The patience of God (Prologue 5)

PROLOGUE OF OUR MOST HOLY FATHER SAINT BENEDICT TO HIS RULE
5 Jan. 6 May. 5 Sept.

Hence also the Lord saith in the Gospel: “He that heareth these words of Mine, and doeth them, is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock: the floods came, the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not, because it was founded upon a rock” (Matthew 7:26-27). And the Lord in fulfilment of these His words is waiting daily for us to respond by our deeds to His holy admonitions. Therefore are the days of our life lengthened for the amendment of our evil ways, as saith the Apostle: “Knowest thou not that the patience of God is leading thee to repentance?” For the merciful Lord saith: “I will not the death of a sinner, but that he should be converted and live.”

Saint Benedict continues his Prologue with a passage from the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. In this he illustrates what he meant when, in the passage we heard yesterday, he said, Per ducatum evangelii pergamus itinera eius, “let us proceed along His paths by the guidance of the Gospel.” Saint Benedict gives us today but a fragment of the Sermon on the Mount, but this fragment invites and prompts us to read what comes before and after it. (This, I must add, is one of the principles of lectio divina. One must read not only the appointed liturgical texts as given in the Missal, for example, but also what precedes and follows the appointed liturgical texts.)

By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.

Saint Benedict speaks today of the patience of God. Patientia Dei. Consider this: God waits for each of us. The Creator waits for the creature. The Father waits for the child. The Lord waits for the servant. Dwell sometimes on this mystery of the patience  of God, and praise Him for it. He lengthens the days of our life and waits patiently for us to bear the fruit that He expects of each of us. The parable of the fig tree thus comes into play:

He spoke also this parable: A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, and found none. And he said to the dresser of the vineyard: Behold, for these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down therefore: why cumbereth it the ground? But he answering, said to him: Lord, let it alone this year also, until I dig about it, and dung it. And if happily it bear fruit: but if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down. (Luke 13:6–9)

You will all recall, I think, Abbot Guéranger’s advice to Dom Maurus Wolter, the first prior of Beuron: “Imitate the patience of God, and don’t demand that spring bear the fruits of autumn.” The imitation of the patience of God is something that every monk, and not only the abbot must practice. Imitate the patience of God with one another; and imitate the patience of God with yourselves. The dresser of the vineyard waited three years and, then, a fourth year for the fig tree to bear fruit, and we are loathe to wait four months, or four weeks, or four days, or even four hours for things to be as we would have them be in us and around us.

The passage from the Sermon on the Mount must also be related to the Johannine parable of the Vine and the Branches. The fact that the same homely imagery occurs both in the Synoptics and in the Fourth Gospel suggests that it was familiar to Our Lord and used by Him frequently.

I AM the true vine; and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now you are clean by reason of the word, which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you. In this is my Father glorified; that you bring forth very much fruit, and become my disciples. (John 15:1–8)

I remember that when I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I had a copy of the New Testament for which one of my friends made a special cover. I carried that New Testament around with me, and when I began my first experiences of monastic life — it must have been in the summer of 1967 or 1968 — I had that New Testament with me. One memory from that period of my life remains very vivid: after the Conventual Mass at the Abbey of S., where I spent the better part of two summers, I used to open my New Testament to the 15th Chapter of Saint John and read it over and over again with great relish. It was perhaps the first time that I experienced so strongly what Blessed Columba Marmion calls the unction of Sacred Scripture. An unction is applied to a bruise or a wound outwardly, but it penetrates the affected part of the body and its benefits are experienced inwardly. So it is with the Word of God. It is a balm, an unction that penetrates the soul from without in order to heal from within.

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