PROLOGUE OF OUR MOST HOLY FATHER SAINT BENEDICT TO HIS RULE
1 Jan. 2 May. 1 Sept
Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart; willingly receive and faithfully fulfil the admonition of thy loving Father, that thou mayest return by the labour of obedience to Him from Whom thou hadst departed through the sloth of disobedience.
To thee, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever thou art that, renouncing thine own will, dost take up the strong and bright weapons of obedience, in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true king.
In the first place, whatever good work thou beginnest to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect; that He Who hath now vouchsafed to count us in the number of His children may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with the good things He hath given us, that not only may He never, as an angry father, disinherit his children, but may never, as a dreadful Lord, incensed by our sins, deliver us to everlasting punishment, as most wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.
On this First Saturday of the month of May, we begin again our reading of the Holy Rule. It is time to start afresh, full of confidence in the intercession of the Immaculate Conception, the Mother of every new beginning in grace. Saint Benedict says, In primis, ut quicquid agendum inchoas bonum, ab eo perfici instantissima oratione deposcas. “In the first place, whatever good work thou beginnest to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect.” The mystery of the Immaculate Conception contains in itself the germ of every beginning in the order of grace. The liturgy tells us this in the text from Proverbs given us in the Mass of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th:
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived, neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out: the mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth: He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths: when he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters: when he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when he balanced the foundations of the earth; I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times; playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. Now therefore, ye children, hear me: Blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, and that watcheth daily at my gates, and waiteth at the posts of my doors. He that shall find me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord. (Proverbs 8:22-35)
When the Virgin of Nazareth hearkened to the word of the Angel, when she inclined the ear of her most pure Heart to receive his message, she gave herself unreservedly, in a single act of obedience, to the Father’s plan for the salvation of the world. The Ecce ancilla Domini of the Virgin is echoed down through the ages in the rite of monastic profession so often as a monk or nun, with uplifted hands, intones: Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum et vivam, “Take Thou me unto Thyself, O Lord, and I shall live” (Psalm 118:116). It is through the obedience of Mary that we, all of us, poor sinners, return to Him from whom we have all departed through the sloth of disobedience. The whole monastic life is a return to the Father, with Christ, by means of a participation in the obedience of Mary. The obedience of Mary is the undoing of the disobedience of Eve and of all her sin-stained lineage in this valley of tears.
God Himself waited on the obedience of Mary: the Father waited on the obedience of Mary; the Son waited on the obedience of Mary; the Holy Ghost waited on the obedience of Mary. This is the divine drama that compelled Saint Bernard to address the Virgin of Nazareth, saying:
The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.
Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word. (Hom. 4, 8-9: Opera omnia, Edit. Cist. 4 , 53-54)
The obedience of Mary was like a shaft of pure light cutting across a dark place. The shaft of light shone from her Immaculate Heart all the way to the Heart of the Father, opening the way for the descent of the Son into her virginal womb, and opening the way for us to return to the bosom of the Father. It is remarkable that in the traditional iconography of the Annunciation there is this shaft of light that stretches from eternity into time, and from time into eternity. It represents the “Yes” of the Virgin opening a path of light for the descent of the Son. The obedience of Mary opened the way for the exitus a Deo and the reditus ad Deum. What are the very words of the Son of the Virgin?
In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will take you to myself; that where I am, you also may be. And whither I go you know, and the way you know. Thomas saith to him: Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me. (John 14:2-6)
The obedience of the Virgin opened the way to the obedience of the Son and to the obedience of all who follow after Him. In uttering the words, “Be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38), the Virgin offered her spotless womanhood to sacrificial consecration by the Holy Ghost. “Take Thou my body for His Body. Take Thou my blood for His Blood. Take Thou my womb for His sanctuary. Take Thou my heart for His altar.” The oblation of the Virgin opened the way to the oblation of the Son. Christ was able to say, “This is My Body”—in the Cenacle and from the Cross— because the Most Holy Virgin, in her own way, said, “This is my body” at the Annunciation. The oblation of the Mother of Christ made possible the oblation of Christ the Head, which then opened the way for the oblation of the Body of Christ, that is, of His members.
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith: Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not: but a body thou hast fitted to me: Holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then said I: Behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of me: that I should do thy will, O God. In saying before, Sacrifices, and oblations, and holocausts for sin thou wouldest not, neither are they pleasing to thee, which are offered according to the law. Then said I: Behold, I come to do thy will, O God: he taketh away the first, that he may establish that which followeth. In the which will, we are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once. (Hebrews 10:5-10)
Let us then allow ourselves to make a new beginning today in that shaft of light that stretches from the Heart of the Virgin Mary to the Heart of the Father, and from the Heart of the Father to the Heart of the Virgin Mary, and through her Heart into the hearts of all who receive in faith the blessed fruit of her womb.
There is one who enlightens every soul born into the world, the Son of the Virgin; he was the true Light. He, through whom the world was made, having been conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary, was in the world, and the world treated him as a stranger.
He came to what was his own through Mary, and they who were his own gave him no welcome, and this to the sorrow of her maternal Heart. But all those who did welcome him through Mary and through the Church, he empowered to become the children of God, all those who believe in his name; their birth came, not from human stock, not from nature’s will or man’s, but from God.
And the Word was made flesh in the womb of the Virgin, and came to dwell among us as the son of Mary; and we had sight of his glory, glory such as belongs to the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth.
We have John’s witness to him; I told you, cried John, there was one coming after me who takes rank before me, the very One who, while yet in His Mother’s womb sanctified me in the womb of my mother, causing me to leap with joy; he was when I was not.
We have all received something out of his abundance, grace answering to grace, and this first in Mary. Through Moses the law was given to us; through Jesus Christ, the blessed fruit of the Virgin’s womb, grace came to us, and truth.
No man has ever seen God; but now his only-begotten Son, who abides in the bosom of the Father, and who took flesh of the Virgin Mary, has himself made him known to us. (John 1:9-18)