Little children, love one another (IV:4)

21 Jan. 22 May. 21 Sept.
62. Daily to fulfil by one’s deeds the commandments of God.
63. To love chastity.
64. To hate no man.
65. Not to give way to jealousy and envy.
66. Not to love strife.
67. To fly from vainglory.
68. To reverence the Seniors.
69. To love the juniors.
70. To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
72. And never to despair of God’s mercy.

Behold, these are the tools of the spiritual craft, which, if they be constantly employed day and night, and duly given back on the day of judgment, will gain for us from the Lord that reward which He Himself hath promised – “which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love Him.” And the workshop where we are to labour at all these things is the cloister of the monastery, and stability in the community.

At the end of the Instruments of Good Works, our father Saint Benedict returns to the great commandments with which he opened the Chapter:

1. In primis Dominum Deum diligere ex toto corde, tota anima, tota virtute.
2. Deinde proximum tamquam seipsum.
1. In the first place, to love the Lord God with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, and all one’s strength.
2. Then one’s neighbour as oneself.

Our holy patriarch sums up these two commandments in the 62nd Instrument: “Daily to fulfil by our deeds the commandments of God”. This final portion of Chapter IV makes me think of what Saint Jerome recounts concerning the Apostle Saint John in his extreme old age (Commentary on Chapter 6 of the Epistle to the Galatians). The Beloved Disciple of Jesus, being in his nineties, was so frail that men were obliged to carry him into the church in Ephesus on his bed. The old Evangelist, who, as a young man, had rested his head upon the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper in the Cenacle, was past the age of preaching long discourses. When the people asked him for a word, John would prop himself up on his elbow and say only this: “Little children, love one another”.  Having said all that he could, he would recline again on his bed, and his disciples would carry him out. Week after week, the same thing happened. Saint John had only one sermon to give, and it was always the same one: “Little children, love one another”. It is said that when some good soul asked Saint John why he preached always the same thing, he replied, “This I do because it is enough”.

Saint Benedict goes on to present nine Instruments to guard, foster, and express our love for one another:

63. To love chastity.
Only the chaste man is able to love unselfishly. Chastity allows a man to enter into the circle dance of charity in which each person humbly defers to the other, eschewing every form of manipulation, and respecting the boundaries that allow the other to move harmoniously and freely within the beauty of the larger corporate pattern.

The man who loves the Blessed Virgin Mary, and prays to her, especially as the Immaculate Conception, will begin, over time — even if there are struggles along the way — to discover that chastity is not a privation, a deficit, or an aching emptiness. There are two strophes of the Ave Maris Stella that I especially love:

Virgo singularis,
inter omnes mites,
nos culpis solutos,
mitis fac et castos.
Virgin all excelling,
mildest of the mild,
free from guilt preserve us
meek and undefiled.
Vitam praesta puram,
iter para tutum:
ut videntes Iesum
semper collaetemur.
Keep our life all spotless,
make our way secure
till we find in Jesus,
joy for evermore.

Chastity makes the communion of cenobitical life possible; and communion  with God and with one’s fathers and brothers is the surest way to happiness. Even in the cloister a man can indulge in glittering and deceitful fantasies. It all comes back to the drama that the psalmist describes so poignantly:

I was near losing my foothold, felt the ground sink under my steps,
such heart-burning had I at seeing the good fortune of sinners that defy his law;
for them, never a pang; healthy and sleek their bodies shew.
Not for these to share man’s common lot of trouble;
the plagues which afflict human kind still pass them by. . . .
Look at these sinners, how they live at peace, how they rise to greatness!
Why then, thought I, it is to no purpose that I have kept my heart true,
and washed my hands clean in pureness of living;
still, all the while, I am plagued for it, and no morning comes but my scourging is renewed. (Psalm 72:2–13)

When, through the intercession of the Mother of God, a man begins to love chastity, he also begins to see beauty all around him, and that beauty fills him with joy. Unchaste men are invariably lonely and unhappy; chaste men, on the other hand, become capable of friendship, and go through life with dilated hearts, that is, with an expanded capacity for joy.

64. To hate no man.
65. Not to give way to jealousy and envy.
66. Not to love strife.
67. To fly from vainglory.
The man who can search his heart and say that he hates no one has made a real beginning in charity. The man who holds onto old hatreds or ruminates old hurts will come up against a wall in all his relationships, beginning with his relationship to God. I have known brothers utterly blocked in their prayer because they are, consciously or unwittingly, withholding forgiveness from someone in their past. No sooner does a man forgive the people who hurt him in the past, than he recovers the ability to relate to God. Again, it is the Beloved Disciple who says:

But he that hateth his brother, is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth; because the darkness hath blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:11)

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not, abideth in death. (1 John 3:14)

Jealousy and envy render life in the cloister toxic. Often, humble confession to the abbot is enough to put such thoughts to flight. Jealousy and envy in the monastic life may be linked to the psychology of a brother’s place in the birth order of his family.

