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.
Our Lord says, “Give me but a token of your good will. Show me, even in the littlest way, that you desire what I desire for you. Take only the first small step, “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.” Our Lord does not lay upon us a burden too heavy to bear. On the contrary, He condemns those who do this. “They fasten up packs too heavy to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; they themselves will not stir a finger to lift them” (Matthew 23:4).
There has always been among certain Christians a rigoristic current of thought that argues always for the heavier burden, the more exacting tribute, the harshest ascetical feats. We shall read about the adherents of this rigoristic current of thought in the next book proposed for the refectory, Ronald Knox’s classic, Enthusiasm. The adherents of certain rigoristic schools, apart from being bloated with spiritual pride, do the devil’s work by pushing weak and infirm souls closer and closer to the edge of the precipice of despondency. Then the devil himself approaches to whisper that there is nothing left but to cast oneself into the gaping pit of despair. How far from this are the teachings of our father Saint Benedict!
“Never to despair of the mercy of God.” (Chapter IV)
“And even in his corrections, let him act with prudence, and not go too far, lest while he seeketh too eagerly to scrape off the rust, the vessel be broken. Let him keep his own frailty ever before his eyes, and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken.” (Chapter LXIV)
“Let them most patiently endure one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of mind.” (Chapter LXXII)
There is a page in In Sinu Jesu where Our Lord would have us hear Him say:
Many of you are strangers to My Heart. Come close to Me. Remain in My presence. Seek My Eucharistic Face. Learn of My love for you, and you will begin to trust in it. I am not harsh. I am not a taskmaster. I am your divine friend. I am your advocate, your comforter, your refuge in every trial.
This is not a sentimental featherpuff. It is the message of Our Lord in the Gospel:
Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
So many souls approach Christ, the Good Shepherd, with suspicion and fear. How many suffer from persistent niggling doubts about His goodness! They cannot bring themselves to believe — for themselves and for others — what Our Lord says of Himself: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep” (John 10:11). Even if the lamb fallen into a ravine, who languishes there with a broken leg, can do no more than bleat its pain and wiggle an ear in recognition of the shepherd who comes to rescue it, it is enough. The soul who can do more than bleat, must bleat. And the soul who can do no more than wiggle its ear at the approach of the shepherd, need do only that. The beginnings of monastic observance are very small things, well within the reach and doing of the littlest souls. The smallest acknowledgement of His presence moves Him to act. What does the Bridegroom of the Canticle say to the soul upon whom he has set his heart?
Vulnerasti cor meum, soror mea, sponsa; vulnerasti cor meum in uno oculorum tuorum, et in uno crine colli tui.
Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes, and with one hair of thy neck. (Canticle 4:9)
A glimmer of the eye, a hair of the neck! It is not difficult to wound with love the Heart of the Good Shepherd. The perfection of monastic observances begins not in the heroic thing that one cannot do, but in the littlest thing that, in one’s weakness, one can do. The divine response is always utterly disproportionate to the soul’s tiny token of assent. And Saint Benedict tells us just what the divine response is:
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. (Prologue)