CHAPTER XLIII. Of those who come late to the Work of God, or to table
22 Mar. 22 July. 21 Nov.
At the hour of Divine Office, as soon as the signal is heard, let every one, leaving whatever he had in hand, hasten to the Oratory with all speed, and yet with seriousness, so that no occasion he given for levity. Let nothing, then, be preferred to the Work of God. And should any one come to the Night-Office after the Gloria of the ninety-fourth Psalm (which for this reason we wish to be said very slowly and protractedly), let him not stand in his order in the choir, but last of all, or in the place set apart by the Abbot for the negligent, so that he may be seen by him and by all, until, the work of God being ended, he have made satisfaction by public penance. The reason why we have judged it fitting for them to stand in the last place, or apart, is that, being seen of all, they may amend for very shame. For, if they were to remain outside the Oratory, some one perchance would return to his place and go to sleep, or at all events would sit down outside, and give himself to idle talk, and thus an occasion would be given to the evil one. Let him therefore enter, that he may not lose the whole, and may amend for the future. At the day Hours, let him who cometh to the Work of God after the Verse,* and the Gloria of the first Psalm which followeth it, stand in the last place, as ordered above, and not presume to join with the choir in the Divine Office, until he hath made satisfaction: unless perchance the Abbot shall permit him so to do, on condition, however, that he afterwards do penance.
The first two sentences of Chapter LXIII have, over the centuries, become emblematic of Benedictine life:
At the hour of Divine Office, as soon as the signal is heard, let every one, leaving whatever he had in hand, hasten to the Oratory with all speed, and yet with seriousness, so that no occasion he given for levity. Let nothing, then, be preferred to the Work of God.
There are sometimes animated discussions among people seeking to grasp the underlying rhythm of Benedictine life. Is it a life of prayer interrupted by work? Or is it a life of work punctuated by prayer? Such arguments, I think, fail to enter into the underlying unity of our life in Christ: Et erant semper in templo, laudantes et benedicentes Deum. “And they were always in the temple, praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53). All of Benedictine life unfolds and develops in templo, for ours is a life in Christ, and Christ is our temple. Saint Luke’s expression, semper in templo, is synonymous with what we call perpetual adoration. Returning to Our Lord’s own words to the Samaritan woman in last Friday’s Gospel (John 4:5-42), I should like to say, “perpetual adoration in spirit and in truth“. I recall what Mother Mectilde said in her Epiphany conference of 1694:
To adore continually it is not necessary to say, “My God, I adore Thee.” It is enough to tend inwardly to God [who is] present, to maintain a profound respect out of reverence for His greatness, believing that He is in us as He truly is. In fact, the Most Holy Trinity dwells in us: the Father acts and operates there with His power, the Son with His wisdom, and the Holy Ghost with His goodness. It is, therefore, in the intimacy of your soul, where the God of majesty abides, that you must adore Him continually.
From time to time, place your hand over your heart, saying to yourself: “God is in me. And He is there not only to sustain my physical life, as in irrational creatures, but He is there acting and operating, to raise me to the highest perfection, if I do not put obstacles in the way of His grace.”
Imagine that He says to you interiorly: “I am always in thee: abide thou in me, think of Me and I shall think of thee, and I will take care of all the rest. Be wholly at my disposal, even as I am at thine; live not apart from Me”. As Scripture says, “He who eats of Me will live by Me; He will abide in Me, and I in him” (cf. John 6:58 and 6:57). Happy are those who understand these words and who adore in spirit and in truth the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost!
Hearing these words of Mother Mectilde in the context of the present crisis, I think that they express a truth capable of bringing solace and hope to many souls unable to go out to church, deprived of the sacraments, and grieving over the loss of the consolations of the faith to which they have grown accustomed. “I am always in thee: abide thou in me, think of Me and I shall think of thee, and I will take care of all the rest. Be wholly at my disposal, even as I am at thine; live not apart from Me”.
We monks are immensely privileged. In our monastic enclosure, we live close to the wellspring. Unlike so many of you, we are not deprived of Holy Mass, of the Divine Office, of adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, of Confession, nor of the blessings and supplications set forth in the liturgical books of the Church. “The lines are fallen unto me in goodly places: for my inheritance is goodly to me” (Psalm 15:6). With the privilege of our enclosed monastic life, there comes a grave responsibility. If God, in His inscrutable designs, has placed us monks here, and so provides for us, it is so that we monks may be a conduit of graces to those outside, to our Oblates, to priests, to the diocese, and to the whole Church.
What are the implications of this responsibility? Saint Benedict says it: Nihil operi Dei praeponatur. “Let nothing be put before the Work of God.” I asked the brethren today for a renewed generosity with regard to the Work of God and with regard to our watches of adoration before the Most Blessed Sacrament. We monks, like anyone else, have days when fatigue and feelings of melancholy cause us to drag our feet. In the present crisis, and indeed at all times, Holy Mass, the Divine Office, and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament are the principal expressions of our spiritual fatherhood. We monks are not here for ourselves. The privileges that are ours—and they are incalculable—are not goods to be hoarded up for our own consolation. We are, like the intravenous cannula, but the small point of entry of a medicinal grace that, passing through each of us, courses through the Mystical Body of Christ, reaching those of His members who are most in need of healing.
Do not give in to anxiety, to futile speculation, and to feelings of panic. The media are fomenting a certain panic. The Corona Virus crisis must be taken seriously, but this does not mean that we are to give ear to every rumour and dire prediction. Those few brothers who, by reason of their obediences, have permission to access the media are not authorised to consult the news at every turn. Our line of conduct is this: “Let nothing be put before the Work of God.” I have had countless assurances from Our Lord that if we do, faithfully and generously, what He asks of us, He will not be outdone in faithfulness and in generosity. ”
Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore solicitous for to morrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:33-34)
The Divine Office, enshrining the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and radiating from it, is the highest and purest expression of our life in templo, the life of perpetual adoration, perseverantes unanimiter in oratione cum Maria Matre Iesu, “persevering with one mind in prayer with Mary the mother of Jesus (Acts 1:4). For the rest, be at peace. Let our monastery be, above all else, the abode of peace.