous and compelling; the practice of it, however, in little things, is hard. The Apostle says  concerning Christ: “And whereas indeed he was the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). You too will learn obedience by the things which you suffer, the little things that affect your comfort, your preferences, and your use of time. Obedience begins when a man realises that, as a monk, he renounces, for love of Christ, doing what he wants to do, when he wants to do it, and in the way he wants to do. Obedience leaves nothing in a monk’s life untouched. No longer may I have what I want, when I want it, as I want it. The monk, for love of Christ, offers to God not a few dew–kissed fruits, chosen for their beauty, and picked at will; he offers the whole tree of his life: roots, trunk, branches, blossoms, leaves, and fruits. And if it should please God to fashion a cross of the wood of your tree, or to cast its branches into the fire to give warmth and light, know that, then, you will have begun to be like Christ in His obedience.

Who in the days of his flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence. And whereas indeed he was the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered: And being consummated, he became, to all that obey him, the cause of eternal salvation. (Hebrews 5:7–9)

With regard to obedience, as in all other things, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the regula monachorum, the rule of monks. The prophet Simeon spoke to the Mother of Jesus of the costliness of her obedience.

Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34–35)

Nothing will bring you closer to Mary than a simple, humble act of obedience. When you obey, and when you find obedience hard and costly, know without a doubt that Mary is at your side for, in that moment, she recognises her Son in you, and you in her Son. She recognises you as belonging to her; she will even walk a few steps before you, to clear the way for you and to assuage your fears. Saint Bernard says:

In following her you shall not go astray; by praying to her you shall not despair; in contemplating her you shall not go wrong. With her support you fall not; under her protection you fear not; under her guidance, you do not grow weary; if she is propitious to you, you will reach the port. (Second Homily on the Missus Est)

When I look closely at our Lady’s life in the Gospels, and meditate it in the rosary, I see that she practiced two kinds of obedience. The first was an active obedience to the revealed will of God; the second an obedience of submission to the events and circumstances willed or permitted by Divine Providence as her life, and the life of her Son, unfolded. Before the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin Mary lived in obedience to her parents Saints Joachim and Anna, in obedience to the commandments of God, and in obedience to the precepts of the Law. The Blessed Virgin Mary could say, even from her childhood, what we read in the book of the prophet Baruch:

We are happy, O Israel: because the things that are pleasing to God, are made known to us. (Baruch 4:4)

The fruits of obedience to “the things that are pleasing to God” are an inward security, a restful peace, and an abiding joy. When a soul is secure, at peace, and possessed of the profound joy that comes from pleasing God, there grows within her a capacity for listening to Him, and a readiness to consent to whatever He should ask. Thus was Our Lady prepared by the simple obedience of her childhood for the great act of obedience by which God wrought the salvation of the world: the Incarnation of the Son of God in her virginal womb.

And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. (Luke 1:38)

This first great act of obedience set the Blessed Virgin Mary on a life–long trajectory of obedience that would, in the end, unite her to the immolation of her Son, and cause her own heart to be pierced through with a sword of sorrow. After Our Lady gave her consent to the shining messenger from heaven, she was left to go forward by practicing an obedience of submission to the events and circumstances willed or permitted by Divine Providence day by day and even hour by hour. Thus did the Virgin Mother make her way with Saint Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, from Bethlehem into Egypt, from Egypt to Nazareth, to Jerusalem, and again to Nazareth. Mary’s obedience was costly: the “Yes” that she offered to God over and over again cost her many tears, great sorrows, and bitter separations. It was by her obedience of submission to the designs of God, as these unfolded, that Mary made her way along the via crucis to take her place beside the Cross. It was in obedience to the word of her Son uttered from the Cross — “Woman, behold thy son” (John 19:26) — that Mary went to live with John, shared with John the indescribable joy of the Resurrection, with John ascended the Mount of Olives, and with him withdrew into the Cenacle, there to await the outpouring of the Holy Ghost.

