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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.
The Lord is seeking His own workman. Who is this workman and what is his work? We discover the workman in Genesis 2:15
So the Lord God took the man and put him in his garden of delight, to cultivate and tend it.
From the beginning, even before the fall, the divine plan was that man should cultivate and tend the garden of paradise, which God Himself had planted. God, the Creator and the gardener of paradise, calls man to continue His work. Man is, from the beginning, God’s worker and God’s co–worker.
The medieval Fathers speak of the paradisus claustralis, the claustral paradise in which men, set apart for the praise of the glory of God, labour at the things that please Him, uproot vice, and cultivate the fruits of the Holy Ghost. Man’s work — his great royal and priestly work — was, from the beginning the praise of the glory of God. Saint Paul presents this, the grandiose master plan of God, in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ: As he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity. Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will: Unto the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath graced us in his Beloved Son. (Ephesians 1:3–6)
The only work that ultimately gives meaning to human life, was forfeited by the sin of our original parents, Adam and Eve. Thus begins man’s tragic search, in this valley of tears, for something to give meaning to his life. The monastic life is a return, by obedience, to the paradise of grace. Into this paradise of grace, Christ, the new Adam, and His Immaculate Mother, the new Eve, summon a new body of workers, some at the first hour, others at the third hour, others at the sixth, others at the ninth, and still others at the eleventh hour.
Yes, it was grace that saved you, with faith for its instrument; it did not come from yourselves, it was God’s gift, not from any action of yours, or there would be room for pride. No, we are his design; God has created us in Christ Jesus, pledged to such good actions as he has prepared beforehand, to be the employment of our lives.
Saint Benedict depicts the Lord as crying out to any man who yearns for happiness, for the restoration of order to his life here below, for a foretaste of heaven on earth, and for an inbreaking of eternity into time:
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”.
One comes to the monastery, to the claustral paradise, to be happy, but not to be happy on one’s own terms and under one’s own conditions (for such was the sin of our first parents) but to be happy with the happiness that God has reserved for those who love and who keep His commandments: «Keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it».
God attaches wondrous promises to the keeping of His commandments in the claustral paradise. These promises are, in every way, as consoling and sweet as all the promises made in private revelations to the saints and mystics through the ages?
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”.
For us, Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, these divine promises have a particular and immediate resonance. It is from the Sacrament of His Love that Our Lord fixes His eyes upon us; it is in the Sacrament of His Love that Our Lord opens His ears to our prayers; it is from the Sacrament of His Love that Our Lord says to us, even before we call upon Him, “Behold, I am here”.
It is the real, abiding presence of Christ our God in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar that makes the monastery a claustral paradise and a foretaste of heaven. When a monk begins to sink into unhappiness he must immediately turn to the fountain of all joy that irrigates the cloister. This is the secret of the joy of which Our Lord speaks in the great discourse of the Cenacle:
One day I will see you again, and then your hearts will be glad; and your gladness will be one which nobody can take away from you. (John 16:22)
Saint Benedict concludes with his own words of admiration, and gratitude, and wonder:
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.
All of this is, of course, conditional, on a man’s accepting Our Lord’s invitation to become His workman. The workman of Christ — whose primary work is the Opus Dei — ploughs his furrows with the Cross,, sows the pure seed of the Word of God, waters with his tears and with the sweat of his brow what has been sown, and submits to the fire of the Holy Ghost to burn up the weeds and thorns that crop up everywhere. The workman of Christ accepts to labour, not following his own patterns and designs but, rather, those laid out by Christ, and presented to him daily in the Rule and in the teachings of the abbot.
One does not come to the monastery as to some kind of pious resort for a long religious holiday. A monk is not a tourist in paradise. He is a humble labourer. And, when he lifts his eyes, from the work before him, He meets the gaze of Christ upon which shines the glory of the Father and the joy of the Holy Ghost.