PROLOGUE OF OUR MOST HOLY FATHER SAINT BENEDICT TO HIS RULE
3 Jan. 4 May. 3 Sept.
And the Lord, seeking His own workman in the multitude of the people to whom He thus crieth out, saith again: “Who is the man that will have life, and desireth to see good days. And if thou, hearing Him, answer, “I am he,” God saith to thee: “If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, “Behold, I am here.” What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.
If any one of us is here, it is because Our Lord sought him out among the multitude. It is because when Our Lord cried out, saying, “Who is the man that desireth life: who loveth to see good days?” (Psalm 33:13), each of us, hearing Him, and prompted by grace, said, “I am he. I am the man who desires life. I am the man who loves to see good days,” In other words, “I want to live, and I want to be happy.” The man who recognises in his own heart these two fundamental desires is already attuned to the desires of God for him. God, working in us by His prevenient grace, causes us to desire what He desires to give us. We are driven by what we really desire. God says:
As I live, saith the Lord God, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live. (Ezechiel 33:11)
It is very pleasing to Our Lord when we go before Him in the Sacrament of His Love and repeat, “Lord Jesus, give me to desire what Thou desirest for me and only what Thou desirest for me. Give me to desire all that Thou desirest for me and to let go of every desire of mine that is not aligned with all Thy desires for me.” Similarly, when we are interceding for another person, we may pray in this way: “Lord Jesus, give me to desire what Thou desirest for N. and only what Thou desirest for him. Give me to desire all that Thou desirest and to let go of every desire of mine for N. that is not aligned with all Thy desires for him.”
And again, if we are, for example, praying the rosary for someone, the efficacy of the prayer is multiplied a hundred-fold when we say, “Most Holy Virgin Mary, my Mother, give me, in this prayer, to desire what Thou desirest and only what Thou desirest. Give me to desire all that thy maternal Heart desireth and to let go of every desire of mine that is not aligned with the desires of thy maternal Heart.” Our own desires, be they for ourselves or for others, are always clouded with self-love and and subject to deception. Nine years ago, I received a teaching from Our Lord to which I have to return again and again. In substance, it was this:
When you intercede for another, do so with a boundless confidence in My love for that soul. At the same time, relinquish every desire to see the outcome of your intercession as you would imagine or desire it to be. Allow Me to receive your prayer and to respond to it in ways corresponding to My infinite wisdom, to My love, and to My perfect will for the person you bring before My Eucharistic Face.
Do not come to Me with solutions; come to Me only with your problems, and allow Me to provide the solutions. I have no need of your solutions, but when you bring Me problems, sufferings, questions, and needs, I am glorified by your confidence in My merciful love.
Bring Me your questions, your problems, and your fears, and I will attend to them; for Me darkness itself is not dark and night shines as the day. There is no situation and no suffering so heavy that I cannot make it light to bear, and even, if such be My will, remove it altogether from those who are crushed beneath its weight.
Pray to Me with confidence and with abandonment, and not with a secret desire to force My hand and to obtain from Me only what you have in view.
Ask and you shall receive. Only ask with a trusting faith, believing that whatever I will give is best for you and most glorious for Me and for My Father. Seek and you shall find. Yes, seek, but allow Me to guide you to the object of your seeking. Seek My Face, and all the rest will be given you besides.
There are souls so attached to what they think I should give them in answer to their prayers, that when I give them what is best for them, and most glorious for Me and for My Father, they fail to see it. This is because they do not intercede or ask in the Holy Spirit. Instead, they pray out of the obscurity, blindness, and narrowness of their own perceptions, limiting what I can do for them, and using their prayer as an attempt to control My loving omnipotence.
When you ask, do so with a complete abandonment to My wisdom, My love, and My perfect will. Pray in this way, and you will begin to see wonders surpassing all that you can imagine.
How unfortunate are those who come to Me proposing their own solutions, when all they need to do is to bring Me their problems, their needs, and their requests. When you intercede for one who is ailing, it is enough for you to say to Me: “Lord, the one whom Thou lovest is sick” (John 11:3). Leave all the rest to My most loving Heart. If you ask for a cure or healing, do so with such confidence in My love that your faith is ready to embrace My response to your prayer in whatever form it takes.