When a novice is clothed in the scapular, it is the symbol of his being yoked to Christ in a life of obedience. There are, to be sure, days and seasons in the life of a novice when the scapular weighs heavily on his shoulders. There are also days and seasons when a novice struggles to remain yoked to Christ, and there are hours when he is tempted to cast off the yoke and all that it represents. On the day of his monastic profession, the young monk says to Our Lord, “In spite of the struggles, trusting in Thy grace, and knowing full well that I will not be spared temptations and suffering in the future, I resolve to remain yoked to Thee in obedience to the Father”. This is why Saint Benedict says that obedience “becometh those who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ”. Monastic obedience is a choice of love.

In a sense, monastic profession is the great expression of active obedience that sets a monk on course for the rest of life. The life of a monk, like that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is shaped by an active obedience to the will of God, made known concretely through the Rule and the commands of his abbot, and an obedience of submission to the events and circumstances willed or permitted by Divine Providence. The Solemn Consecration that follows the Simple Profession after three years seals a monk in “obedience unto death” (Philippians 2:8), fulfilling in his life that saying of the Lord: “I came not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me” (John 6:38).

Our Lady’s last recorded saying in the Gospel is not a suggestion, nor is it an exhortation; it is a positive command to obey :

Dicit mater ejus ministris: Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite.
His mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye. (John 2:5)

It seems to me that in saying these words, Our Lady was disclosing what she had learned through her obedience. The Blessed Virgin Mary, no less than her Son, learned obedience from the things she suffered (cf. Hebrews 5:8). By obeying, Our Lady discovered that God was indeed true to all his promises, and that obedience was the sure way, the only way, of entering into His magnificent designs.

He has looked graciously upon the lowliness of his handmaid. Behold, from this day forward all generations will count me blessed; because he who is mighty, he whose name is holy, has wrought for me his wonders. (Luke 1:48–49)

There are, in the life of every monk and, indeed, in the life of every man, hours when the magnificent designs of God are shrouded in darkness, when one sees no light, hears no comforting voice, and feels no consoling presence. In such hours a monk is saved by his obedience. By allowing himself to be led by another, by the other who holds the place of Christ in the monastery, his abbot, a monk can emerge from darkness, recover hope, and begin to see again, with eyes washed by many tears, that “to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints” (Romans 8:28).

 

Little children, love one another (IV:4)

21 Jan. 22 May. 21 Sept.
62. Daily to fulfil by one’s deeds the commandments of God.
63. To love chastity.
64. To hate no man.
65. Not to give way to jealousy and envy.
66. Not to love strife.
67. To fly from vainglory.
68. To reverence the Seniors.
69. To love the juniors.
70. To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
72. And never to despair of God’s mercy.

Behold, these are the tools of the spiritual craft, which, if they be constantly employed day and night, and duly given back on the day of judgment, will gain for us from the Lord that reward which He Himself hath promised – “which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love Him.” And the workshop where we are to labour at all these things is the cloister of the monastery, and stability in the community.

At the end of the Instruments of Good Works, our father Saint Benedict returns to the great commandments with which he opened the Chapter:

1. In primis Dominum Deum diligere ex toto corde, tota anima, tota virtute.
2. Deinde proximum tamquam seipsum.
1. In the first place, to love the Lord God with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, and all one’s strength.
2. Then one’s neighbour as oneself.

Our holy patriarch sums up these two commandments in the 62nd Instrument: “Daily to fulfil by our deeds the commandments of God”. This final portion of Chapter IV makes me think of what Saint Jerome recounts concerning the Apostle Saint John in his extreme old age (Commentary on Chapter 6 of the Epistle to the Galatians). The Beloved Disciple of Jesus, being in his nineties, was so frail that men were obliged to carry him into the church in Ephesus on his bed. The old Evangelist, who, as a young man, had rested his head upon the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper in the Cenacle, was past the age of preaching long discourses. When the people asked him for a word, John would prop himself up on his elbow and say only this: “Little children, love one another”.  Having said all that he could, he would recline again on his bed, and his disciples would carry him out. Week after week, the same thing happened. Saint John had only one sermon to give, and it was always the same one: “Little children, love one another”. It is said that when some good soul asked Saint John why he preached always the same thing, he replied, “This I do because it is enough”.

Saint Benedict goes on to present nine Instruments to guard, foster, and express our love for one another:

63. To love chastity.
Only the chaste man is able to love unselfishly. Chastity allows a man to enter into the circle dance of charity in which each person humbly defers to the other, eschewing every form of manipulation, and respecting the boundaries that allow the other to move harmoniously and freely within the beauty of the larger corporate pattern.

