Pax Benedictina (IV:4)

CHAPTER IV. What are the Instruments of Good Works
21 Jan. 22 May. 21 Sept.

62. Daily to fulfil by one’s deeds the commandments of God.
63. To love chastity.
64. To hate no man.
65. Not to give way to jealousy and envy.
66. Not to love strife.
67. To fly from vainglory.
68. To reverence the Seniors.
69. To love the juniors.
70. To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
72. And never to despair of God’s mercy.

Behold, these are the tools of the spiritual craft, which, if they be constantly employed day and night, and duly given back on the day of judgment, will gain for us from the Lord that reward which He Himself hath promised – “which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love Him.” And the workshop where we are to labour at all these things is the cloister of the monastery, and stability in the community.

The last series of the Instruments of Good Works is ordered to peace, to the pax benedictina, the peace that the Maurist Benedictines signified with the monogram of the pax inter spinas, the word pax surrounded by Our Lord’s Crown of Thorns. The peace of the Benedictine monk is not purchased cheaply. It is, as Saint Benedict says in the conclusion of the Prologue, the fruit of a personal participation by patience in the sufferings of Christ.

If anything be somewhat strictly laid down, according to the dictates of sound reason, for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not therefore fly in dismay from the way of salvation, whose beginning cannot but be strait and difficult. But as we go forward in our life and in faith, we shall with hearts enlarged and unspeakable sweetness of love run in the way of God’s commandments; so that never departing from His guidance, but persevering in His teaching in the monastery until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, that we may deserve to be partakers of His kingdom. Amen.

What does it mean to share by patience in the sufferings of Christ? It has nothing to do with a grim pursuit of self-inflicted macerations and of hardships of artifice. It has everything to do with a serene abandonment to all that God wills or permits, and to the salutary pruning that takes place almost imperceptibly in daily life under the Holy Rule, in the enclosure of a given monastery, and under a particular abbot. Our Lord Himself tells that it is His Father who wields the pruning knife.

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. (John 15:1-2)

This pruning has a context: our life together. And the pax benedictina that flourishes in the well-tended vineyard is not the tranquility of a man in isolation; it is, rather, the beautiful order of a body in which all the members are at peace with one another and with their head. Saint Benedict gives us six instruments ordered to peace. The first is each day to fulfil by one’s deeds the commandments of God. There is no quietism here. Neither is there an activistic Americanism. There is, rather, the humble and serene obedience of a monk who recognises in all that is asked of him an opportunity to please the Father. “And he that sent me, is with me, and he hath not left me alone: for I do always the things that please him” (John 8:29). Then, there is this: to love chastity. To love chastity is to find peace. The unchaste man is never peaceful. He is restless, tormented, and weary. The chaste man is at rest in himself and in God. He enjoys a peace that the world cannot give.

What does the world offer? Only gratification of corrupt nature, gratification of the eye, the empty pomp of living; these things take their being from the world, not from the Father. (1 John 2:16)

There follow four Instruments indispensable for our life together: to hate no man; not to give way to jealousy and envy; not to love strife; and to fly from vainglory. Hatred, jealousy, envy, strife, and vainglory make up a seething cauldron of vices utterly incompatible with peace. Saint Benedict then gives four positive Instruments, tools that build up our life together and make of the monastery the dwelling of peace: to reverence the seniors; to love the juniors; to pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ; and to make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun. I beg you to make use of these Instruments at every opportunity. Without them, the pax benedictina is illusory and subject to the incursions of all the warring vices.

And there is the last Instrument of Good Works, the one that gives even the weakest monk, the man whose does nothing but fall and get up again, fall and get up again, fall and get up again, hope and peace. It is “Never to despair of God’s mercy.” If you fall, do not be astonished that you have fallen. If you fall, quickly say, “Lord Jesus, Thou seest that I have fallen. Give me grace to get up again and cast myself into the embrace of Thy mercy.” Do this as often as you must without ever despairing of the mercy of God.

Is the pax benedictina compatible with falling and rising, falling and rising, falling and rising? Indeed, it is, and this because every time a brother brought low by sin rises to meet the embrace of Christ, he makes an act of trust in His mercy. Nothing so restores peace as confidence in the mercy of God. Our monastery is, I believe, a sign of what can happen when one man after another puts his trust in the mercy of God. Seek the mercy of God and you will find peace, a peace hedged about by thorns, but a peace that the world cannot give.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. (John 14:27)

Benedictine peace is not the absence of struggles. It is not a kind of Buddhist impassibility. It is not the absence of emotion, nor is it a detached indifference from persons, things, and events. Christ Jesus is, in all things and in every season of life, the ideal of the monk. The Gospels show us Our Lord as experiencing and expressing love, disappointment, exasperation, fatigue, pity, fear, and the need for companionship. He suffered from misunderstanding, rejection, and betrayal. He showed anger. He wept over Jerusalem and over the death of His friend Lazarus. The depths of Our Lord’s anguish in Gethsemani are impenetrable.

And he taketh Peter and James and John with him; and he began to fear and to be heavy. And he saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay you here, and watch. And when he was gone forward a little, he fell flat on the ground; and he prayed, that if it might be, the hour might pass from him. And he saith: Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee: remove this chalice from me; but not what I will, but what thou wilt. And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping. And he saith to Peter: Simon, sleepest thou? couldst thou not watch one hour? Watch ye, and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Mark 14:33-38)

We have, together with the Gospel accounts of the agony in Gethsemani, the poignant words of Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Hebrews:

Christ, during his earthly life, offered prayer and entreaty to the God who could save him from death, not without a piercing cry, not without tears; yet with such piety as won him a hearing. (Hebrews 5:7-8)

It sometimes happens that one or another of us displays emotion or breaks down under the strain of fatigue, loss, disappointment, or some great sorrow. Most of us would have been raised with the notion that men do not weep, do not break down, do not display weakness, do not elicit pity, and do not sigh. “Men,” we are told, “keep their troubles to themselves.” A certain view of manhood sees every display of vulnerability as inappropriate and debilitating. The notion behind this is that if the leader of the clan or the family reveals his doubts, his fears, and his anguish, the whole clan or the whole family will be destabilised and weakened. And yet, we see all of these things in Our Lord Jesus Christ. He wept, He broke down, He displayed weakness, He elicited pity, and He sighed deeply. For all of this, Our Lord remained fixed in the peace of His divinity. He was the King of Peace, Rex pacificus, even when prostrate and weeping in Gethsemani, even when forsaken by all, even when crowned with thorns, even when saying, “O My people, what have I done to Thee? or wherein have I wearied thee? Answer Me.” When it happens, that I, or any one of us, display doubts, fears, and anguish, or weep bitterly over a loss or a great sorrow, do not judge this a loss of the pax benedictina. The pax benedictina is, as I said, hedged round about by thorns, and it must be thus in this valley of tears. This is the paradox: we seek, and follow, and adore the Man of Sorrows Who is, at the same time, the Rex pacificus or, as the prophet says, Et erit iste pax, “And this man shall be our peace” (Micheas 5:6)

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