CHAPTER LVIII. Of the Discipline of receiving Brethren into Religion
Continued from 11 Apr.
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 fervent in the Work of God, in obedience and in humiliations. Let all the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God be set before him.
Praedicentur ei omnia dura et aspera per quae itur ad Deum. “Let all the hard and rugged paths by which we go to God be told him in advance”. Ad Deum. The word God occurs three times in only two verses of Chapter LVIII. I do not think that this threefold repetition of God in verses 7 and 8 is inadvertent.
7 Et sollicitudo sit si revera Deum quaerit, si sollicitus est ad opus Dei, ad oboedientiam, ad opprobria. 8 Praedicentur ei omnia dura et aspera per quae itur ad Deum.
The monk truly seeks God; he assists at the Work of God with eagerness and zeal; he is a man on his way to God. The monk stands in opposition to to the godless, to those who, as the psalm recounts, say in their heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 13:1).
The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God. They are corrupt, and are become abominable in their ways: there is none that doth good, no not one. The Lord hath looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there be any that understand and seek God. (Psalm 13:1–2)
The monk lives in such a way as to confess by his life, even as the martyrs confessed by their death, that God is his portion forever:
For what have I in heaven? and besides thee what do I desire upon earth? For thee my flesh and my heart hath fainted away: thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion for ever. (Psalm 72:25–26)
The monk is a man who has set his face towards God, towards the heavenly Jerusalem. “For we have not here a lasting city, but we seek one that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). There is in Saint Luke’s Gospel a verse that, I think, corresponds perfectly to the monk’s resolve to go to God:
Factum est autem dum complerentur dies assumptionis ejus, et ipse faciem suam firmavit ut iret in Jerusalem.
And it came to pass, when the days of his assumption were accomplishing, that he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)
This is Saint Luke’s way of expressing what the Fourth Gospel tells from the first page to the last: the movement of the Son ad Patrem. In the last chapters of Saint John’s Gospel Our Lord’s going to the Father increases in momentum; it has a note of urgency. In Chapters 13 through 17 it is repeated in no less than eighteen ways.
One must constantly evaluate the direction of one’s steps against the interior compass of the heart: ad Deum, towards God. The twelfth century abbot, William of Saint–Thierry, writes of passing from self to God: he presents this as the itinerary of the monastic life and, while he does not, as I recall, allude explicitly to it, I have always understood this passing from self to God as an oblique reference to the ad Deum of Chapter LVIII: ” Let all the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God be set before him”.
One of the devil’s chief strategies is to get a monk to forget why he came to the monastery in the first place. The Evil One does this by getting a monk so to focus on his work that he is distracted from the One Thing Necessary, or by filling his mind with busyness about many things, or by encouraging him to become self–absorbed, or by causing him to focus on theoretical questions, or by enlarging the difficulties around him, or by magnifying the faults of others, or by making him anxious over one thing, or obsessed with another. The devil, the primeval contraceptor, is always about preventing the good seed of the Word from taking root, sprouting, and bearing fruit.
When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, there cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart: this is he that received the seed by the way side. And he that received the seed upon stony ground, is he that heareth the word, and immediately receiveth it with joy. Yet hath he not root in himself, but is only for a time: and when there ariseth tribulation and persecution because of the word, he is presently scandalized. And he that received the seed among thorns, is he that heareth the word, and the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choketh up the word, and he becometh fruitless. But he that received the seed upon good ground, is he that heareth the word, and understandeth, and beareth fruit, and yieldeth the one an hundredfold, and another sixty, and another thirty. (Matthew 13:19–23)
One must always repeat the questions that Saint Bernard put to himself: Bernarde, ad quid venisti ? – Bernarde, ad quid remanes ? “Bernard, why hast thou come here? — Bernard, why remainest thou here?” This may seem so obvious and fundamental a question that there is no need to address it, but it is easy for a monk to depart by minute degrees from the orientation of his heart’s compass and so find himself one day very far from the God he came to the monastery to seek. One ought never forget the words of the Prologue:
Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart; willingly receive and faithfully fulfil the admonition of thy loving Father, that thou mayest return by the labour of obedience to Him from Whom thou hadst departed through the sloth of disobedience.