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.”
On this second day of the new civil year, the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, our father Saint Benedict repeats to us the words of the Apostle: “It is time now for us to rise from sleep.” Saint Benedict, in fact, quotes from the very passage in the thirteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans that was instrumental in the conversion of Saint Augustine. The Doctor of Grace himself relates what happened in Chapter XII of The Confessions:
But when a profound reflection had, from the secret depths of my soul, drawn together and heaped up all my misery before the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm, accompanied by as mighty a shower of tears. Which, that I might pour forth fully, with its natural expressions, I stole away from Alypius; for it suggested itself to me that solitude was fitter for the business of weeping. So I retired to such a distance that even his presence could not be oppressive to me. Thus was it with me at that time, and he perceived it; for something, I believe, I had spoken, wherein the sound of my voice appeared choked with weeping, and in that state had I risen up. He then remained where we had been sitting, most completely astonished. I flung myself down, how, I know not, under a certain fig-tree, giving free course to my tears, and the streams of my eyes gushed out, an acceptable sacrifice unto You. And, not indeed in these words, yet to this effect, spoke I much unto You —
But You, O Lord, how long?
How long, Lord? Will You be angry for ever? Oh, remember not against us former iniquities; for I felt that I was enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries —
How long, how long? Tomorrow, and tomorrow? Why not now? Why is there not this hour an end to my uncleanness?
I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating,
Take up and read; take up and read. Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. For I had heard of Antony, that, accidentally coming in while the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him,
Go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. And by such oracle was he immediately converted unto You. So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell —
Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended — by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart — all the gloom of doubt vanished away.
Such is the power of the Word of God: it converts souls, it shines a divine brightness, a deifying light, in darkest places of the heart. The psalmist says:
The law of the Lord is unspotted, converting souls: the testimony of the Lord is faithful, giving wisdom to little ones. The justices of the Lord are right, rejoicing hearts: the commandment of the Lord is lightsome, enlightening the eyes. (Psalm 18:8–9)
Now, if such is the effect of the Word of God striking the ear of the heart by means of a passage of the Apostle’s letter, what must be the effect of the very name of the Word made flesh, Jesus? All the power of the Scriptures is condensed and contained in the Holy Name of Jesus. Thus does the Prince of the Apostles say:
Salvation is not to be found elsewhere; this alone of all the names under heaven has been appointed to men as the one by which we must needs be saved. (Acts 4:12)
I preached yesterday on the ceaseless invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus as a signal grace of the monastic life. The saints are unanimous in attesting to the power and sweetness of the Holy Name of Jesus. Saint Bernard says:
The name of Jesus is more than light, it is also food. Do you not feel increase of strength as often as you remember it? What other name can so enrich the man who meditates? What can equal its power to refresh the harassed senses, to buttress the virtues, to add vigor to good and upright habits, to foster chaste affections? Every food of the mind is dry if it is not dipped in that oil; it is tasteless if not seasoned by that salt. Write what you will, I shall not relish it unless it tells of Jesus. Talk or argue about what you will, I shall not relish it if you exclude the name of Jesus. Jesus to me is honey in the mouth, music in the ear, a song in the heart.
