To pray continually, and never lose heart (IX)

CHAPTER VII. Of Humility
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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 IX. How many Psalms are to be said at the Night Hours
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In winter time, after beginning with the verse, “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me,” with the Gloria, let the words, “O Lord, Thou wilt open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Thy praise,” be next repeated thrice; then the third Psalm, with a Gloria, after which the ninety-fourth Psalm is to be said or sung, with an antiphon. Next let a hymn follow, and then six Psalms with antiphons. These being said, and also a versicle, let the Abbot give the blessing and, all being seated, let three lessons be read by the brethren in turns, from the book on the lectern. Between the lessons let three responsories be sung – two of them without a Gloria, but after the third let the reader say the Gloria: and as soon as he begins it, let all rise from their seats out of honour and reverence to the Holy Trinity. Let the divinely inspired books, both of the Old and New Testaments, be read at the Night-Office, and also the commentaries upon them written by the most renowned, orthodox and Catholic Fathers. After these three lessons with their responsories, let six more Psalms follow, to be sung with an Alleluia. Then let a lesson from the Apostle be said by heart, with a verse and the petition of the Litany, that is, Kyrie eleison. And so let the Night-Office come to an end.

I said yesterday, in reference to the Prologue of the Holy Rule, that a monk is a workman chosen and called by Our Lord out of the multitude of the people to dwell in His tabernacle, that is, in the enclosure of the monastery, sharing by patience in the sufferings of Christ and preferring nothing to the Work of God (Chapter XLIII). The monastery is a school of the Lord’s service in which a man applies himself to three foundational subjects—obedience, silence, and humility—in order to be fit for the work to which Our Lord has called him. A monk does not become obedient, silent, and humble by his own doing. He becomes obedient, silent, and humble by grace and by the secret operations of the Holy Ghost in him. Does this suggest that the monk remains motionless, inert, and utterly passive? No, it means that he prays humbly and perseveringly for grace; that he submits to the action of the Holy Ghost; and that he stakes his very life on these two words of Our Lord: “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) and, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for power is made perfect in infirmity(2 Corinthians 12:9).

I have known monks who, for a season of their life, appeared to excel in obedience, silence, and humility. Outwardly, such men can present the image of the ideal monk. Inwardly, however, they are like an automobile low on petrol, and then running on fumes. When all their natural supply of fuel is spent, such men come to a halt and become incapable of going forward. I think that the simile is not all that different from Our Lord’s parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were wise and five foolish. The petrol needed if the motor of monastic observance is to function, and the oil needed if the lamp of monastic observance is to burn brightly is the grace of God freely given and the operation of the Holy Ghost who, with His coming, brings grace in the form of His seven gifts, infuses these gifts of grace into the soul, and causes them to flower and develop into His twelve fruits.

If you would know what these operations of the Holy Ghost are, you have only to meditate the Golden Sequence, the Veni Sancte Spiritus that we sing daily at Holy Mass during this Octave of Pentecost:

What is soilèd, make Thou pure;
What is wounded, work its cure;
What is parchèd, fructify;
What is rigid, gently bend;
What is frozen, warmly tend;
Strengthen what goes erringly.
(Translation by John Mason Neale)

Ceaseless prayer is not optional in the monastic life; it is the very condition of it, and this because prayer obtains grace, and without grace the monastic life is impossible. You are all familiar with the teaching of Saint John Cassian on ceaseless prayer. He describes all of the occasions in which a monk must cry out for divine help:

In order that the vigour of this courage may, by God’s grace, continue in me still longer, I must cry out with all my powers: O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. We must then ceaselessly and continuously pour forth the prayer of this verse, in adversity that we may be delivered, in prosperity that we may be preserved and not puffed up. Let the thought of this verse, I tell you, be conned over in your breast without ceasing. Whatever work you are doing, or office you are holding, or journey you are going, do not cease to chant this. When you are going to bed, or eating, and in the last necessities of nature, think on this. This thought in your heart maybe to you a saving formula, and not only keep you unharmed by all attacks of devils, but also purify you from all faults and earthly stains, and lead you to that invisible and celestial contemplation, and carry you on to that ineffable glow of prayer, of which so few have any experience. Let sleep come upon you still considering this verse, till having been moulded by the constant use of it, you grow accustomed to repeat it even in your sleep. When you wake let it be the first thing to come into your mind, let it anticipate all your waking thoughts, let it when you rise from your bed send you down on your knees, and thence send you forth to all your work and business, and let it follow you about all day long. (Cassian, Conference X, Chapter 10)

A man may continue to wear the habit; he may drag himself from one observance to another; he may keep up the appearances of a monk, but without ceaseless prayer, and without the grace that ceaseless prayer obtains, such a man will inevitably crack. He will find himself in bits, like Humpty Dumpty, and fear that he will never be able to be put back together again.

