Ita Pater (X)

CHAPTER VII. Of Humility
9 Feb. 10 June. 10 Oct.
Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear: whereby he shall begin to keep, without labour, and as it were naturally and by custom, all those precepts which he had hitherto observed through fear: no longer through dread of hell, but for the love of Christ, and of a good habit and a delight in virtue which God will vouchsafe to manifest by the Holy Spirit in his labourer, now cleansed from vice and sin.

CHAPTER X. How the Night-Office is to be said in Summer Time<
12 Feb. 13 June. 13 Oct.

From Easter to the first of November let the same number of Psalms be recited as prescribed above; only that no lessons are to be read from the book, on account of the shortness of the night: but instead of those three lessons let one from the Old Testament be said by heart, followed by a short responsory, and the rest as before laid down; so that never less than twelve Psalms, not counting the third and ninety-fourth, be said at the Night-Office.

The conclusion of the twelfth degree of humility is so vital and so ordered to all that follows in Chapters VIII through XX, that I am compelled to return to it again and again. The occurrence of these chapters during the Octave of Pentecost suggests that the liturgical providence of God is at work. The monk who has arrived at the twelfth degree of humility has become a little child. Nisi efficiamini sicut parvuli (Matthew 18:3). The highest degree of humility is littleness. Pride has no hold on the monk who has cast off all the trappings and complications of the learned, the clever, and the powerful. When every layer of pride and pretense has been stripped away, a man becomes like a little child before God, and so discovers that God is his Father.

Pride is so abominable a vice because it resists and recoils before the Fatherhood of God. The proud man cannot accept God as Father and cannot stand before God as a son. For this reason, the Opus Dei is unintelligible to the proud man. The Opus Dei (taken in the broad sense of the Divine Office, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the sacraments, and all the rest) may hold a certain fascination for him. He may enjoy the arcane refinements of liturgiological science, but the sacred liturgy as an experience of God remains closed to him. Why do I say this? Because the sacred liturgy is among those things that the Father hides from the wise and prudent and reveals only to little children.

In illo tempore respondens Jesus dixit: Confiteor tibi, Pater, Domine cæli et terræ, quia abscondisti hæc a sapientibus, et prudentibus, et revelasti ea parvulis.

At that time Jesus answered and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones. (Matthew 11:25)

I am beginning to learn, I think, what Saint Benedict, following the Beloved Disciple, means when he says:

Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that charity of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear: whereby he shall begin to keep, without labour, and as it were naturally and by custom, all those precepts which he had hitherto observed through fear.

The charity of God, that is, God’s revelation of Himself as Father, when it is made perfect, when it becomes real for a man, casts out fear. Fear of whom? Fear of a tyrannical and caprIcious God who is poised to unleash His wrath on His creature and quick to exact retribution for every offence. Fear of the caricatures of God that push souls into morbid scrupulosity and pathological perfectionism. God the critical schoolmaster. God the police officer. God the punishing coach. God the bully. God the miserly banker. Horrible caricatures these! There are men for whom the fatherhood of God is a intellectual notion, a remote article of faith with no bearing on real life. Fear of what? Fear of criticism. Fear of punishment. Fear of rejection. Fear of abandonment. Fear of violence. Fear of absence. So long as these fears prevail in a man’s heart, he can neither live in the grace of his Baptism, the grace of filial adoption, as God would have him live, nor can he enter freely into the liturgy. Pope Benedict XVI said:

Christianity is not a religion of fear but of trust and of love for the Father who loves us. . . . Perhaps people today fail to perceive the beauty, greatness and profound consolation contained in the word “father” with which we can turn to God in prayer because today the father figure is often not sufficiently present and all too often is not sufficiently positive in daily life. The father’s absence, the problem of a father who is not present in a child’s life, is a serious problem of our time. It therefore becomes difficult to understand what it means to say that God is really our Father. From Jesus himself, from his filial relationship with God, we can learn what “father” really means and what is the true nature of the Father who is in heaven. (General Audience, Wednesday, 23 May 2012)

The liturgy opens itself only to little children. And because the monastic life is essentially liturgical—the monk is, according to Dante, disposto a sola latria—the prideful man finds that he can bear neither the servitutis pensum of the liturgy nor the daily round of monastic observance. The monk who has become like a little child is able to say with the Eternal Son: Et delectabar per singulos dies, ludens coram eo omni tempore. “My delight increasing with each day, as I made play before him all the while” (Proverbs 8:30).

There is but one way forward and it is through the lowly gate of spiritual childhood. Spiritual childhood is the state of the man who allows the truth of the fatherhood of God to exorcise all the distortions and lies that he has internalised about God and about himself. The summit of the monk’s daily liturgical experience is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and at the centre of the Mass, on the very threshold of the mystery, the priest says for himself and on behalf of all, Te igitur clementissime Pater, “To Thee, then, most clement Father.” Only the man who can utter these words or allow them to be uttered on his behalf by the priest can penetrate into the Opus Dei and set about the business of the monastic life freely and joyfully. Saint Benedict says:

All those precepts which he had hitherto observed through fear: no longer through dread of hell, but for the love of Christ, and of a good habit and a delight in virtue which God will vouchsafe to manifest by the Holy Spirit in his labourer, now cleansed from vice and sin.

There are two ways of being cleansed from vice and sin. The first way, and by far the most difficult and ineffectual is to wage war against vices and sins one at a time. There are people who examine their consciences morning, noon, and night. Such people may focus on identifying and cataloguing their major sins, their minor sins, their prevailing vices, and their secondary vices. But vices and sins crop up like weeds. As soon as one has been uprooted, another appears in its place. Saint Benedict proposes another way, a simpler way: forsake pride, the queen and mother of all vices, and the root of all sins, and the rest will perish as if by inanition.

After having taken us through the twelve degrees of humility, Saint Benedict shows us where they lead: to the charity of God, that is to the fatherhood of God that casts out fear. The perfect monk is the one who has become like a little child. The monk best prepared for the Opus Dei is the one who confesses the glory of the fatherhood of God, the one for whom the fatherhood of God, the mystery that shines from every page of the Fourth Gospel, is the great foundational truth of his life. Te igitur clementissime Pater. Gloria Patri. Ita Pater. “Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in thy sight” (Matthew 11:26).

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