Of Shepherds and Monks (LXVII)

CHAPTER LXVII. Of Brethren who are sent on a Journey
25 Apr. 25 Aug. 25 Dec.

Let the brethren who are about to be sent on a journey commend themselves to the prayers of all the brethren and of the Abbot, and at the last prayer of the Work of God let a commemoration be always made of the absent. Let the brethren that return from a journey, on the very day that they come back, lie prostrate on the floor of the Oratory at all the Canonical Hours, while the Work of God is being performed, and beg the prayers of all on account of their transgressions, in case they should perchance upon the way have seen or heard anything harmful, or fallen into idle talk. And let no one presume to relate to another what he may have seen or heard outside the Monastery; for thence arise manifold evils. If any one shall so presume, let him be subjected to the punishment prescribed by the Rule. And he shall undergo a like penalty, who dareth to leave the enclosure of the Monastery, or to go anywhere, or do anything, however trifling, without permission of the Abbot.

Chapter LXVII treats of brethen sent on a journey and, in this way, corresponds to Saint Luke’s account of the shepherds who, upon hearing the glory of the angelic liturgy over their heads, find themselves, one might say “sent”on a journey. “Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us.” The shepherds of Bethlehem are prototypes of the monastic vocation. Pope Benedict XVI says this very thing in his book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Pope Benedict writes:

Another element has been particularly emphasized by the monastic tradition: the shepherds’ watchfulness. Monks set out to be watchful in this world – in the first place through their nocturnal prayer, but above all inwardly, open to receiving God’s call through the signs of his presence. (Jesus of Nazareth, the Infancy Narratives, P. 72)

The shepherds were “keeping the night watches”—even as we did last night in singing Matins—when a divine visitation filled their eyes with light and their ears with good tidings of great joy” “This day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David” (Luke 2:11). The Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger is none other than the Infant wrapped in the appearance of bread, and laid upon the corporal. The monastic vocation is to hear the Word of God with such alacrity and obedience that one hastens to where the Infant lies, and seeing Him, grasps the heavenly mystery of what it is given men to adore on earth.

Christmas is the descent of the heavenly liturgy to earth. The first to participate in this angelic liturgy, after the Virgin Mother and Saint Joseph, are the shepherds. With them the whole creation is convoked for this liturgy: the star, the cave, the ass, and the ox. An infant lying in a manger became the centre of the cosmos; no less for us today is the Host lying upon the altar the centre of the cosmos, that to which our life is ordered, and that for which all created things exist. Our vocation is to sing, sometimes but not always in words and in melody, Venite adoremus.

A word of caution: know without any doubt that the devil is particularly active in cloisters on the greater festivals. In fact, the higher the festival, the more likely it is for monks, made more vulnerable by fatigue, to suffer diabolical vexations of one sort or another. These vexations come principally in the form of temptations to impatience, temptations to want to regulate the way things are done and to control the brethren doing them. There may also be temptations to interior murmuring and criticisms. The sacred liturgy itself may become the arena of diabolical vexations. Be vigilant! Practice the most delicate charity with patience, forbearance, affability, and serenity. Make good use of a healthy and appropriate sense of humour. Do not take yourselves too seriously. Hold no conversations with the hissing little demons of perfectionism. Resist the desire to control, and accept with good cheer the things that cannot be changed . . . at least this year. It is a wise monastic adage that says, ” Leave something for next year.” Next year we will keep the feast again, adding what was lacking this year and correcting what was amiss.


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