CHAPTER II. What kind of man the Abbot ought to be
15 Jan. 16 May. 15 Sept.
Above all let him not, overlooking or under-valuing the salvation of the souls entrusted to him, be too solicitous for fleeting, earthly, and perishable things; but let him ever bear in mind that he hath undertaken the government of souls, of which he shall have to give an account. And that he may not complain for want of worldly substance, let him remember what is written: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). And again: “Nothing is wanting to them that fear Him” (Psalm 33:9). And let him know that he who hath undertaken the government of souls, must prepare himself to render an account of them. And whatever may be the number of the brethren under his care, let him be certainly assured that on the Day of Judgment he will have to give an account to the Lord of all these souls, as well as of his own. And thus, being ever fearful of the coming inquiry which the Shepherd will make into the state of the flock committed to him, while he is careful on other men’s account, he will be solicitous also on his own. And so, while correcting others by his admonitions, he will be himself cured of his own defects.
We resume our reading of the Holy Rule in course with the last part of Chapter II. Saint Benedict warns the abbot of overlooking or under-valuing the salvation of the souls entrusted to him. Saint Benedict identifies one temptation in particular: too great a preoccupation with fleeting, earthly, and perishable things. This temptation may be particularly strong in the early years of a foundation. The abbot may pass from a right and reasonable concern for the material security of the monastery, for the development of remunerative works, and for the construction of buildings, to endless anxiety over these same things. He may allow himself to be driven to court benefactors and then feel obliged to meet their expectations. The abbot must maintain a healthy independence from the expectations of benefactors and an unshakable trust in Divine Providence. The Litany of Divine Providence that we pray every day after None is a salutary reminder of this, and an echo of Our Lord’s words in the Gospel:
Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit? And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is to day, and to morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith? Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. 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 6:25-34)
I remember what was given me in prayer after we had already been here four years, and I want to share it with you:
A troubled heart is always an indication of one’s lack of trust in Me. Trouble, interior disquiet, comes from wanting to control and manage the things that are better left to My Father’s providence. At every moment, I provide you with occasions to trust Me and to abandon to Me the things that you would prefer to see other than they are. Whenever you come up against something that contradicts your plans or fails to meet your expectations, give that thing, that situation, that disappointment to Me. Entrust it to My Heart, and then relinquish all worry over it.
I am not distant from you nor am I removed from your life and all that makes up your days. Not a hair falls from your head without My Father permitting it. Make frequent acts of trust and abandonment. Let go of the things that you cling to most tightly. Come to Me with empty hands. Hold on to nothing, not even to your own plans and desires for good things. If the things that you want for yourself are good, know, beyond any doubt, that the things I want for you are infinitely better.
When you find something difficult, or beyond your strength, ask Me to do it in you or even to leave it undone as I see fit. There are things that you would want to do that are alien to My plans, and there are things that I would have you do that you, of yourself, would never think of doing. It is your attachment to doing what you want that impedes the rapid fulfilment of My perfect designs for you and for this place.
The single greatest expression of our trust in Divine Providence is the primacy given to the Divine Office and to adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. I am humbled and grateful when I see that, in less than ten years, we have been able to grow to the point of having the full Divine Office in choir and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament seven days a week from the end of the Conventual Mass until 9:00 at night. In increasing our hours of adoration, we have tried to follow the indications of Divine Providence. Even the crisis of the Coronavirus served God’s purpose. It gave us the impetus to increase our hours of exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. “We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints” (Romans 8:28).
Exception made of the Opus Dei (Work of God), no two Benedictine monasteries are called to the same works nor to develop their works in the same way. Our Lord asked one thing of our monastery from the very beginning: that we give Him adorers and reparators, men who would respond with the gift of themselves to the reproach of His Heart in Psalm 68 (Offertory Antiphon of the Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) by abiding, silent and adoring, in the radiance of His Eucharistic Face:
In thy sight are all they that afflict me; my heart hath expected reproach and misery. And I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none: and for one that would comfort me, and I found none. (Psalm 68:21)
Our monastery has a particular vocation and within this particular vocation each of us has his own place, his own mission, his own personal gift. For all of us, nonetheless, there is a call to hiddenness, to adoration, and to reparation. Again, I remember something that came to me in prayer in 2018:
For you I have chosen the way of hiddenness. Come to Me in faith and I will act. Offer Me the simple faith of your adoration, and I will work miracles of grace in souls of my own choosing and, especially, in the souls of My priests, for whom you have offered your life here.
