The Workman and the Work (VIII)

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 VIII. Of the Divine Office at Night
10 Feb. 11 June. 11 Oct.

In winter time, that is, from the first of November until Easter, the brethren shall rise at what may be reasonably calculated to be the eighth hour of the night; so that having rested till some time past midnight, they may rise having had their full sleep. And let the time that remains after the Night-Office be spent in study by those brethren who have still some part of the Psalter and lessons to learn. But from Easter to the first of November let the hour for the Night-Office be so arranged that, after a very short interval, during which the brethren may go out for the necessities of nature, Lauds, which are to be said at day-break, may follow without delay.

It is, I think, important to see the connection between the end of Chapter VII (Of Humility) and the beginning of Chapter VIII (Of the Divine Office at Night). Saint Benedict concludes Chapter VII with the twelfth degree of humility and then, without any preamble, without so much as a word of introduction, he presents us with instructions on how to to calculate the hour of rising for the Night Office. I leave it to Dom de Vogüé and other learned commentators to treat of the sources of the text such as we have it, and of the details of the directory for the Opus Dei that we begin reading today. Wisely applied to the text of the Holy Rule, certain tools of the historical-critical method may indeed be useful. This being said, with the Holy Rule, as with Sacred Scripture, there is something more. There is, I believe, the luminous current of a certain divine inspiration that runs through the text of the Holy Rule from beginning to end. While Saint Benedict surely borrowed from older monastic sources, there is in the Holy Rule a spiritual genius that is particularly his: a fruit of the capital grace given him in view of the place that the Holy Rule would come to hold in the life of the Church and in Western civilisation, but even more in the generation and formation of saints through the ages.

We know from the Prologue that a monk is a workman chosen and called by Christ “out of the multitude of the people” to “inhabit His temple” and to share by patience in His life–giving Passion so as to become a partaker of His kingdom. At the level of daily life, a monk corresponds to the grace of his calling by applying himself, as a humble workman, to the work entrusted to him. And the great work entrusted to a monk, the work to which nothing else may be preferred, is the Work of God, the Opus Dei.

Chapters V (Of Obedience), VI (Of Silence), and VII (Of Humility) of the Holy Rule prepare a monk for the great work of his life: the Opus Dei. What must a monk bring to choir for a fruitful participation in the Opus Dei? He must bring to choir his obedience, his silence, and his humility. These are the elements that in the “school of the Lord’s service” make a man fit for the Opus Dei, the Work of God. Just as the Passion, Death, and Burial of Our Lord were necessary for the glory of His Resurrection and Ascension, so too are the obedience, silence, and humility of the monk necessary for the Opus Dei.

I have said in the past, and repeat it today, that we monks are not dilettantes of the liturgy, a kind of spiritual aristocracy that can afford to float above the dura and aspera (the hard and cutting things) by which a man makes his way to God, while quibbling over abstruse rubrics and busying ourselves with the aesthetical refinements of divine worship. God preserve us from the suffocating and stultifying atmosphere of certain sacristies! Benedictine life is death to self by a real participation in the self–emptying obedience of Christ, and in the silence and humility of the Host, and all of this in view of a real participation, by means of the Opus Dei, in the resurrection of Christ, in His glorious Ascension, and in the exercise of His priesthood in the heavenly sanctuary, where He “lives forever to make intercession for us” (Hebrews 7:25). Ours is not a selective reading of the Holy Rule; we are vowed to observe the whole Rule from the first word of the Prologue, Obsculta (Listen), to the last word of Chapter LXXIII, pervenies (thou shalt arrive). More often than not, the chapters that we find difficult to practice are the very ones we need most in order to become workmen fit for the Work of God. The humble work of cleaning out a chicken coop may, in effect, be the best preparation for the Work of God.

We are not Pelagians. We are not self–saving, self–perfecting over-achievers. Obedience, silence, and humility are not achievements. One cannot practice them unaided by divine grace. Grace is obtained by prayer. A monk prays always because he is always in need of grace. Saint Benedict makes this clear at the very beginning of the Holy Rule: “In the first place, whatever good work thou beginnest to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect; that He Who hath now vouchsafed to count us in the number of His children may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds” (Prologue).

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