The man who loves the Blessed Virgin Mary, and prays to her, especially as the Immaculate Conception, will begin, over time — even if there are struggles along the way — to discover that chastity is not a privation, a deficit, or an aching emptiness. There are two strophes of the Ave Maris Stella that I especially love:

Virgo singularis,
inter omnes mites,
nos culpis solutos,
mitis fac et castos.
Virgin all excelling,
mildest of the mild,
free from guilt preserve us
meek and undefiled.
Vitam praesta puram,
iter para tutum:
ut videntes Iesum
semper collaetemur.
Keep our life all spotless,
make our way secure
till we find in Jesus,
joy for evermore.

Chastity makes the communion of cenobitical life possible; and communion  with God and with one’s fathers and brothers is the surest way to happiness. Even in the cloister a man can indulge in glittering and deceitful fantasies. It all comes back to the drama that the psalmist describes so poignantly:

I was near losing my foothold, felt the ground sink under my steps,
such heart-burning had I at seeing the good fortune of sinners that defy his law;
for them, never a pang; healthy and sleek their bodies shew.
Not for these to share man’s common lot of trouble;
the plagues which afflict human kind still pass them by. . . .
Look at these sinners, how they live at peace, how they rise to greatness!
Why then, thought I, it is to no purpose that I have kept my heart true,
and washed my hands clean in pureness of living;
still, all the while, I am plagued for it, and no morning comes but my scourging is renewed. (Psalm 72:2–13)

When, through the intercession of the Mother of God, a man begins to love chastity, he also begins to see beauty all around him, and that beauty fills him with joy. Unchaste men are invariably lonely and unhappy; chaste men, on the other hand, become capable of friendship, and go through life with dilated hearts, that is, with an expanded capacity for joy.

64. To hate no man.
65. Not to give way to jealousy and envy.
66. Not to love strife.
67. To fly from vainglory.
The man who can search his heart and say that he hates no one has made a real beginning in charity. The man who holds onto old hatreds or ruminates old hurts will come up against a wall in all his relationships, beginning with his relationship to God. I have known brothers utterly blocked in their prayer because they are, consciously or unwittingly, withholding forgiveness from someone in their past. No sooner does a man forgive the people who hurt him in the past, than he recovers the ability to relate to God. Again, it is the Beloved Disciple who says:

But he that hateth his brother, is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth; because the darkness hath blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:11)

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not, abideth in death. (1 John 3:14)

Jealousy and envy render life in the cloister toxic. Often, humble confession to the abbot is enough to put such thoughts to flight. Jealousy and envy in the monastic life may be linked to the psychology of a brother’s place in the birth order of his family.

First–born sons tend to be controlling; they want to keep power concentrated in their own hands and, as a result, may become jealous or envious of anyone who threatens their ascendancy. They see themselves as bigger than everyone else because, growing up, they were, in fact bigger than their siblings.

Sons born in the middle are often conflicted; they come into the world occupying centre stage. They can be desperate for someone with whom they can play or, paradoxically, prefer isolation to the risk of rejection. They look first to one side and then to the other for approval, protection, and companionship; they may become jealous or envious of anyone who claims the attention of their parents and siblings.

Last–born sons often receive enormous amounts of affection, attention, and even indulgence. Everything the baby of the family does is found endearing, even his little tantrums. The baby of the family quickly learns how to get want he wants. If an unexpected baby arrives after him, he can become terrified of losing his privileged place, and so fall into rages of jealousy and envy against his usurper.

Only sons see themselves as the centre of the universe. They expect and demand undivided attention and undiluted admiration. Having learned at an early age how to manipulate Mummy and Daddy, they can be experts at playing one authority figure off another in order to get their way.

68. To reverence the Seniors.
69. To love the juniors.
70. To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
Reverence and affection, the one tempering the other, are characteristic of healthy relationships in the monastery. In entering the monastery one becomes a son and a brother; then, by persevering ten, twenty, or thirty years in the monastery one becomes a father. For us, reverence and affection are expressed in a variety of little ways, principally in the conventual customs that shape the way we relate one to another. Do not discount the importance of the silent but smiling acknowledgement given to a brother whenever one crosses his path. In going through a door, the younger brother always steps aside to let his senior pass before him. One welcomes the arrival of the abbot, or begins  a conversation with him, or takes leave of him with an inclination. One learns to kneel in acknowledgement one’s faults, and to say sincerely, Benedicite, Deo gratias, and Mea culpa. Then, there is the matter of how we address one another: here at Silverstream, we are, I think, quite good at addressing one another appropriately, in accordance with the Holy Rule.

