Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
4 Jan. 5 May. 4 Sept.
Having our loins, therefore, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we may deserve to see Him Who hath called us to His kingdom. And if we wish to dwell in the tabernacle of His kingdom, we shall by no means reach it unless we run thither by our good deeds. But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet, saying to Him: “Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?” After this question, brethren, let us hear the Lord answering, and shewing to us the way to His tabernacle, and saying: “He that walketh without stain and worketh justice: he that speaketh truth in his heart, that hath not done guile with his tongue: he that hath done no evil to his neighbour, and hath not taken up a reproach against his neighbour:” he that hath brought the malignant evil one to naught, casting him out of his heart with all his suggestions, and hath taken his bad thoughts, while they were yet young, and dashed them down upon the (Rock) Christ. These are they, who fearing the Lord, are not puffed up with their own good works, but knowing that the good which is in them cometh not from themselves but from the Lord, magnify the Lord Who worketh in them, saying with the Prophet: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the glory.” So the Apostle Paul imputed nothing of his preaching to himself, but said: “By the grace of God I am what I am.” And again he saith: “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
In the Tabernacle of the King
Saint Benedict makes it clear that a monk’s deepest desire is not only to see Christ, but also to dwell in His royal tabernacle. “One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may see the delight of the Lord, and may visit his temple” (Psalm 26:40). It is the will of Christ, expressed in His priestly prayer in the Cenacle that those who belong to Him should be with Him where He is:
Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24)
Saint Benedict is fond of using dynamic verbs, denoting swift action; thus, he would have his monk run to the royal tabernacle of the Lord by good deeds. Pious aspirations are not enough. One must demonstrate with concrete deeds one’s desire to live in Christ and with Christ. These need not be huge deeds nor feats of ascetical prowess. On the contrary, the deeds by which one runs to the royal tabernacle of the Lord, and gains entrance therein, are very little deeds, deeds that are hidden in the ordinary course of one’s day, beginning with the tasks that belong to one’s state in life. This is the “little way” of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face.
The Oeuf and the Boeuf
I have experienced many times that a very little deed done for Christ releases an entirely disproportionate deluge of graces. Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort quotes a homely French proverb that expresses this perfectly: Pour un oeuf, il donne un boeuf. The gist of the saying is this: give God an egg (something very little) and, in return, He will give you an ox (something very large). I knew a person who decided one day to be rid of the clutter accumulated in his closet, a collection of things to which he had become attached. Acting decisively against his own tendency to cling to things (out of insecurity, no doubt), he undertook to free himself of the possessions that had come to possess him. The result was a life-transforming flood of graces, entirely disproportionate to the things given away.
Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
The point of Saint Benedict’s teaching here is that we approach the tabernacle of the Lord not by sighs of devotion, but by actually doing something, however insignificant this little something may appear. Saint Thérèse’s example of the toddler trying to climb the staircase by repeatedly lifting his little foot to the first step, is a perfect illustration of this. At length, the child’s father, charmed by the child’s persistence in doing something (however ineffectual) lifts the child into his strong arms and carries him in triumph to the top of the staircase.
Saint Benedict asks the Lord who will be found worthy to dwell with Him in His royal tabernacle. In response, the Lord gives Psalm 14:
Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? or who shall rest in thy holy hill? He that walketh without blemish, and worketh justice: He that speaketh truth in his heart, who hath not used deceit in his tongue: Nor hath done evil to his neighbour: nor taken up a reproach against his neighbours. In his sight the malignant is brought to nothing: but he glorifieth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his neighbour, and deceiveth not; He that hath not put out his money to usury, nor taken bribes against the innocent: He that doth these things shall not be moved for ever.
Jesus gives the fulfillment of Psalm 14 in the Beatitudes:
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him. And opening his mouth, he taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. The poor in spirit: That is, the humble; and they whose spirit is not set upon riches. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)
All of this being said, danger lies even in the doing of good deeds: the mortal danger of pride. Even as the monk advances towards the royal tabernacle of the Lord, he sings with every step, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the glory” (Psalm 113:9). Saint Benedict’s monk has inclined the ear of his heart to the words once addressed by Christ to Saint Paul: “My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity” (2 Corinthians 12:9). With the Apostle, the monk will, over time, learn to say: “Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).