Divine Mercy in the Rule of Saint Benedict

Divine Mercy Sunday

The feast of Divine Mercy is, as you know, a new and relatively recent enrichment of the liturgy, an adornment added to the ancient splendours of Paschaltide by the express will of Saint John Paul II. We can welcome this enrichment, this adornment of the liturgical calendar in the way previous generations welcomed the once new and innovative feasts of Corpus Christi and of the Sacred Heart. These were given to the Church through Saint Juliana and Saint Margaret Mary, just as the feast of Divine Mercy came through Saint Faustina.

God, Rich in Mercy

I remember well the promulgation of Saint John Paul II’s encyclical on Divine Mercy in 1980. It was entitled Dives in Misericordia, “God, rich in mercy,” and, at the time, it resonated in the hearts of many as an invitation to return to the Father and to believe boldly in His merciful goodness for the most fragile and wounded among us. Saint John Paul II, personally touched to the quick by the message of his humble compatriot, Saint Faustina, was compelled to share her message with the whole Church and, indeed, with the world. This he did, not only by his teaching, but also by integrating Saint Faustina’s message into the liturgical calender.

Saint Benedict the Merciful
For us, children of Saint Benedict, the mercy of God is something that surrounds us on all sides. It is above us and below us; it precedes us and follows us; it lifts us when we fall and sustains us in the midst of life’s uncertainties. Saint Benedict uses the word misericordia seven times in the Holy Rule. Misericordia is, literally, that quality of love by which one takes to heart the misery of another. Seven is the mystic number that signifies fullness, superabundance, and completion. Benedictine life is a school of Divine Mercy.

God Has Shown You Mercy
First of all, if you have persevered thus far in your vocation, it is because God has shown you mercy. With Our Blessed Lady you can say, Suscepit Israël puerum suum, recordatus misericordiæ suæ. “He hath lifted up His child Israel to Himself, being mindful of His mercy” (Luke 1:54). You are, each one of you, the child Israel, dear to God, and lifted up to be pressed against His Heart.

Abandonment to the Mercy of God

Secondly, monastic profession is an act of abandonment to the Mercy of God: Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam, et non confundas me ab exspectatione mea. “Take Thou me to Thyself, O Lord, according to Thy Word, and I shall live; let me not be disappointed in my hope” (Psalm 118:116). A monk is a man who throws himself boldly and blindly into the arms of Divine Mercy, imitating the Suscipe of Jesus from the altar of the Cross: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Praising the Mercy of God

Thirdly, Benedictine life is a glorification of the Mercy of God; it is a life of praise. The very act of putting on the holy habit commits a man to sing with his whole being: Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo, “The mercies of the Lord, I will sing forever” (Psalm 88:2). And with Jesus, the New David, each of us intones a new hymn of praise: “I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in Thy sight” (Luke 10:21).

Mercy in the Holy Rule
If we were to review, even summarily, the seven references to Divine Mercy in the Rule of Saint Benedict, what would we find? Let us attempt to do it briefly, going through the Holy Rule from back to front.

Preferring Mercy to Justice
In Chapter 64 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict says that the abbot must be merciful, ever preferring mercy to justice, that he himself may obtain mercy. Each day I discover innumerable occasions on which to prefer mercy to justice. Only in this way will I have a claim to mercy for myself. To each one of you I say this: Learn to be excessively merciful, for to those who are excessively merciful, God will show an excessive mercy.

Mercy Poured Out

In Chapter 53 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict describes the rituals of monastic hospitality. In doing this, he quotes the psalmist: ““We have received Thy mercy, O God, in the midst of Thy Temple” (Psalm 47:10). The monastery is a place wherein the mercy of God is poured out upon all who come to receive it. There is no need to travel to the east or to the west, to the north or to the south, in search of a place where Divine Mercy is poured out. Wheresoever there are hearts in need of the mercy of God and open to receive it, mercy will be given, rising all radiant against the darkness “like the Dayspring from on high” (Luke 1:78).

Mercy Towards the Weak
In Chapter 37 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict speaks of the mercy that human nature readily shows towards the very old and the very young. For Saint Benedict, every weakness constitutes an irrefutable claim on Divine Mercy. At certain seasons and hours in life, we ourselves are the weak ones in need of mercy, and at other seasons and hours, we are the instruments of Divine Mercy, the finite channels through which the pity of the Heart of Jesus reaches others to soothe, to comfort, and to heal them.

I have been reading these days a fascinating biography of Natuzza Evolo (1924-2009). At the age of sixteen, Natuzza was confined to a psychiatric hospital in Reggio Calabria. Accepting the humiliation, Natuzza became a instrument of Divine Mercy in the hospital. The mental patients that surrounded her, and their families, occupied a great part of her thoughts. She listened to them, comforted them, and spoke to them of God and of His “World of Light.” In 1988, Natuzza said to Luciano Regolo, author of the book: “Even to offer them a single smile or a kind word means so much to them. And then, pray for them and pray with them.” Natuzza was speaking of how one can be charitable in hospitals: “In every one who suffers, in every patient, it is necessary to see Jesus and to love him as if it were He in person” (Luciano Regolo, Natuzza Evolo, Il miracolo di una vita, Milano, 2010, p. 72). I struck me that Natuzza Evolo was, even at that time of her life, consoling the afflicted with the Divine Mercy that filled her and flowed out from her. She was to continue to do this humbly and quietly from her modest home in Paravati until her death at the age of eighty-five.

Mercy Received Humbly
In Chapter 34 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict tells us how we are to act when mercy is shown us. We are to receive it humbly, gratefully, and simply, not as something due to us, but as a wondrous gift surpassing both what we deserve and what we dare not ask.

The Confession of Mercy

In Chapter 7 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict presents the monk as a sinner so marked by the mercy of God, that he confesses it at every turn. “Confess to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 117:1). What is the Divine Office, the Work to which no other work can be preferred, if not the ceaseless confession of the Mercy of God, by day and by night?

And Never to Despair of the Mercy of God
Finally, in Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict gives us the one phrase that, to my mind, qualifies him as Doctor of Divine Mercy: Et de Dei misericordia numquam desperare. “And never to despair of the mercy of God”. In the end, it is this that makes the monk: the perfect child of Saint Benedict is the one who never despairs of the mercy of God. Others may tell you that monastic perfection consists in this or that observance, in the acquisition of a particular virtue, or in the eradication of a particular vice. I shall not contest these affirmations, but I shall place one thing before, and after, and over, and above them all: the perfect monk is the one who stubbornly believes in the mercy of God, “hoping against hope,” even — and especially — when the edifice of his virtues and his ability to carry out every other injunction of the Holy Rule lie in ruins and wreckage all about him.

Mother Mectilde de Bar

There is one last detail that only God could have arranged: today, the Second Sunday of Easter, is the liturgical anniversary of the death in 1698 of Mectilde of the Blessed Sacrament who, through her writings and her intercession, has become for us a “mystagogue” of the Sacred Host. I pray that as she becomes better known, Mother Mectilde, the Teresa of the Benedictine Order,— will continue to initiate us into the mysteries of “the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world” (Apocalypse 13:8), the very Lamb who appeared upon the altar of mercy at Knock, and who abides, silent, humble, and hidden, in the Sacrament invented by His Love to make His pierced Side, and the Blood and the Water that flow from it, everywhere present.