The Clothing of a Novice

Vestizione S BenedettoVestition of André Goibayer
Feast of Saint Miniato and Companions, Martyrs
25 October 2014

The Three Criteria

André, my very dear son, In Chapter LVIII of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict sets forth three criteria by which the abbot can judge whether or not a man is called to the monastic life. Our holy patriarch says:

Let a senior, one who is skilled in gaining souls, be appointed over him to watch him with the utmost care, and to see whether he is truly seeking God, and is intent upon the Work of God, and upon obedience and humiliations.

Here, then, are the three criteria by which I am bound to evaluate your vocation and, by which, you yourself can come to a clear discernment:

1. Are you truly seeking God?
2. Are you intent upon the Work of God?
3. Are you prompt and generous in embracing obedience and humiliations?

I. Truly Seeking God

With regard to the first: I know that you have sought God all your life. From the time you were a small boy, you have been marked by a fascination for the things of God and by a desire to know Him. It is not unlikely that you inherited this spiritual trait from your dear mother. In a sense, you imbibed the desire to seek God with your mother’s milk. God set His eye upon you, God fixed His heart upon you, from your mother’s womb. God says to you, dear son, what he said, of old, to the prophet Jeremias: « Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee » (Jeremias 1:5).

You truly seek God because you have come to believe that God truly seeks you. « We have known, and have believed the charity, which God hath to us » (1 John 4:16). A man seeks — he looks for — what he desires and, if the desire is great and strong and unrelenting, a man will not rest until he finds what he is seeking. Is this not what Saint Augustine means when he says, « Thou hast formed us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee » (Confessions, Book I, Chapter 1)?

You, dear André, did not give up the search. It led you, as the poet says, « down the nights and down the days, down the arches of the years, down the labyrinthine ways ». It led you over mountains, through forests, and over plains. It led you through deserts and across oceans. It led you from South Africa all the way to Ireland. You did not abandon the search, even when you had to walk by night with nought but the dim, flickering light of faith to guide your steps, even when you encountered the harsh realities of disappointment, disillusionment, and apparent failure.

All the while you were seeking God, God was seeking you. All the while you were looking for a place to call home, God was preparing a home for you. All the while you were praying for light and direction, God was hearing your prayer and answering the cry of your heart. The words of Our Lord are, in a wonderful and mysterious way, addressed to you: « Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened » (Luke 11:9–10).

Paradoxically, the more you seek, the more you will have to leave behind; the greater the object of your seeking, the greater will be the sum of cherished things that you will have to abandon. The man who truly seeks God is like an explorer in a frail boat who pushes off from the shore of the homeland that contains all he has known and loved, all he has caressed and held close, all that has given him comfort, and security, and a sense of belonging. The Apostle experienced this, and so he says, « The things that were gain to me, the same I have counted loss for Christ.  Furthermore I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ » (Philippians 3:7–8).

This is why Our Lord says: « And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name’ s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting » (Matthew 19:29). What is life everlasting? Our Lord Himself gives the answer in the priestly prayer that He uttered in the Cenacle on the night before His Passion: « Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent » (John 17:3). This is what Saint Benedict means when he enjoins us in Chapter LXXII of the Holy Rule: « to prefer nothing whatever to Christ ». The man who is resolved to prefer nothing whatever to Christ must, by that very fact, renounce every other preference.

To seek God truly is a costly endeavour. More often than not it requires us to tread on our own hearts, to trample underfoot our affections and our attachments, our hopes and our dreams. No sooner is this done than — O wonderful exchange! — the very things that held us back in our search for God become the bridge by which we cross over into « what eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him » (1 Corinthians 2:9).

II. Intent upon the Work of God

With regard to the second criterion: « Are you intent upon the Work of God? » The Latin text has, Si sollicitus est ad Opus Dei. To be sollicitus means to be attentive, prepared, dedicated, and devoted. A man who comes to be a monk cannot be passive or indifferent when it comes to the Opus Dei. He engages in it fully, bringing to choir not only his body, but also his intelligence, his breath, his voice and, above all, his heart.

Understand that you are embarking on a lifelong repetition of the Psalms. You are to make the Psalms the very substance of your prayer, your daily bread, the sacrament of words by which you are united in a holy communion with the prayer of the Word Himself. You will never finish your meditation of the Psalms. Nourished by the Psalms, you will grow up « unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ » (Ephesians 4:13) , and your intelligence of the Psalms will grow up with you.

Unless obedience determines otherwise for you, the Opus Dei holds the first claim on your time, your energy, and your strength. Learn to sacrifice yourself for the Opus Dei, making it a costly sacrificium laudis. Do not be afraid of spending yourself in choir in imitation of Mary of Bethany’s extravagance of love. Thus will the monastery and, indeed, the whole Church, be filled with fragrance of your prayer.

