The Benedictine abbot in the photo, an Irishman, is Blessed Columba Marmion (1858-1923). Upon the recommendation of a Trappist Father, I started reading Abbot Marmion when I was fifteen years old. Pope John Paul II beatified Dom Marmion on September 3, 2000.
Monday of the Fourth Week of Paschaltide
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts Saint Peter’s illumination concerning the integration of Gentiles into the Christian community. It takes place in the city of Joppa while Peter is at his noonday prayers on the roof of the house where he was lodging. This is one of the events commemorated each day at the Hour of Sext, the Church’s Sixth Hour Prayer, corresponding to midday. The point of the reading is, I think, in the last sentence: “It seems God has granted life-giving repentance of heart to the Gentiles too” (Ac 11:18).
Penitence Unto Life
Life-giving repentance — what the Latin text beautifully calls paenitentiam ad vitam, penitence unto life — is a gift of God, an effect of divine grace. Repentance begins when the heart is touched by the Word of God, or by the Finger of God’s Right Hand, the Holy Ghost. We come again to the central notion of compunction. Blessed Abbot Marmion, in his classic Christ the Ideal of the Monk, devotes all of chapter seven to compunction of heart. He treats of it masterfully under six headings, drawing abundantly from Sacred Scripture, the Liturgy, and the experience of the Saints.
I don’t know when you last picked up Christ the Ideal of the Monk. I just know that there is no book quite like it. It is the work of a saint. And the chapter on compunction of heart is, to my mind, the spiritual core of the book. Treat yourself to a refresher course in Benedictine Life. Go back to the novitiate, at least spiritually. The book hasn’t changed, but you have.
Blessed Abbot Marmion asks: “Where will we obtain the spirit of compunction? How do we acquire so great a good? First of all, by asking it of God. This ‘gift of tears’ is so precious, it is so lofty a grace, that we will obtain it by imploring it of ‘the Father of lights from whom descends upon us every perfect gift.'”
The Good Shepherd and the Wolf
In the Gospel there are several figures. There is the Good Shepherd. There is the hireling. And there is the wolf. Where there are sheep there will be wolves, slinking around, looking for an opportunity to attack.
In his First Epistle Saint Peter speaks, not of the wolf, but of the roaring lion, the devil, “who is your enemy” and who goes about to find his prey. Mother Church in her realism and wisdom made Saint Peter’s admonition part of Compline because it is something we need to hear every night: “Be sober and watch well; the devil who is your enemy, goes about roaring like a lion, to find his prey, but you, grounded in the faith, must face him boldly” (1 P 5:9).
Some of you may picture the devil as a wolf. Others of you may want to think of him as a lion. Both images are scriptural. You are in danger when you forget about him entirely, when you let down your guard, when you give up on sobriety and watchfulness. That is when the wolf — or the lion — moves in for the attack.
Defended With the Wood of the Cross
If you would be safe, if you would enjoy a protection that no creature can violate or trouble, then remain close to the Good Shepherd. Seek out His company. Abide close to His Heart. He knows your weakness. He knows your need. He alone can put the wolf and the lion to flight. When the devil sees the Blood of Christ on your lips and the fire of the Body of Christ descending into your heart, he takes flight. The soul who lives from one Holy Communion to the next is, at every moment, safe in the presence of the Good Shepherd. Wolves and lions may circle around you, but they dare not approach one whom the Good Shepherd protects with the wood of the Cross.