Let the younger brethren, then, reverence their elders, and the elder love the younger. In calling each other by name, let none address another by his simple name; but let the elders call the younger brethren Brothers, and the younger call their elders Reverend Fathers, by which is implied the reverence due to a father. But let the Abbot, since he is considered to represent the person of Christ, be called Lord and Abbot, not that he hath taken it upon himself, but out of reverence and love for Christ. Let him be mindful of this, and shew himself to be worthy of such an honour. Wherever the brethren meet one another, let the younger ask a blessing from the elder. And when the elder passeth by, let the younger rise, and give place to him to sit down; nor let the younger presume to sit with him, unless the elder bid him, that it may come to pass as it is written: “In honour preferring one another.”  (Chapter LXIII)

All of these practices are the choreography of charity. Never let coldness, callousness, or a stony–faced aloofness take hold. Instead, resolve to practice always the charity of which we sing during the washing of the feet at the clothing of a new novice:

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.

And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

Saint Benedict closes his inventory of the Instruments of Good Works with the one that, at all times, is within reach of all, no matter our wretchedness, no matter our struggles, no matter our falls: Et de Dei misericordia numquam desperare, “And never to despair of God’s mercy”. A single act of confidence in the mercy of God can be enough to repair the past and set one back on course in grace. O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy merciful goodness. The psalmist puts it this way: Ego autem in te speravi, “But I have put my trust in thee” (Psalm 30:15).

At the very end of this Chapter, Saint Benedict adds, ” And the workshop where we are to labour at all these things is the cloister of the monastery, and stability in the community”. Temptations against enclosure and stability are among the most pernicious thoughts a monk can have. The devil seeks by every means to draw a monk out of the monastery. He presents a hundred justifications, excuses, and strategies for doing this. The devil is an astute psychologist; he knows that temptations against stability are among the most subtle and successful means of tricking a man into leaving the good that he has for the illusion of an apparent good that awaits him somewhere, anywhere else. The same strategy is at work when a husband or wife is tempted to look outside the enclosure of marriage and family for something, anything, more fulfilling than what he or she already has.

The psalmist teaches a man to say: “Here is a soul that puts its trust in thee, I will take refuge under the shelter of thy wings, till the storms pass by” (Psalm 56:2). I have always found that the most effective response to temptations against stability is flight to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not for nothing does the oldest extant prayer to the Mother of God begin: Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix. If you are tempted against stability, do not panic, confess your thoughts and, then, hunker down, rosary in hand, and quietly tell your beads until, as Saint Peter says, “the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).

 

 

To fall frequently to prayer (IV:3)

20 Jan. 21 May. 20 Sept.
44. To fear the Day of Judgment.
45. To be in dread of hell.
46. To desire with a special longing everlasting life.
47. To keep death daily before one’s eyes.
48. To keep guard at all times over the actions of one’s life.
49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
50. To dash down on the (Rock) Christ one’s evil thoughts, the instant that they come into the heart.
51. And to lay them open to one’s spiritual father.
52. To keep one’s mouth from evil and wicked words.
53. Not to love much speaking.
54. Not to speak vain words or such as move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or excessive laughter.
56. To listen willingly to holy reading.
57. To apply oneself frequently to prayer.
58. Daily to confess one’s past sins with tears and sighs to God, and to amend them for the time to come.
59. Not to fulfil the desires of the flesh: to hate one’s own will.
60. To obey in all things the commands of the Abbot, even though he himself (which God forbid) should act otherwise: being mindful of that precept of the Lord: “What they say, do ye; but what they do, do ye not.”
61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is so: but first to be holy, that one may be truly so called.

On this first day of the glorious Octave of Pentecost, I should like to dwell with you on the 56th and 57th Instruments of Good Works, given that both of them imply the action of the Holy Ghost in a special way:

56. Lectiones sanctas libenter audire.
To listen willingly to holy reading.
57. Orationi frequenter incumbere.
To fall frequently to prayer.

