Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle? (Prologue 5)

4 Jan. 5 May. 4 Sept.
Having our loins, therefore, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we may deserve to see Him Who hath called us to His kingdom. And if we wish to dwell in the tabernacle of His kingdom, we shall by no means reach it unless we run thither by our good deeds. But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet, saying to Him: “Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?” After this question, brethren, let us hear the Lord answering, and shewing to us the way to His tabernacle, and saying: “He that walketh without stain and worketh justice: he that speaketh truth in his heart, that hath not done guile with his tongue: he that hath done no evil to his neighbour, and hath not taken up a reproach against his neighbour:” he that hath brought the malignant evil one to naught, casting him out of his heart with all his suggestions, and hath taken his bad thoughts, while they were yet young, and dashed them down upon the (Rock) Christ. These are they, who fearing the Lord, are not puffed up with their own good works, but knowing that the good which is in them cometh not from themselves but from the Lord, magnify the Lord Who worketh in them, saying with the Prophet: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the glory.” So the Apostle Paul imputed nothing of his preaching to himself, but said: “By the grace of God I am what I am.” And again he saith:  “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”

For our father Saint Benedict, a monk is a man who wants to see God. I have told you before of old Frère Élie of Rougemont who, when asked what he had to say to the community at the end of one year and the beginning of another, would invariably reply, “My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God?” (Psalm 41:3). What else can a monk say? “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). If, as Saint Benedict says, “we gird ourselves with faith and the performance of good works,” it is in order to walk in the paths opened before us by Christ until, at length, we come to see Him face to face. Qui nos vocavit in regnum suum videre. “So that we may merit to see Him who has called us unto His kingdom.”

God, who plants deep in every man’s heart the desire to see Him, makes us desire what He desires to give us. The desire of God is that we should see Him, not fleetingly and from a great distance, nor in the pillar of the cloud as did Moses, but face to face. To Moses, God said:

Thou canst not see my face: for man shall not see me and live. And again he said: Behold there is a place with me, and thou shalt stand upon the rock. And when my glory shall pass, I will set thee in a hole of the rock, and protect thee with my right hand, till I pass: and I will take away my hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face thou canst not see. (Exodus 33:20–23

God turned His face away from Moses, lest the glory of it annihilate him. With the coming of Christ, God turns back in search of man, grown blind in sin, to heal him of his blindness and to give him the clear sight of His face. The last verses of the ninth chapter of Saint John, the account of sight restored to the man born blind, concern each of us. You know the story. The man is called before the Pharisees to explain how his sight was restored. Enraged by his testimony, the Pharisees cast him out. Jesus seeks him out, finds him, and reveals Himself to him.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out: and when he had found him, he said to him: Dost thou believe in the Son of God? He answered, and said: Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him? And Jesus said to him: Thou hast both seen him; and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said: I believe, Lord. And falling down, he adored him. (John 9:35–39)

For Saint Benedict, this exchange, or one of the innumerable personal variations of it, takes place on the threshold of the tabernacle that is the dwelling of Christ the King. Do not be misled by the use of the word “tabernacle” in this portion of the Prologue. The tabernacle is the tent of the Lord Christ, the true King. It is not a mean tent, a mere shelter from the elements. It is the royal tent of Christ: splendid in every way, spacious beyond imagining. It is the place wherein man experiences the hospitality of God: “things no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart conceived, the welcome God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

This understanding of the word “tabernacle” does not exclude the more usual one: the tabernacle that rests upon the altar and contains the adorable Body of Our Lord. Not for nothing does the tradition of the Church insist that the tabernacle be veiled. It is veiled in order to signify the tent wherein God makes Himself close to man and, mysteriously, draws man to Himself, in a foretaste of the divine hospitality prepared for us “in the tabernacle of His kingdom.” The man who accustoms himself to living close to the tabernacle of the Sacred Host here and now, is not far from that other tabernacle into which Our Lord desires to welcome us, the tabernacle of divine intimacy wherein it is given us, even now, both to see and to talk with the One who seeks us out in order to show us His face.