I call some to preach, others to teach, others to appear before great multitudes in My Name, and still others to heal and cast out demons. I have called you to the imitation of My hidden life in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. In how many churches am I forsaken? In how many tabernacles am I hidden, alone, and forgotten? I do in these tabernacles what I do in the heavenly sanctuary beyond the veil: I stand before My Father as the Beloved Son and as the Eternal Priest; I offer Myself to Him in an unending sacrifice. I bear in heaven the wounds that I received in My Passion on earth. These same wounds radiate from My Body in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
One who approaches Me in the Sacrament of My Love exposes himself to the healing radiance of My wounds. My wounds radiate from every tabernacle on earth, offering pardon, mercy, and healing to sinners; pleading for them in My Father’s sight; and sanctifying those who tarry in My presence. All of this takes place in an altogether hidden way, and in a great silence. The humility of the sacred species veils My presence and My action, but neither diminishes the one nor affects the other.
I am in the Sacrament of My Love as I was in My life on earth: as I was in every moment of My Passion; as I was in the agony of My death upon the Cross; and as I am now, and for all eternity, in the glory of heaven. Come to Me in the Sacrament of My Love, and allow Me to draw you into My work, into My priestly intercession, and into My immolation as the Victim. This is the life I have chosen for you and for the sons I have given you: not one of much appearing, nor of much speaking, but one of obscurity, silence, and hiddenness; a real participation in My sacramental state.
I speak to you frankly: there was no earthly reason for the foundation of our monastery. There are any number of Benedictine monasteries in the world of exemplary observance and good repute. There are monasteries that have a rich cultural heritage built up over centuries. There are monasteries that display an architectural genius, that have vast spaces and magnificent churches. There are monasteries set in valleys and on mountains of breathtaking natural beauty. There are monumental monasteries occupied by no more than a handful of monks. Why then another monastery? Why one so poor? Why one lacking in many of the attractions that could be found elsewhere? Our monastery exists for one reason: Our Lord wants it. I still remember what was given me in prayer ten years ago:
I have not asked you to found a monastery, but rather to adore Me, to love Me, to seek My Eucharistic Face and draw near to My Eucharistic Heart. I have asked you to trust Me and to place in Me alone all your hope and all your dreams for happiness and peace. Seek Me, trust Me, and all the rest will be given you besides. I will build the monastery stone by stone, and I will fashion the men I have chosen for it. You have only to remain humble and little and faithful. Without Me, you can do nothing, but to Me, nothing is impossible.
I want, before all else and above all else to be faithful to Our Lord’s design. He will build the monastery that He wants. The last letter of Mother Mectilde to Jean de Bernières is dated 26 January 1655. I return to it often, especially when I am beset with doubts, and fears, and questions. In this letter Mother Mectilde confides in her friend; she shares with him her deep desire for a hidden life and the vision of what God is asking of her. She refers to the monastery she is founding as ce petit trou solitaire, “this solitary little hole.” Mother Mectilde writes:
Were I permitted to look at myself in this house, I would be afflicted by its establishment, feeling myself incapable of succeeding. But it is necessary that everything be left to the divine disposition, [that is, to things as God has disposed them].
And Mother Mectilde continues:
At bottom I still have a distance [from everything] and I find only God alone as my one support. In Him I find the only thing I need. It seems to me also that I have absolutely no ambition to build a showcase monastery; on the contrary, I would want a very little place, a place in which one is not seen nor known by anyone. There are enough brilliant houses in Paris in which God is honoured in magnificence; I desire that this house should honour Him in silence and in nothingness, without, however, diminishing anything of what might contribute to the worship and honour of the Blessed Sacrament, that is, for the church and the altar of the Lord.
If, at times, I find myself wondering why God brought this Benedictine woman of the grand siècle (17th century France) into my life. It is when I read passages such as these that I understand why God provided me and all of us with this heavenly friendship and with many others like it. I am thinking, in particular, of Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo who so desired and, in some way already lived, the particular grace that has been given us.