Again, it is a medicine. Does one of us feel sad? Let the name of Jesus come into his heart, from there let it spring to his mouth, so that shining like the dawn it may dispel all darkness and make a cloudless sky. Does someone fall into sin? Does his despair even urge him to suicide? Let him but invoke this life-giving name and his will to live will be at once renewed. The hardness of heart that is our common experience, the apathy bred of indolence, bitterness of mind, repugnance for the things of the spirit — have they ever failed to yield in presence of that saving name? The tears damned up by the barrier of our pride — how have they not burst forth again with sweeter abundance at the thought of Jesus’ name? And where is the man, who, terrified and trembling before impending peril, has not been suddenly filled with courage and rid of fear by calling on the strength of that name? Where is the man who, tossed on the rolling seas of doubt, did not quickly find certitude by recourse to the clarity of Jesus’ name? Was ever a man so discouraged, so beaten down by afflictions, to whom the sound of this name did not bring new resolve? In short, for all the ills and disorders to which flesh is heir, this name is medicine. For proof we have no less than his own promise: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Nothing so curbs the onset of anger, so allays the upsurge of pride. It cures the wound of envy, controls unbridled extravagance and quenches the flame of lust; it cools the thirst of covetousness and banishes the itch of unclean desire. For when I name Jesus I set before me a man who is meek and humble of heart, kind, prudent, chaste, merciful, flawlessly upright and holy in the eyes of all; and this same man is the all-powerful God whose way of life heals me, whose support is my strength. All these re-echo for me at the hearing of Jesus’ name. Because he is man I strive to imitate him; because of his divine power I lean upon him. The examples of his human life I gather like medicinal herbs; with the aid of his power I blend them, and the result is a compound like no pharmacist can produce.
Hidden as in a vase, in this name of Jesus, you, my soul, possess a salutary remedy against which no spiritual illness will be proof. Carry it always close to your heart, always in your hand, and so ensure that all your affections, all your actions, are directed to Jesus. You are even invited to do this: “Set me as a seal,” he says, “upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm.” Here is a theme we shall treat of again. For the moment you have this ready medicine for heart and hand. The name of Jesus furnishes the power to correct your evil actions; to supply what is wanting to imperfect ones; in this name your affections find a guard against corruption, or if corrupted, a power that will make them whole again. (Sermon XV On The Song of Songs)
Were a brother to recite the Scriptures from morning until night, were he to pray Psalter after Psalter, keeping vigil to do so, and spending his breath on nothing save the Word of God, he would not be able to equal the power and efficacy of a single invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus. The ceaseless invocation of the Name of Jesus has, over the centuries, taken various forms and expressions in the monastic life, but without it, monastic observance is, as Saint Bernard says, dry and tasteless. It is all the weariness of battle without a sabbath rest. It is a long march in the darkness without the ray of light that penetrates the heart and gives hope amidst the gloom.
Richard Rolle, a mystic of fourteenth century England, associated the Name of Jesus with three things: calor, heat; dulcor, sweetness; and canor, song. Listen to his teaching:
If you will be well with God, and have grace to rule your life, and come to the joy of love: this name Jesus, fasten it so fast in your heart that it come never out of your thought. And when you speak to him, and through custom say, “Jesus,” it shall be in your ear, joy; in your mouth; honey; and in your heart, melody: for men shall think joy to hear that name be named, sweetness to speak it, mirth, and song to think it. If you think the name “Jesus” continually, and hold it firmly, it purges your sin, and kindles your heart; it clarifies your soul, it removes anger and does away slowness. It wounds in love and fulfills charity. It chases the devil, and puts out dread. It opens heaven, and makes a contemplative man. Have Jesus in mind, for that puts all vices and phantoms out from the lover.
Saint Benedict concludes today’s section of the Prologue with the very words of Our Lord in John 12:35. Saint Benedict changes but a single word. Whereas Our Lord says, “Walk whilst you have the light—Ambulate dum lucem habetis—lest the darkness of death seize hold of you”, Saint Benedict gives us “Run while ye have the light of life—Currite dum lumen vitae habetis— lest the darkness of death seize hold of you”. The use of currite (run) is consistent with the message of the Prologue. My conversion and yours, dear sons, is always urgent. “To-day if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 94:8). The most efficacious means of our conversion is persevering recourse to the Holy Name of Jesus. The Name of Jesus softens the hardest heart, cleanses the most defiled heart, inflames the coldest heart. The invocation of the adorable Name of Jesus is the light of life. He who runs in this light will not tire and will surely reach his goal. The beginning of the Holy Rule already has its very last sentence in view:
Whoever, therefore, thou art that hasteneth to thy heavenly country, fulfil by the help of Christ (by the Name of Jesus) this least of Rules which we have written for beginners; and then at length thou shalt arrive.