PROLOGUE OF OUR MOST HOLY FATHER SAINT BENEDICT TO HIS RULE
4 Jan. 5 May. 4 Sept.
Having our loins, therefore, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we may deserve to see Him Who hath called us to His kingdom. And if we wish to dwell in the tabernacle of His kingdom, we shall by no means reach it unless we run thither by our good deeds. But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet, saying to Him: “Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?” (Psalm 14:1) After this question, brethren, let us hear the Lord answering, and shewing to us the way to His tabernacle, and saying: “He that walketh without stain and worketh justice: he that speaketh truth in his heart, that hath not done guile with his tongue: he that hath done no evil to his neighbour, and hath not taken up a reproach against his neighbour:” (Psalm 14:2-3) he that hath brought the malignant evil one to naught, casting him out of his heart with all his suggestions, and hath taken his bad thoughts, while they were yet young, and dashed them down upon the (Rock) Christ (Psalm 136:9). These are they, who fearing the Lord, are not puffed up with their own good works, but knowing that the good which is in them cometh not from themselves but from the Lord, magnify the Lord Who worketh in them, saying with the Prophet: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the glory” (Psalm 113:9). So the Apostle Paul imputed nothing of his preaching to himself, but said: “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10) And again he saith: “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17).
Our Father Saint Benedict would have us be free of every encumbrance that would interfere with our walking in the path of Christ per ducatum evangelii, “by the leading of the Gospel.” Our monastic observances are made up of both corporalia and spiritualia (the practices of the body and those of the spirit). The corporalia aim at freeing us and keeping us free from the encumbrances and attachments that would impede the sequela Christi, the following after Christ. Among the corporalia are enclosure, silence, rising for Matins, fasting, abstinence, self-denial, and work. All of these provide us with a context for the spiritualia, among which are the Opus Dei and the sacramental life, lectio divina, adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the ceaseless prayer of the heart, and all the other expressions of prayer including recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the intercession of the angels and saints. The corporalia aim at freeing us from the encumbrances of a worldly life. The spiritualia are the means by which we ask for and receive grace in order that, as Saint Benedict says, “we may deserve to see Him Who hath called us to His kingdom.”
The corporalia provide us with a context for the spiritualia. Saint John Cassian says that we ought not to troubled if, for one reason or another, we are obliged to mitigate or even to omit our customary observances for a time, provided that we keep our hearts fixed on God. The observances are not ends in themselves. Ubi enim est thesaurus tuus, ibi est et cor tuum. “For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Matthew 6:21). We do not practice the observances with a view to attaining some sort of award for excellence or a kind of gold medal for flawless performance.
It sometimes happens that a brother becomes vexed and downcast because the routine of his observance is disturbed, or because things do not go as he wanted, or because the perfect clockwork of the life was thrown out of balance by some other brother’s infirmity. The brother who becomes troubled in this way has lost sight of the right order of things. Saint John Cassian says:
Those things which are of secondary importance, such as fastings, vigils, withdrawal from the world, meditation on Scripture, we ought to practise with a view to our main object, i.e., purity of heart, which is charity, and we ought not on their account to drive away this main virtue, for as long as it is still found in us intact and unharmed, we shall not be hurt if any of the things which are of secondary importance are necessarily omitted; since it will not be of the slightest use to have done everything, if this main reason of which we have spoken be removed, for the sake of which everything is to be done. (Conference I, Chapter 7).
In the same Conference I, Saint John Cassian speaks of an immediate end of the monastic life and of its final end. The immediate end is purity of heart. Beati mundo corde: quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt. “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5;8). The final end is to see God. Et videbunt faciem ejus. “And they shall see his face” (Apocalypse 22:4).
Saint Benedict joins the image of seeing Christ “who has called us into his kingdom” with that of “dwelling in the tabernacle of the kingdom.” Our Lord does not invite us to see him as one sees the Pope at a General Audience or a performer at a concert, that is, from a distance and without any real exchange face-to-face and heart-to-heart. Our Lord invites us to dwell with Him under His royal tent, that is, in His tabernacle, where He would speak to each of us as He spoke to Moses, “face to face as man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). Ego autem in justitia apparebo conspectui tuo; satiabor cum apparuerit gloria tua. “But as for me, I will appear before thy sight in justice: I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear” (Psalm 16:15).