Ceaseless prayer itself is a grace. Every prayer is preceded by a prevenient grace. For this reason, the Apostle says, “No man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 12:3). As soon as a man responds to a prevenient grace, even imperfectly and feebly, God responds with another grace. And so a monk lives from grace to grace in ceaseless prayer.

One may not experience the effect of one’s prayer immediately, but know this and believe it without any doubt: no prayer goes unanswered. There are souls who grow weary and stop praying because they think their supplications are not being heard and that all their attempts to pray are in vain. Such souls have not learned the parable of the importunate widow:

And he told them a parable, shewing them that they ought to pray continually, and never lose heart. There was a city once, he said, in which lived a judge who had no fear of God, no regard for man; and there was a widow in this city who used to come before him and say, Give me redress against one who wrongs me. For a time he refused; but then he said to himself, Fear of God I have none, nor regard for man, but this widow wearies me; I will give her redress, or she will wear me down at last with her visits. (Luke 18:1-5)

One day, not very long ago, I found myself asking Our Lord if my persistent supplications were all in vain. I protested to Our Lord that my prayer seemed to have no effect. I went to Our Lord with my anxiety and questions, and Our Lord said this to me:

I have not forgotten a single one of the prayers that you have offered Me in the past. I hold them always in My Heart, and I will answer them at the hour and in the way that I know to be best for you, most fruitful for souls, and for My Father’s glory.

The prayers that the Holy Spirit causes to well up within your heart are the ones that I myself wait to hear from you. Not a single prayer of yours is lost; all remain present to Me even as I am here present to you. Human exchanges are often forgotten. Letters may be lost or destroyed. The human memory cannot always be trusted to remember all that another has said, even when this other is a cherished friend. It is not so with Me: I hold in My divine Heart all that you have ever said to Me, and I will grant the things you ask of Me in ways that you will not always recognise nor understand.

I am faithful to those whom I call my friends . . . and I never forsake those whom I have chosen to be the friends and consolers of My Heart. This does not mean that you will be spared sorrow, and suffering, and even hours of darkness; it means that through all of these things I am with you. My eyes are fixed upon you and My Heart is open to receive you.

These words, I think, correspond to the experience of Saint Antony of Egypt. You all know the episode of Saint Antony’s terrible temptations, as recounted by Saint Athnasius:

Altogether the noises of the apparitions, with their angry ragings, were dreadful. But Antony, stricken and goaded by them, felt bodily pains severer still. He lay watching, however, with unshaken soul, groaning from bodily anguish; but his mind was clear, and as in mockery he said, ‘If there had been any power in you, it would have sufficed had one of you come, but since the Lord has made you weak, you attempt to terrify me by numbers: and a proof of your weakness is that you take the shapes of brute beasts.’ And again with boldness he said, ‘If you are able, and have received power against me, delay not to attack; but if you are unable, why trouble me in vain? For faith in our Lord is a seal and a wall of safety to us.’ So after many attempts they gnashed their teeth upon him, because they were mocking themselves rather than him.

Nor was the Lord then forgetful of Antony’s wrestling, but was at hand to help him. So looking up he saw the roof as it were opened, and a ray of light descending to him. The demons suddenly vanished, the pain of his body straightway ceased, and the building was again whole. But Antony feeling the help, and getting his breath again, and being freed from pain, besought the vision which had appeared to him, saying, ‘Where were thou? Why did you not appear at the beginning to make my pains to cease?’ And a voice came to him, ‘Antony, I was here, but I waited to see your fight; wherefore since you have endured, and hast not been worsted, I will ever be a succour to you, and will make your name known everywhere.’ Having heard this, Antony arose and prayed, and received such strength that he perceived that he had more power in his body than formerly. And he was then about thirty-five years old.

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