To listen willingly — libenter, the word means gladly or readily — to holy readings. Saint Benedict does not speak of reading; he speaks rather of listening. One can, of course, listen to another read; one can also, and in a certain sense, one must listen to oneself read. The man whose eyes skim the page diagonally is not listening to what he is speed–reading. Saint Benedict uses the word audire, to listen, in reference to the public readings of the monastic day: in church, in the refectory, and at the close of the day, just before Compline. He refers also, I think, to the reading of individual monks; such reading would have been at least articulated by moving the lips. The ancients could not conceive of reading in a completely inaudible way. Reading always implied listening. In holy reading one inclines the ear of the heart to God, saying with the psalmist:

Audiam quid loquatur in me Dominus Deus, quoniam loquetur pacem in plebem suam, et super sanctos suos, et in eos qui convertuntur ad cor.
I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me: for he will speak peace unto his people: And unto his saints: and unto them that are converted to the heart. (Psalm 84:9)

The emphasis on listening brings us back to the opening of the Prologue of the Holy Rule and to the image of Our Our Lady, the Virgo Audiens.

Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magistri, et inclina aurem cordis tui.
Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart. (Prologue)

The brother who is listening to what he reads, or who listens well to what is being read by another, allows the Holy Ghost to inscribe the word on the tablet of his heart or, if you will, he so receives the impression of the word and keeps it, that it can, at any moment, serve to ignite the flame of prayer within him. Reading is an impression of the word; prayer is the expression of it. At the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin Mary consented to the impression of the Word: “Be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). At the Visitation, she gave expression to the Word when she said:”My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46–47) .

A monk never stops listening to the Word of God, never stops listening for the Word of God. A monk listens for the Word of God in the way a mother listens for the cry of her small child, or in the way a lover listens for the sound of the footsteps of the one he loves. He says with the bride of the Canticle:

Vox dilecti mei; ecce iste venit, saliens in montibus, transiliens colles.
The voice of my beloved, behold he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping over the hills. (Canticle 2:8)

Men coming to the monastery out of today’s digital culture may find the sort of reading that is listening difficult. I do worry that men may one day knock at our door with little or no experience of reading anything apart from what appears before them on a computer screen. An integral part of monastic conversion today is learning how to read and how to listen, attentively, gratuitously, and chastely. The brother who listens attentively, that is, with an undivided heart, imitates Mary of Bethany “who sitting also at the Lord’s feet, heard his word” (Luke 10:39). The brother who listens gratuitously does so libenter, that is, freely and with a glad heart, not because he is obligated to do so or out of constraint.

What do I mean by reading chastely? When a man approaches a text as a consumer, to extract something from it that will empower him, or give him pleasure, or make him rich, that man is not reading chastely. A Benedictine monk must learn to read chastely; he will approach the text open before him with reverence, with wonder, with a readiness to welcome humbly and gratefully whatever is offered him. Words are sacramental; they conceal and reveal The Word. When a monk reads or listens to holy words, under the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, they allow him to taste the sweetness of God, or to be burned by the fire of God, or pierced by the love of God.

Ask the Blessed Virgin Mary for the grace of the 56th Instrument of Good Works: to listen gladly to holy reading. Learn to read in the company of Our Lady. Interrupt your reading now and again with an Ave Maria. And when you have finished the time allotted to holy reading, entrust all that you have read to Mary, remembering what we read in the Gospel concerning her Immaculate Heart:

Maria autem conservabat omnia verba hæc, conferens in corde suo.
But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)
Et mater ejus conservabat omnia verba hæc in corde suo.
And his mother kept all these words in her heart. (Luke 2:51)

The 57th Instrument of Good Works is: Orationi frequenter incumbere, which I like to translate as,”To fall frequently to prayer”. The notion of falling to prayer suggests that prayer is the “default setting” of a monk’s heart. It implies that the son of Saint Benedict is so drawn to God that whenever is mind is sufficiently free from other things, it comes to rest in the heart, where God is secretly present and where prayer is ceaseless. There are, to be sure, many ways of arriving at the ceaseless prayer of the heart. I have spoken to you often of Cassian’s Conferences IX and X on prayer. I have shared with you my own experience of coming, by God’s gift alone and not by any merit of mine, to an almost continuous repetition of the little invocation, “O Jesus, King of Love”.

