Seek first the kingdom of God (II:6)

15 Jan. 16 May. 15 Sept.
Above all let him not, overlooking or under-valuing the salvation of the souls entrusted to him, be too solicitous for fleeting, earthly, and perishable things; but let him ever bear in mind that he hath undertaken the government of souls, of which he shall have to give an account. And that he may not complain for want of worldly substance, let him remember what is written: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” And again: “Nothing is wanting to them that fear Him.”

And let him know that he who hath undertaken the government of souls, must prepare himself to render an account of them. And whatever may be the number of the brethren under his care, let him be certainly assured that on the Day of Judgment he will have to give an account to the Lord of all these souls, as well as of his own. And thus, being ever fearful of the coming inquiry which the Shepherd will make into the state of the flock committed to him, while he is careful on other men’s account, he will be solicitous also on his own. And so, while correcting others by his admonitions, he will be himself cured of his own defects.

Abbots, down through the ages, have suffered the temptation to be “too solicitous for fleeting, earthly, and perishable things.” Some, being tempted in this way, stood on Our Lord’s own promise, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). There were, alas, not a few enterprising abbots at different moments in history, who allowed themselves to become consumed with earthly cares: with building, re–building, material expansion, and with the accumulation and administration of property and assets. Let us not be too harsh in our judgment of such men. Very often their motives were laudable; they sought, in some way, to spare their communities the worries of financial insecurity. A monastic community cannot live from hand to mouth, at least not for any length of time, without the spirit and the regular observance suffering the effects of it. On the other hand, a monastic community will fall away from the primacy of The One Thing Necessary if the abbot allows himself to become absorbed and preoccupied with material security.

Saint Benedict gives the abbot Our Lord’s words as a principle of administration: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Although Saint Benedict quotes only this one sentence, it is the whole passage from the Sermon on the Mount that illumines his teaching:

Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit? And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is to day, and to morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith? Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore solicitous for to morrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:25–34).

The world judges this supernatural approach to material things uncertain and delusional. The saints stake their lives on it. To Our Lord’s own words, Saint Benedict adds a verse from that most cherished of Eucharistic chants, Psalm 33:

O taste, and see that the Lord is sweet: blessed is the man that hopeth in him. Fear the Lord, all ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. The rich have wanted, and have suffered hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good. (Psalm 33:9–11)

I often return to a word that came to me over ten years ago. In some way, it echoes the caution of the psalmist: “Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 126:1).

I have not asked you to found a monastery, but rather to adore Me, to love Me, to seek My Eucharistic Face and draw near to My Eucharistic Heart. I have asked you to trust Me and to place in Me alone all your hope and all your dreams for happiness and peace. Seek Me, trust Me, and all the rest will be given you besides. I will build the monastery stone by stone, and I will fashion the men I have chosen for it. You have only to remain humble and little and faithful. Without Me, you can do nothing, but to Me, nothing is impossible. (2 January 2010)

While we must spend ourselves generously in giving Our Lord a monastery that corresponds to His own desires, we must also see in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar the mystery in which He spends Himself inexhaustibly for us. He will build the monastery stone by stone, and He will fashion us and fit us into the rising edifice, each one in the place prepared for him.

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