PROLOGUE OF OUR MOST HOLY FATHER SAINT BENEDICT TO HIS RULE
1 Jan. 2 May. 1 Sept
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. To thee, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever thou art that, renouncing thine own will, dost take up the strong and bright weapons of obedience, in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true king. In the first place, whatever good work thou beginnest to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect; that He Who hath now vouchsafed to count us in the number of His children may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with the good things He hath given us, that not only may He never, as an angry father, disinherit his children, but may never, as a dreadful Lord, incensed by our sins, deliver us to everlasting punishment, as most wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.
Our Lord never refuses us the grace of a new beginning. I say this with regard both to individuals and to communities. It is, at every moment, possible to begin again, to start afresh. Even if one’s personal history is marked by a thousand beginnings and apparent failures in succession, Our Lord waits to give a man the grace of beginning again.
Once, when I asked Our Lord in prayer why there are, in the journeys of some, so many false starts, so many attempts to reach Him that turn to bitterness, or delusion, or failure, He gave me to understand that He sometimes allows souls to begin and to fail, to begin and to fail, to begin and to fail, over and over again, in order to humble them and so render them fit for His purposes. Failure is not an impediment to the workings of grace in a soul. In fact, if soul, having failed, is humbled to the ground and can say nothing apart from the prayer of the publican quoted by Saint Benedict in Chapter VII, that soul is better disposed to the workings of grace than one who takes great strides in virtue without ever experiencing his the depths of his misery.
The twelfth degree of humility is, that the monk, not only in his heart, but also in his very exterior, always shew his humility to all who see him: that is, in the work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the field or wherever he may be, whether sitting, walking or standing, with head always bent down, and eyes fixed on the earth, that he ever think of the guilt of his sins, and imagine himself already present before the terrible judgment-seat of God: always saying in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said with his eyes fixed on the earth: “Lord, I a sinner am not worthy to raise mine eyes to heaven.” And again, with the prophet: “I am bowed down and humbled on every side.” (Holy Rule, Chapter VII)
All through the ages, the saints attest to the indispensable role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in every new beginning in grace. It cannot be otherwise because Mary most holy is the New Eve through whom, and by whose maternal mediation all things are made new. No sinner rises from a fall except by the outstretched hand of the Mother of God, mater misericordiae, vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra. This may not always be evident. It may not be acknowledged. It may remain hidden even from the man who finds himself suddenly lifted out of his misery and set on his feet again. It remains, nonetheless true, that every new beginning in grace comes through Mary.
The new reading of the Holy Rule is a fresh beginning in grace for each one of us and for all of us together. Do not refuse the grace that is offered you today. Lay hold of the hand of the Mother of God. No matter how low or how often you have fallen, Mary will lift you up. She is the mother of every new beginning. Start afresh, then, with the beginning of this reading of the Holy Rule. Leave the past behind. Let the dead bury their dead (cf. Matthew 8:22). Do not look back out of curiosity, or fear, or disbelief, lest you become like Lot’s wife, no more than a pillar of salt in the wasteland of your past (cf. Genesis 19:26; Wisdom 10:7). I ask each one of you today to start afresh, utterly confident that the Mother of God will not let any one of us be disappointed in his hope.