Allow me now to say something about the prayer that, at least for me, has always unblocked my inability to pray. The inability to pray is at the root of every other difficulty in the monastic life. Just think of it: a man leaves the world; tears himself away from the people and places he loves; renounces most of the things that gave him pleasure or, at least, provided him with relief from the pressures of life; and enters the monastery. Now, why does a man enter the monastery — especially one like our own with enclosure, silence, a demanding choral Office, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament — if not to pray? What happens when a monk, in spite of his best efforts, finds himself incapable of praying? Do not be so naive as to think that this never happens; and do not be so presumptuous as to think that it will never happen to you. Let’s just say that it does happen. God permits such things, obliging us to hold tightly to Our Lord’s word to the Apostles concerning Lazarus: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God: that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” (John 11:4). A sickness it is, and not one that garners one much sympathy because it is invisible. When the symptoms become acute enough to be noticed, the malady is already far advanced. It is a terrible thing when a brother says, “Here I am, a monk, and an enclosed monk at that, a man whose whole life is defined by prayer, and I cannot pray”. Such a brother is right to identify with the prophet Elijah in the desert:

And when he was there, and sat under a juniper tree, he requested for his soul that he might die, and said: It is enough for me, Lord, take away my soul: for I am no better than my fathers. (3 Kings 19:4)

I have known monks who found themselves in this very state, men who gave up everything to embrace a way of life in which they hoped to pray as they breathed, and who, after some time, found that they could no longer pray at all. The Divine Office becomes an intolerable burden; adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament becomes an exhausting fight against debilitating onslaughts of negative thoughts; and lectio divina becomes a struggle against sleep or disquieting distractions, or both. A brother in this state is likely to conclude: “If a monk is, essentially, a man who prays, then I am no monk at all. What am I doing here? Was this all a cruel trick? Did God lead me me here to sabotage me?” The whole situation puts one in mind of the words of the children of Israel to Moses:

Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat over the flesh pots, and ate bread to the full. Why have you brought us into this desert, that you might destroy all the multitude with famine? (Exodus 16:3)

Is there any remedy for the brother so afflicted There is, and it is found in the outstretched hand of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the rosary, the poor man’s Divine Office, and the prayer most often recommended by the Mother of God to little children, to the poor, to the tempted, and to the sick. The astonishing thing about the rosary is that it can be long enough to allow a man to sink deeply into the presence of God, and short enough — a single decade, for example — to allow a man to find a foothold and catch his breath. I have known men, even monks, for whom prayer had become impossible, who, in obedience to a spiritual father, begrudgingly took up the rosary as a last–ditch attempt to save, not just their monastic vocation, but even their very faith, and who found within a short time that whatever obstacle lay between them and God, between them and prayer, had been removed.

I have known men whose life with God had broken down completely, men on the very edge of despair, who began to tell their beads as best they could, and who, within days and sometimes within hours, began to sense relief. Never was it known that anyone who fled to Mary, stammering an Ave, has been sent away empty, or been refused the alms that she distributes on behalf of her Divine Son. I have known men in the grip of anger who became meek as lambs after beginning to pray the rosary; I have known men, beleaguered by temptations to intellectual and spiritual pride, who became humble after taking up the beads. I have known men tortured by demons of sexual impurity and driven half–mad by the itch of lust who, after undertaking to say the rosary regularly, found that they began to love chastity, just as Saint Benedict enjoins, even to the point of finding joy in the practice of perfect continence.

If you desire the grace of Saint Benedict’s 57th Instrument of Good Works, “To fall frequently to prayer”, begin by saying the rosary as best you can, as often as you can, and as much as you can. I promise you that the Blessed Virgin Mary will respond to your Aves with a divinely disproportionate generosity. Everything in your life will go better. Things that, formerly, you found rebarbative or impossible will become attractive and easy. Mary’s Psalter is a pledge of supernatural relief. The monk who takes up his beads and perseveres in telling them, whatever his infirmities of body or of mind, will not be disappointed in his hope. The rosary is the way to fall frequently to prayer.

 

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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