First–born sons tend to be controlling; they want to keep power concentrated in their own hands and, as a result, may become jealous or envious of anyone who threatens their ascendancy. They see themselves as bigger than everyone else because, growing up, they were, in fact bigger than their siblings.

Sons born in the middle are often conflicted; they come into the world occupying centre stage. They can be desperate for someone with whom they can play or, paradoxically, prefer isolation to the risk of rejection. They look first to one side and then to the other for approval, protection, and companionship; they may become jealous or envious of anyone who claims the attention of their parents and siblings.

Last–born sons often receive enormous amounts of affection, attention, and even indulgence. Everything the baby of the family does is found endearing, even his little tantrums. The baby of the family quickly learns how to get want he wants. If an unexpected baby arrives after him, he can become terrified of losing his privileged place, and so fall into rages of jealousy and envy against his usurper.

Only sons see themselves as the centre of the universe. They expect and demand undivided attention and undiluted admiration. Having learned at an early age how to manipulate Mummy and Daddy, they can be experts at playing one authority figure off another in order to get their way.

68. To reverence the Seniors.
69. To love the juniors.
70. To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
Reverence and affection, the one tempering the other, are characteristic of healthy relationships in the monastery. In entering the monastery one becomes a son and a brother; then, by persevering ten, twenty, or thirty years in the monastery one becomes a father. For us, reverence and affection are expressed in a variety of little ways, principally in the conventual customs that shape the way we relate one to another. Do not discount the importance of the silent but smiling acknowledgement given to a brother whenever one crosses his path. In going through a door, the younger brother always steps aside to let his senior pass before him. One welcomes the arrival of the abbot, or begins  a conversation with him, or takes leave of him with an inclination. One learns to kneel in acknowledgement one’s faults, and to say sincerely, Benedicite, Deo gratias, and Mea culpa. Then, there is the matter of how we address one another: here at Silverstream, we are, I think, quite good at addressing one another appropriately, in accordance with the Holy Rule.

Let the younger brethren, then, reverence their elders, and the elder love the younger. In calling each other by name, let none address another by his simple name; but let the elders call the younger brethren Brothers, and the younger call their elders Reverend Fathers, by which is implied the reverence due to a father. But let the Abbot, since he is considered to represent the person of Christ, be called Lord and Abbot, not that he hath taken it upon himself, but out of reverence and love for Christ. Let him be mindful of this, and shew himself to be worthy of such an honour. Wherever the brethren meet one another, let the younger ask a blessing from the elder. And when the elder passeth by, let the younger rise, and give place to him to sit down; nor let the younger presume to sit with him, unless the elder bid him, that it may come to pass as it is written: “In honour preferring one another.”  (Chapter LXIII)

All of these practices are the choreography of charity. Never let coldness, callousness, or a stony–faced aloofness take hold. Instead, resolve to practice always the charity of which we sing during the washing of the feet at the clothing of a new novice:

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.

And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

Saint Benedict closes his inventory of the Instruments of Good Works with the one that, at all times, is within reach of all, no matter our wretchedness, no matter our struggles, no matter our falls: Et de Dei misericordia numquam desperare, “And never to despair of God’s mercy”. A single act of confidence in the mercy of God can be enough to repair the past and set one back on course in grace. O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy merciful goodness. The psalmist puts it this way: Ego autem in te speravi, “But I have put my trust in thee” (Psalm 30:15).

At the very end of this Chapter, Saint Benedict adds, ” And the workshop where we are to labour at all these things is the cloister of the monastery, and stability in the community”. Temptations against enclosure and stability are among the most pernicious thoughts a monk can have. The devil seeks by every means to draw a monk out of the monastery. He presents a hundred justifications, excuses, and strategies for doing this. The devil is an astute psychologist; he knows that temptations against stability are among the most subtle and successful means of tricking a man into leaving the good that he has for the illusion of an apparent good that awaits him somewhere, anywhere else. The same strategy is at work when a husband or wife is tempted to look outside the enclosure of marriage and family for something, anything, more fulfilling than what he or she already has.

The psalmist teaches a man to say: “Here is a soul that puts its trust in thee, I will take refuge under the shelter of thy wings, till the storms pass by” (Psalm 56:2). I have always found that the most effective response to temptations against stability is flight to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not for nothing does the oldest extant prayer to the Mother of God begin: Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix. If you are tempted against stability, do not panic, confess your thoughts and, then, hunker down, rosary in hand, and quietly tell your beads until, as Saint Peter says, “the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).



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