Behold, I am here (Prologue 3)

PROLOGUE OF OUR MOST HOLY FATHER SAINT BENEDICT TO HIS RULE
3 Jan. 4 May. 3 Sept.

And the Lord, seeking His own workman in the multitude of the people to whom He thus crieth out, saith again: “Who is the man that will have life, and desireth to see good days. And if thou, hearing Him, answer, “I am he,” God saith to thee: “If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, “Behold, I am here.” What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.

We are all familiar with the account of the call of the Apostles in the first chapter of Saint John. Saint Andrew, the brother of Simon and Saint John, the son of Zebedee are the first called. Although the second disciple is not named, the most ancient traditions identify him as the Evangelist himself, Saint John.

The call of Saint John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23) is the fruit of the humility, the purity, and the fidelity of Saint John the Baptist. There is in this a mysterious mediation of grace between the “friend of the bridegroom” and “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” It is John, the friend of the Bridegroom, who beholding Jesus walking, says, “Behold the Lamb of God.” John and Andrew hear the Baptist identify Jesus as the Lamb. Herein is the fulfillment of what Abraham said to Isaac on the mountain: Deus providebit sibi victimam holocausti, fili mi; God will provide Himself a sacrificial victim, that is, a lamb, for the holocaust, my son” (Genesis 22:8). Already, in this first chapter of the Fourth Gospel there is a revelation of the mystery of the Lamb, which mystery will be made explicit when, at the sixth hour of the eve of the Passover feast, Jesus is led forth to be crucified. The sixth hour marks the beginning of the immolation of the Passover lambs in the Temple.

The utterance of the Baptist, the Friend of the Bridegroom, quickened in Andrew and John the desire to follow Jesus. Of the those called first, Andrew, John, and Simon, only John will follow the Lamb to the place of sacrifice. Is this not a mysterious foreshadowing of the sacerdotal grace of John who alone, of all the apostles, assists at the sacrifice of Lamb on the altar of the Cross?

And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turning, and seeing them following him, saith to them: What seek you? Who said to him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? He saith to them: Come and see. They came, and saw where he abode, and they stayed with him that day: now it was about the tenth hour. (John 1:38–39)

I cannot read today’s portion of the Prologue without recalling this episode in the first chapter of Saint John. Saint Benedict’s dialogue between Our Lord and the man whom He calls is, one might say, a development of the simple dialogue recounted by Saint John: “What seek you?” “Rabbi, where dwellest thou?” “Come and see.” And Saint John adds that they came, they saw, and they stayed with him. This sequence of verbs — they came, they saw, and they stayed with Him — is the story of every monastic vocation.

When Andrew and John accepted Jesus’ invitation to come and see, it was already the tenth hour; the day was far spent. Was this not the first of many the many evening conversations that Jesus would hold with His own, conversations prolonged over supper and into the night? Was this not the first supper, a prefiguring of the Last Supper at which John would rest his head upon Jesus’ breast and receive from Him a mysterious infusion of the secrets of His Heart? Saint John does not speak explicitly of a supper, but this first supper is intimated in the allusion to the tenth hour which, in turn, brings to mind the prayer of the disciples of Emmaus:

Stay with us, because it is towards evening, and the day is now far spent. And he went in with them. (Luke 24:29)

What was the content of this first conversation of Jesus with Andrew and John? Might we not find it in the words from Psalm 33 that Saint Benedict would have us receive from the mouth of the Lord?

If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 33:14–15

To these words of instruction, the psalmist adds this promise: “The eyes of the Lord are upon the just: and his ears unto their prayers” (Psalm 33:16). Saint Benedict associates these words to the promise made by God when He appeared to Solomon in the night, following the dedication of the Temple:

I have heard thy prayer, and I have chosen this place to myself for a house of sacrifice . . . My eyes also shall be open, and my ears attentive to the prayer of him that shall pray in this place. For I have chosen, and have sanctified this place, that my name may be there for ever, and my eyes and my heart may remain there perpetually. (2 Paralipomenon 7:15–16)

For us who are called to keep watch before the Sacred Host, hidden in the tabernacle or exposed to our gaze in the monstrance, the conclusion of this portion of the Prologue holds a special meaning.

And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, “Behold, I am here.” What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.

Know this and never doubt it: when you enter the Oratory for the Divine Office or for your watch of adoration before the Most Blessed Sacrament, the eyes of Jesus are upon you and His ears are open to your prayers. And, yes, be certain even of this: that before you call upon Him, He is saying to you, “Behold, I am here.” It is enough to pass one’s allotted time of adoration repeating back to Our Lord what He will already have said to us: “Behold, you are there! Behold, you are there!”

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