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Since then, brethren, we have asked of the Lord who is to inhabit His temple, we have heard His commands to those who are to dwell there and if we fulfil those duties, we shall be heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Our hearts, therefore, and our bodies must be made ready to fight under the holy obedience of His commands; and let us ask God to supply by the help of His grace what by nature is not possible to us. And if we would arrive at eternal life, escaping the pains of hell, then – while there is yet time, while we are still in the flesh, and are able to fulfil all these things by the light which is given us – we must hasten to do now what will profit us for all eternity.
Certain motifs are woven and interwoven into the Prologue: the temple, the tabernacle (or tent), the mountain, and the kingdom. Monks are those who, like the first Christians, abide semper in templo, laudantes et benedicentes Deum, “always in the temple, praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53). Monks are called to live in the very tabernacle of God, under His tent and beneath His gaze, “inebriated with the plenty of His house” (Psalm 35:9). The life of the monk is a continuous ascent up to the mountain of God. The psalmist says in the very psalm that we sing when we welcome a postulant, “At each stage refreshed, they will reach Sion, and have sight there of the God who is above all gods” (Psalm 83:8, Knox trans.). The kingdom is, as I said yesterday, “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). These things are given us already, here and now, in foretastes and glimmers, as the Apostle says, “We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
The monastic life is a combat. Saint Benedict, following Saint Anthony of Egypt and all the monastic fathers, tells us that “our hearts . . . and our bodies must be made ready to fight under the holy obedience of His commands.” We do combat, not with each man fighting his solitary battles, but rather as an acies fraterna, as brothers fighting together on the front line. It is this that makes obedience necessary; we must act, in all things, as a coordinated body. No one member can act independently of the others, and all are under the headship of the abbot.
Saint Benedict reveals his long experience of the spiritual combat when he says, “and let us ask God to supply by the help of His grace what by nature is not possible to us.” Here, Saint Benedict is echoing the words of Our Lord: “With men it is impossible; but not with God: for all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). Saint Benedict set forth this principle at the very beginning of the Prologue: “In the first place, whatever good work thou beginnest to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to bring to completion.” The spiritual combat is fought principally on the battleground of prayer, for prayer obtains grace, and with grace all things are possible. Saint Paul says it: Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat, “I can do all things in him who strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). Saint Benedict is not of the mind of those who, when confronted with a moral struggle, say, “This is too hard. It is not realistic, it is high, and I cannot reach to it.” Saint Benedict is the humble disciple of the Apostle to whom Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for power is made perfect in infirmity” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Every son of Saint Benedict must learn of Saint Paul and, day in and day out, repeat after him:
Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful. (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The time for putting these things into practice is now, “while there is yet time, while we are still in the flesh.” Life passes quickly. “In the morning man shall grow up like grass; in the morning he shall flourish and pass away: in the evening he shall fall, grow dry, and wither” (Psalm 89:6). Saint Benedict says, “we must hasten to do now what will profit us for all eternity.” This holy haste is characteristically Benedictine, but it is not a feverish, anxious haste. It is peaceful and marked by joy. It is the alacrity of one going forth to meet the Bridegroom King. Ecce sponsus venit (Matthew 25:6).