PROLOGUE OF OUR MOST HOLY FATHER SAINT BENEDICT TO HIS RULE
2 Jan. 3 May. 2 Sept.
Let us then at length arise, since the Scripture stirreth us up, saying: It is time now for us to rise from sleep.” And our eyes being open to the deifying light, let us hear with wondering ears what the Divine Voice admonisheth us, daily crying out: “To-day if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” And again, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches.” And what saith He? “Come, my children, hearken to Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Run while ye have the light of life, lest the darkness of death seize hold of you.”
The Prologue of the Holy Rule is filled with verbs that express movement:
• “that thou mayest return”
• “follow Him to glory”
• “Let us then at length arise”
• “It is time now for us to rise from sleep”
• “Run while ye have the light of life
• “let us walk in His paths ”
• “He that walketh without stain”
• “we must hasten to do now what will profit us for all eternity”
• “as we go forward in our life and in faith”
• “run in the way of God’s commandments”
We make profession of the vow of stability, not of immobility. The Benedictine monk sings at all times: “I have run the way of thy commandments, when thou didst enlarge my heart. ” (Psalm 118:32). The monk, prompted by the Holy Ghost, and in obedience to the will of God, is quick to spring into movement. Just as yesterday, I placed above the first words of the Prologue, the image of the Virgin of the Annunciation, today I place before you, that of the Virgin of the Visitation, the Virgin who acts decisively:
And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:38–43)
One who follows the footsteps of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the Gospel, can sing in all truth the antiphon that the liturgy places on our lips on the feast of the Immaculate Conception:
Trahe nos, Virgo immaculáta, post te currémus in odórem unguentórum tuórum.
Draw us after thee, O immaculate Virgin; running in the fragrance of thy perfumes, we will follow after thee.
There is a sense in which, the monastic life is a true following after Mary: from Nazareth to Bethlehem; from Bethlehem to Egypt; from Egypt to Nazareth again; from Nazareth to Jerusalem; then, frequently, to those places in Galilee where Jesus was preaching; to Jerusalem; along the via crucis to Calvary; from Calvary to the tomb; into the immense solitude of Holy Saturday; to the home prepared for her by John; to the Mount of Olives for the leave–taking and glorious Ascension of her Son; into the silence of the Cenacle to await the outpouring of the Holy Ghost; into ceaseless prayer in her maternal care for the infant Church; and, finally, into the hidden glory of her Assumption. The monk who is faithful to telling his beads over the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries of the Holy Rosary, or over other mysteries set forth in the liturgy, will discover that Our Lady precedes him and accompanies him in all the passages of his life. Such a monk enters into the secret of Saint John who, speaking of himself, says,
Et ex illa hora accepit eam discipulus in sua.
And from that hour, the disciple took her into (those things that were) his own. (John 19:27)
One who lives in the company of Mary will receive the grace of a prompt obedience to the word of Christ, of swiftness in responding to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost; of alacrity in running in the way of the Father’s will. While monastic life does not exclude men marked by “infirmities, whether of body or of mind” (Chapter LXXII), it does set every man on a course of continual movement. The monk begins to understand that his vow of conversatio morum means, in effect, that there can be no standing still. The monk who is not moving forward, even if he can only take the littlest steps, will find himself shrinking back. For this reason I invite you to say frequently to the Mother of God: “Draw me after thee, O immaculate Virgin; running in the fragrance of thy perfumes, I will follow after thee”.
We do well, already, in meditating the second passage from the Prologue, to look at the various instances of movement in the Holy Rule. In Chapter V, Saint Benedict will describe those monks who, holding nothing dearer than Christ, practice obedience without delay:
Such as these, therefore, leaving immediately their own occupations and forsaking their own will, with their hands disengaged, and leaving unfinished what they were about, with the speedy step of obedience follow by their deeds the voice of him who commands; and so as it were at the same instant the bidding of the master and the perfect fulfilment of the disciple are joined together in the swiftness of the fear of God by those who are moved with the desire of attaining eternal life.
In Chapter XXII, Saint Benedict will say that his monks are to sleep fully clothed:
So that when the signal is given they may rise without delay, and hasten each to forestall the other in going to the Work of God, yet with all gravity and modesty.
In Chapter XXXI, even the cellarer is to serve with promptness and alacrity:
Let him distribute to the brethren their appointed allowance of food, without arrogance or delay.
In Chapter XLIII, we read one of the key precepts of the Holy Rule. It is full of movement:
At the hour of Divine Office, as soon as the signal is heard, let every one, leaving whatever he had in hand, hasten to the Oratory with all speed, and yet with seriousness, so that no occasion he given for levity. Let nothing, then, be preferred to the Work of God.
In Chapter LXVI, the porter too is enjoined to respond swiftly to any one who comes to the door:
As soon as any one shall knock, or a poor man call to him, let him answer, “Thanks be to God,” or bid God bless him, and then with all mildness and the fear of God let him give reply without delay, in the fervour of charity.
In Chapter LXXI, the brother who offends his superior is not to shilly–shally about making satisfaction:
Let him at once, without delay, cast himself on the ground at his feet.
Finally, in Chapter LXXIII, Saint Benedict returns to the movement and haste that he described in the Prologue:
For him who would hasten to the perfection of religion, there are the teachings of the holy Fathers, the following whereof bringeth a man to the height of perfection. . . . Whoever, therefore, thou art that hasteneth to thy heavenly country, fulfil by the help of Christ this least of Rules which we have written for beginners; and then at length thou shalt arrive, under God’s protection, at the lofty summits of doctrine and virtue of which we have spoken above.
In all of these instances of movement, we can call upon the Blessed Virgin Mary. If we are slow to act, lethargic, and weary, Mary will come to us as the Cause of Our Joy, to revive our drooping spirits. In a monastery where the Mother of God is loved, where her presence is acknowledged, where her sweet name is frequently invoked, there will be no falling back. And if, in a moment of fatigue and anxiety, any one is tempted to stop going forward, that man has only to lift his eyes to the star and to call upon Mary. She will — this I can promise you — stretch forth her hand, lift that man to his feet and set him, once again, on course with swift pace, light step, and unswerving feet.