Christ Seeking His Workman

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Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
3 Jan. 4 May. 3 Sept.
And the Lord, seeking His own workman in the multitude of the people to whom He thus crieth out, saith again: "Who is the man that will have life, and desireth to see good days. And if thou, hearing Him, answer, "I am he," God saith to thee: "If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, "Behold, I am here." What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.

Seeking Workmen

This portion of the Prologue is best read, I think, against the parable of the labourers in the vineyard:

The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing in the market place idle. And he said to them: Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just. And they went their way. And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did in like manner. But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he saith to them: Why stand you here all the day idle? They say to him: Because no man hath hired us. He saith to them: Go you also into my vineyard. (Matthew 20:1-7)

The Work of God

Christ descends into the marketplace of the world, a place of chaos, bargaining, trickery, and dreams of a better life. He stands in the midst of the multitude, in much the same way as He stood once on the last and greatest day of the festival, crying out, "If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink" (John 7:37). He is looking for workmen, that is for men who will share in His own divine work: "My Father worketh until now," He says, "and I work" (John 5:17). What is this pressing work of Our Lord and of His Father? "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29).

The Gift of Faith

The gift of faith is the work of the Father operating secretly in the soul by the Holy Ghost to bring the soul to Christ. "No man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father" (John 6:66). The work of man is to receive the gift of faith freely offered, and to stake his life upon it and nothing else. This is what a monk does. He stakes his life -- his one and only life -- upon the fidelity of the Father, who has drawn him to the Son, by the Holy Ghost. This is the essential work of the monk: a participation in the very work of God.

Life and Happiness

What are the fundamental qualifications that Christ looks for in a workman? They are very simple: that the workman desire life and want to see good days. The work to which Our Lord calls men is not an end in itself; it is ordered to the abundant life that only He can give. "I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Work in the vineyard of the Lord is likewise ordered to good days, that is, to happiness. Nothing makes a man happier -- in this life and in the next -- than becoming a co-worker with Christ in the Work of God.

Keep Thy Tongue from Evil

When a man, hearing Christ's invitation, answers, "I am he," God immediately engages him in a new way of being: true and everlasting life belongs to the man who keeps his tongue from evil and his lips from guile. Silence is an indispensable condition of this new way of being. "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man" (James 3:2). Christ's workman is not quick to speak. He listens. He observes. He ponders. He looks upon others with eyes of mercy. When he speaks, his discourse is gracious and mild, soothing and modest.

Turn Away from Evil and Do Good

True and everlasting life belongs to the man who turns away from evil (i.e., avoids the occasions of sin) and does good (i.e, practices virtue); who seeks after peace and pursues it. It is not enough to turn away from what is evil; Christ's workman turns towards what is good. He is not negative and dismal, forever harping on what is wrong, and castigating corruption; rather, he turns away from the darkness resolutely and, facing the light, invests his best energies in doing good. It is especially important in one's conversation to eschew the dreary rehearsal of all that is wrong in others, in the Church, and in the world, so as to focus, instead, on the power of grace, the splendour of the truth, and the beauty of holiness.

Seek After Peace and Pursue It

Benedictine life is the pursuit of peace, not the fragile, negotiated, and transient peace that is the fruit of merely human endeavour, but the divine peace that descends from above, the gift of the Lamb of God, imparted to those who partake of His sacrifice. The coat-of-arms of the Benedictine monks of the Congregation of Saint-Maur in the 17th century bore the word "Pax" encircled by a crown of thorns: pax inter spinas. The legendary pax benedictina (benedictine peace) is won at the price of much suffering. It is the prize of those who enter with the Lamb into the thicket of His bitter passion and, with Him, become obedient unto death, even death on a cross. "As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter" (Romans 8:36). Mother Mectilde de Bar was fond of describing the Benedictine way as "a life of death." She meant, by this, that all is fleeting and disappointing here below, save union with Christ in His passion and death.

The Promises

Today's portion of the Prologue ends with a series of glorious promises:

And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, "Behold, I am here." What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.

There is nothing more consoling in the monastic life than the assurance that, if one lives as Christ's workman, one can be certain of meeting His gaze, of being heard in the hour of prayer, and of finding Christ waiting and desirous of one's company, even before one has begun to pray. "The Master is come," said Martha to Mary, "and calleth for thee" (John 11:28). At every hour of the day and night, Christ speaks from the tabernacles where He dwells as one poor and hidden, saying "Behold, I am here." There is nothing sweeter to the ear of Christ's worker than this invitation to abide close to Him who, out of love, abides close to the poorest and to the least of all.


Fr Prior,

I'm so happy you've begun this series. I have G.A. Simon's Commentary for Oblates, which I find a treasure, but I confess I dip into it haphazardly.

Being able to read the Rule along with you, and actually benefit from the reflections of my prior is something special. I feel like I'm right there with you all...which of course, I am.

~ Br Melchesidech

Dear Dom Mark,

Your daily commentaries on the Holy Rule have been such a very great help to this oblate. There is always an answer I have been searching for in your words of explanation. Thank you for these precious gifts!

- F.R.M.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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