The Opus Dei continues in the silence and hiddenness of your adoration. These are not two parallel streams of prayer, each having its own headwaters and mouth. They are a single river, having its origin in the Heart of Christ and its destination in the bosom of the Father. The same Christ, who prays the Psalms through your voice, prays to His Father in the hiddenness and silence of the tabernacle. There, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, His priestly prayer is ceaseless and divinely efficacious. In adoration, it is by means of silence that Christ unites you to His prayer; in the Divine Office, it is by means of the words and gestures given you by His Bride the Church that He unites you to the same prayer.

III. Prompt and Generous in Embracing Obedience and Humiliations

We come now to the third and most demanding of Saint Benedict’s three criteria. Our father, Saint Benedict, would have you be prompt and generous in embracing obedience and humiliations. Most of us are, I think, on the contrary, prompt and generous in keeping obedience and humiliations at bay. Few of us, impaired as we are by the fetters of the world, the flesh, and the devil, are eager to cast ourselves headlong into the furnace of obedience and humiliations. Nonetheless, «Gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation » (Ecclesiasticus 2:5).

Observing you, dear son, over the past months, I have seen that you are prompt and generous in your obedience. I have seen your readiness to ask permission for things both big and small. I have rejoiced in your healthy monastic instinct to ask for my blessing before undertaking anything or going anywhere. We have all seen the quickness with which you obey, even when it involves changing your own plans or sacrificing your own time. All of these things belong to that first degree of humility: obedience without delay, which, Saint Benedict says, «becometh those who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ » (RSB 5:1).

Obedience is, according to Saint John Paul II, « the listening that changes life » (Orientale Lumen, 10).  A delay in obedience — be it measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years — is symptomatic of what Saint John calls, « the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world » (1 John 2:16). 

If I delay an act of obedience, it is because I am clinging to some fleshly — that is, self–centred — gratification; it is because I am afraid of what I will lose. This is the concupiscence of the flesh. If I delay an act of obedience, it is because I am focusing on something I have in view, instead of focusing on what God has in view for me. This is the concupiscence of the eyes. If I delay an act of obedience, it is because I am unwilling to forfeit the trifles and glittering fancies that the world tells me will make me happy; it is because I am invested in « treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal » (Matthew 6:19). This is the the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Blessed Abbot Marmion became a monk because he wanted to secure for himself something that life as a priest in the world could not guarantee him: the bonum obedientiae, the boon of obedience. In the final analysis, this is why you, or any one of us, becomes a monk. It is because we came to the sobering realisation that the Cross is our only hope. O Crux, ave, spes unica! The Cross is synonymous with obedience: « Christ humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names » (Philippians 2:8–9). 

If you, dear André, or any one of us, becomes a monk, it is because we have heard the words of Jesus and found them irresistible: « Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. 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 11:28–30), and again, « If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it » (Matthew 16:24–25).

Ubi Vera Sunt Gaudia

In a few moments, I will clothe you in the holy habit. The habit will mark you — visibly and in the eyes of all — as a man who truly seeks God, a man intent upon the Work of God, a man prompt and generous in embracing obedience and humiliations. The holy habit will mark you as a man who has found a home ubi vera sunt gaudia, where joys are true, joys untouched by the bitterness of the world, joys ever springing clear, clean, and fresh from the Heart of God.  

I assure of you this, dear son: a man who truly seeks God will not be disappointed in his hope; a man intent upon the Work of God will, even when all around him seems obscure and shrouded in shadow, reflect something of the beauty and radiance of heaven; a man prompt and generous in embracing obedience and humiliations will participate already, here and now, in the life of the risen and ascended Christ, « the beloved Son in whom the Father is well–pleased » (Matthew 3:17).

Clothed by the Mother of God

These are the three graces that I ask for you today: the grace of truly seeking God; the grace of being intent on the Work of God; the grace of embracing obedience and humiliations promptly and unconditionally. And I address my prayer to the holy Mother of God, for her Divine Son has placed all graces in her giving. Our Lady is quicker to grant these graces than are we to ask for them.  Although I will be clothing you in the holy habit, the Mother of God will have a hand in it. She who wrapped the infant Jesus in swaddling bands, she who dressed the little boy Jesus in his tunic, and wrapped His precious body in a shroud, will not refuse to clothe you, for in you she sees Him and, in you, she loves Him.

Like a little child, dear André, allow the Mother of God to do for you what you cannot do for yourself and by yourself. Then will the eyes of her Son will be upon you, then will His ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Him, He will say unto you, « Behold, I am here ».

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