Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
2 Jan. 3 May. 2 Sept.
Let us then at length arise, since the Scripture stirreth us up, saying: It is time now for us to rise from sleep.” And our eyes being open to the deifying light, let us hear with wondering ears what the Divine Voice admonisheth us, daily crying out: “To-day if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” And again, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches.” And what saith He? “Come, my children, hearken to Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Run while ye have the light of life, lest the darkness of death seize hold of you.”
Broad Strokes and Bright Colours
Yesterday’s passage from the Prologue of the Holy Rule contains elements of a baptismal catechesis. This should not surprise us, given that the monastic life, unlike later developments of consecrated life in the Church, was not established to address any special need or in response to a particular crisis as were, for example, the Dominicans (to combat heresy by contemplating and preaching truth), or the Jesuits (to be soldiers under obedience, ready at every moment to fight the Church’s enemies and to carry the message of Christ the King to the remotest ends of the earth). Monastic life is, quite simply, the baptismal life writ with broad strokes and bright colours. It is an intensification of the Way lived by the Christians of the early Church as described in the Acts of the Apostles. For this reason, monastic life is the original vita apostolica (the apostolic life) insofar as it seeks to reproduce in every age the pattern left by the Apostles. Although individual monks may, under obedience, be called to cultivate certain specialized skills or fields of knowledge, Benedictine life, as such, has no specialization
And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: many wonders also and signs were done by the apostles in Jerusalem, and there was great fear in all. And all they that believed, were together, and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart; Praising God, and having favour with all the people. (Acts 2:42-47)
I still put into the hands of every man who comes to the monastery to discern whether or not he may have a Benedictine vocation, the splendid old classic that was put into my hands so many years ago: The Ideal of the Monastic Life Found in the Apostolic Age by Dom Germain Morin, O.S.B. (1861-1946). Originally published in 1913, it has lost nothing of its value; it remains a clear and accessible exposition of Benedictine life in all its simplicity and grandeur.
In the Face of Christ Jesus
The monk is a man roused from sleep and called to stand on his two feet, as one risen from the tomb, in order to meet the gaze of the Father with the Son. The Word of God shakes him out of the cozy slumber of mediocrity. “Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep” (Romans 13:11). The heavy drapes of isolation from the Divine Light are pulled back; the brightness of Christ comes streaming into the room; the monk is obliged to wipe the sleep from his eyes and fix his gaze on the splendour of the Holy Face of Christ. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The Sound of His Voice
Having opened his eyes to the light that streams from the Face of Christ, the monk must also open his ears to the sound of His voice. There is not a day, not an hour, when Christ, the Word, is not speaking to the human heart. “Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Apocalypse 3:20). How does Christ speak? How does He knock at the door of one’s heart? He speaks through His creation. He knocks through the experience of all that is beautiful, of all that is good, and true. He speaks through Divine Revelation as received and transmitted by the Church. He knocks in every verse of the psalms that are chanted in choir by day and by night. “I sleep, and my heart watcheth; the voice of my beloved knocking: Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is full of dew, and my locks of the drops of the nights” (Canticle 5:2). He speaks through the most ordinary events and in all the circumstances of life, including failure, disappointment, loss, illness, and every manner of suffering. He even knocks by means of the experience of the sin that leaves one feeling alienated, bitter, and empty.
The Fear of the Lord
One who hearkens to the voice of Christ, one who opens the door upon hearing Him knock, will learn the fear of the Lord. What is this fear? It is not the cringing, crushing apprehension of punishment. It is, rather, the spirit of ceaseless adoration and the profound reverence that overtakes one awestruck by the closeness of the thrice-holy God. It is the spirit of the very prayer of Christ’s own prayer to the Father, a spirit at once filial and sacerdotal. Christ, “in the days of his flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7).
Now Is the Acceptable Time
Saint Benedict has no time for lolly-gaggers and dawdlers. “Run,” he says, “while ye have the light of life, lest the darkness of death overtake you.” There is an urgency about the monastic vocation, because there is an urgency about being Christian. The temptation to put off one’s response to the light and to the voice of Christ is perilous.
And we helping do exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain. For he saith: In an accepted time have I heard thee; and in the day of salvation have I helped thee. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. Giving no offence to any man, that our ministry be not blamed: but in all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in prisons, in seditions, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, in chastity, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in sweetness, in the Holy Ghost, in charity unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armour of justice on the right hand and on the left. (2 Corinthians 6:1-7)