CHAPTER V. Of Obedience
22 Jan. 23 May. 22 Sept.
The first degree of humility is obedience without delay. This becometh those who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ, and who on account of the holy servitude which they have taken upon them, either for fear of hell or for the glory of life everlasting, as soon as anything is ordered by the superior, suffer no more delay in doing it than if it had been commanded by God Himself. It is of these that the Lord saith: “At the hearing of the ear he hath obeyed Me.” And again, to teachers He saith: “He that heareth you heareth Me.”
Such as these, therefore, leaving immediately their own occupations and forsaking their own will, with their hands disengaged, and leaving unfinished what they were about, with the speedy step of obedience follow by their deeds the voice of him who commands; and so as it were at the same instant the bidding of the master and the perfect fulfilment of the disciple are joined together in the swiftness of the fear of God by those who are moved with the desire of attaining eternal life. These, therefore, choose the narrow way, of which the Lord saith: “Narrow is the way which leadeth unto life”; so that living not by their own will, nor obeying their own desires and pleasures, but walking according to the judgment and command of another, and dwelling in community, they desire to have an Abbot over them. Such as these without doubt fulfil that saying of the Lord: “I came not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me.”
On this feast of Our Lady of the Cenacle, we are in some way, gathered round the Mother of Jesus after the manner of the Apostles in the Upper Room. “All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” (Acts 1:14). Our Lady of the Cenacle is now, as she was in the days following the Ascension of the Lord, the lucerna ardens et lucens, the “burning and a shining lamp” (John 5:35) at the heart of the Church. Our Lord used this expression in reference to Saint John the Baptist, but what is said of the Holy Forerunner may be said even more of the Mother of Jesus, by whom he was sanctified in the womb of Saint Elizabeth. “A lamp is not lighted to be put away under a bushel measure; it is put on the lamp-stand, to give light to all the people of the house” (Matthew 5:15). So was Our Lady in the Cenacle, giving light to the Apostles and to the holy women gathered around her.
The prayer of the Mother of Jesus is now as it was then: a prayer so incandescent that it radiates out from her Immaculate Heart to strengthen us in faith, to give us hope, and to inflame us with love and with desire. The closer we are to Mary, the easier it is for us to persevere in prayer. So true is this that I have no fear of saying that a man’s progress in prayer is proportionate to his closeness to Mary. Union with Mary is the shortest and most efficacious means to the contemplative life by which a man abides in habitual communion with God and in a state of perpetual adoration. Wherever I have gone in my life and in all the monasteries I have known, I have remarked that the most prayerful souls are those who live in habitual union with Mary, and this, principally, through the humble repetition of the Rosary. This is the “Secret of Mary” so treasured by interior souls. The Immaculate Virgin Mary participates to the highest degree possible for a creature in the operations of the Holy Ghost. Thus, Saint Paul’s teaching on the work of the Holy Ghost in our prayer may rightly be understood as showing us the role of Our Lady in our prayer. The Apostle says:
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God. (Romans 8:26-27)
Dare I say it explicitly? The Blessed Virgin Mary helps our infirmity, for we know not how to pray as we ought, neither what to say nor how to say it. The thoughts of our hearts may be hesitant and conflicted, but the Mother of Jesus makes supplication for us with an indescribable humility and power. And God, the searcher of hearts, know what Mary desires for us. Mary’s desires for us are perfectly attuned to the desires of her Son. It is according to the mind of God that Mary makes intercession for us. She is omnipotentia supplex, suppliant omnipotence. I invite you during this time of retreat with Our Lady in the Cenacle to make much use of the rosary and, it goes without saying, I think, to visit daily the grotto, our own sanctuary of the Immaculate. It is a blessed place, a place in which Our Lady is mysteriously but really present. How do I know this? Expertus potest credere. It is enough to experience it in order to believe it. You may want to pray, for example, the “Seven Mysteries of the Holy Ghost” as I call them:
1. The Annunciation, the “Proto-Pentecost” in which the Virgin is overshadowed by the Holy Ghost (cf. Lk 1:35). Ask for the Gift of Wisdom.
2. The Visitation in which Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Ghost” (Lk 1:42), greets the Mother of her Lord. Ask for the Gift of Understanding.
3. The Baptism of Jesus, at which the Holy Ghost descended upon him “in bodily form, as a dove” (Lk 3:22). Ask for the Gift of Counsel.
4. The Wedding Feast at Cana (Jn 2:1-11) at which, in response to the intervention of his Mother, Jesus provides wine in abundance prefiguring the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. Ask for the Gift of Fortitude.
5. The Death of Jesus Crucified who, “bowing his head, handed over his spirit” (Jn 19:30). Ask for the Gift of Knowledge.
6. The Resurrection of Jesus who, appearing to the disciples “on the evening of that day, the first day of the week” (Jn 20:19), “breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Ghost’” (Jn 20:22). Ask for the Gift of Piety.
7. The Descent of the Holy Ghost “when the day of Pentecost had come” (Ac 2:1). Ask for the Gift of Holy Fear.
Tomorrow, in more explicit reference to Chapter V of the Holy Rule, I shall try to say something about the Cenacle as the school of obedience, the dominici schola servitii, the school of the service of the Lord. Where did Our Lord give the great command, “Do ye this in memory of Me”? In the Cenacle. Where did Our Lord give the new commandment, “I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also” (John 13:15)? In the Cenacle. Where did Our Lord impart the Holy Ghost in the breath of His mouth for the remission of sins (John 20:22-23)? In the Cenacle. Where did the Mother of Jesus and the Apostles go in obedience to His command on the Mount of Olives, “Stay you in the city till you be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49)? They went to the Cenacle. Where did the Mother of Jesus and the Apostles together begin to practice what Jesus taught when He said that we are “to pray continually, and never be discouraged” (Luke 18:1)? In the Cenacle.