Ecce adsum (Prologue 3)

3 Jan. 4 May. 3 Sept.
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.

Saint Benedict describes Our Lord with an image that recalls the parable of the householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard (cf. Matthew 20:1–16). Christ appears in the midst of the market place, like Wisdom in the entrance of the gates of the city:

Wisdom preacheth abroad, she uttereth her voice in the streets: At the head of multitudes she crieth out, in the entrance of the gates of the city she uttereth her words, saying: O children, how long will you love childishness, and fools covet those things which are hurtful to themselves, and the unwise hate knowledge? Turn ye at my reproof: behold I will utter my spirit to you, and will shew you my words. (Wisdom 1:20–23)

We are reminded also of the verse from Proverbs that so captivated the heart of Saint Thérèse:

Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me. And to the unwise she said: Come, eat my bread, and drink the wine which I have mingled for you. Forsake childishness, and live, and walk by the ways of prudence. (Proverbs 9:4–6)

Christ offers happiness — not the shallow and fleeting happiness that the world peddles in the marketplaces of mammon — but the abiding joy that He promised in the Cenacle on the night before He suffered:

Amen, amen I say to you, that you shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be made sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labour, hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but when she hath brought forth the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. So also you now indeed have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man shall take from you. (John 16:20–22)

To the man who rises quickly, keeps his tongue from evil, seeks peace, and pursues it, Our Lord makes the most consoling promises:

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, these promises are wondrously fulfilled so often as we approach the altar. There, close to the Host, we are held in the gaze of Christ. There, His ears are open to all our prayers. There, before we even open our mouths, He says, “Behold, I am here”. To each of us, Our Lord would say:

I am always here for you, and there is no time at which you cannot come to Me with the things that weigh upon you. Come to Me and I will refresh you. I will show you the way in which you are to go forward. I will speak to you heart to heart, as a man speaks to his closest friend. Do not stay away from Me. On the contrary, come to Me frequently, as often as you can. Abide with Me. Wait upon Me. Listen to Me. And you will experience the wonders of My loving mercy in you and around you. Come, and be here for Me. Take your place before Me and wait for Me to act.

There is a passage in Saint Mark’s Gospel that speaks directly to our vocation as monks of perpetual adoration:

On the first of the days of unleavened bread, when they killed the paschal victim, his disciples asked him, Where wilt thou have us go and make ready for thee to eat the paschal meal? And he sent two of his disciples on this errand, Go into the city, and there a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water; you are to follow him, and say to the owner of the house into which he enters, The master says, Where is my room, in which I am to eat the paschal meal with my disciples? And he will shew you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; it is there that you are to make ready for us. (Mark 14:12–15)

The “large upper room, furnished and prepared” is, as Saint Benedict says in Chapter IV, “the cloister of the monastery, and stability in the community”. The monastery is furnished and prepared for us to live in intimacy with Christ. The tabernacle is never more than a few steps away. The Oratory of the monastery is open to us day and night. Saint Benedict says, “If any one desire to pray in private, let him go in quietly and pray, not with a loud voice, but with tears and fervour of heart” (Chapter LII). Never can we say that Our Lord is unavailable, or distant, or far removed from us.

No other nation has gods that draw near to it, as our God draws near to us whenever we pray to him. (Deuteronomy 4:7)

I have known monks who, without drawing any attention to themselves, would slip quietly into a choir stall and, there, either prostrate on the floor in adoration, or sitting like Mary of Bethany at the Lord’s feet, would spend long hours in the company of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I have known monks who, having finished their work, knew the secret of spending all their free time in this way. A brother may object, “But, Father Prior, such is not my way. I haven’t the attraction nor the ability to pray in this way”. I will always answer, “Put aside your pride, your presuppositions, your premises, and your prejudices. Even if this sort of prayer seems to you impossible, follow what Saint Benedict says at the end of Chapter LXVIII (When a Brother Is Commanded to Do What Is Impossible): “Let the younger know that it is expedient for him; and let him obey for the love of God, trusting in His assistance”. Many a crisis has been resolved by means of an apparent waste of time close to the tabernacle. Time spent simply waiting before the Blessed Sacrament can resolve one’s deepest interior conflicts. It is the remedy for all the hidden spiritual pathologies that prevent a man from going forward peacefully and joyfully in the monastic life.

A brother may say to me, “I have never felt close to Christ. Is He not the infinitely majestic King, the Pantocrator, the Ineffable Word? I cannot approach Him as did the sinful woman. I dare not rest my head upon His breast. I can say to Him only the prayer of Peter, Exi a me, quia homo peccator sum, Domine, “Leave me to myself, Lord; I am a sinner” (Luke 5:8). To such a brother, I can only repeat the ipsissima verba (the very words) of the Word Himself:

Come apart into a desert place, and rest a little. (Mark 6:31)
Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. (Matthew 11:28)
Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such. (Matthew 19:14)
Stay you here, and watch with me. (Matthew 26:38)
What? Could you not watch one hour with me? (Matthew 26:40)
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)