When we pray to be aligned with the desires of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, we allow our own desires to be purified and more closely united to what Our Lord Himself desires. This gives to our prayer the efficacy that comes from union with the “unspeakable groanings” of the Holy Ghost.
Only, as before, the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; when we do not know what prayer to offer, to pray as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us, with groans beyond all utterance: and God, who can read our hearts, knows well what the Spirit’s intent is; for indeed it is according to the mind of God that he makes intercession for the saints. Meanwhile, we are well assured that everything helps to secure the good of those who love God, those whom he has called in fulfilment of his design.(Romans 8:26-28)
When we make intercession in this way, we lay aside the burden of our own desires, and allow ourselves to be yoked to Jesus, in obedience to His own words: “Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light” (Matthew 11:29-30).
And Our Lord says, again:
I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
So pressing is His invitation, that He cries out:
And on the last, and great day of the festivity, Jesus stood and cried, saying: If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. (John 7:37)
And, as if this were not enough, with accents of the most touching compassion He says:
Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. (Matthew 11:28)
A man’s response to the invitation of Our Lord must not remain something sentimental and passive. There must be some concrete expression of correspondence with His grace, some very small way of going forth to meet Him whom one sees approaching. Vidi Jesum venientem ad me. “I saw Jesus coming towards me” (John 1:29). Some of you may remember that this was the text that I took for my homily at the Simple Profession of Dom Cassian. Vidi Jesum venientem ad me. How does a man respond to the approach of Jesus? Saint Benedict sums up the fundamental four elements of a man’s first response to grace in two verses of Psalm 33:
Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.
Turn away from evil and do good: seek after peace and pursue it. (Psalm 33:14–15)
The response to Christ begins with a chastening of the tongue and of the lips. Even the pious discourses of young men are tainted with arrogance, pride, and vainglory. Young men are eager to make their way in the world and to court success. Young men easily fall into seductive and manipulative patterns of speech. It has always been so. This comes from the need to win acceptance, to prove oneself, and to gain affirmation. Saint Benedict says, “Enough.” In the cloister a man has nothing to win, nothing to prove, nothing to gain. He has only to accept and yield to the love with which Christ first loved him.
And we have known, and have believed the charity, which God hath to us. (1 John 4:16)
The response to Christ has its exigencies. Faith in the charity with which God has first loved us is not quietism nor is it a matter of “cheap grace.” It summons a man to turn away from evil and do good, to seek after peace and to pursue it. In a certain sense, these exigencies of conversion are made simple in the monastic life. A man has only to obey his abbot, to follow the horarium, and to put into practice what he is being taught. The man who is where he is supposed to be, doing what he is supposed to be doing, and turning away from temptation, is seeking after peace and pursuing it.
You all know, I think, Blessed John Henry Newman’s Short Road to Perfection. Newman is not writing for monks, but for Christian gentlemen. His teaching is nonetheless in harmony with the fundamental response to grace that Saint Benedict sets forth in the Prologue. Blessed Newman says:
It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well. A short road to perfection—short, not because easy, but because pertinent and intelligible. There are no short ways to perfection, but there are sure ones.
I think this is an instruction which may be of great practical use to persons like ourselves. It is easy to have vague ideas what perfection is, which serve well enough to talk about, when we do not intend to aim at it; but as soon as a person really desires and sets about seeking it himself, he is dissatisfied with anything but what is tangible and clear, and constitutes some sort of direction towards the practice of it.
We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic—not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings—but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound—we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.
He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day. I insist on this because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim.
Blessed Newman goes on to describe the round of the day as he and his gentlemen companions would have lived it. The monastic round of the day is different, but Blessed Newman’s principles apply all the same. Allow me to adapt Blessed Newman’s text to our Benedictine day.
If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first—Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; go promptly to choir; at the Divine Office, apply your mind to the words you sing; carry out your assigned tasks punctually and cheerfully; eat and drink to God’s glory; go without delay to your times of lectio divina and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; bring a smiling face and a light heart to recreation; give your weaknesses and sins to Christ; go to bed in good time—and you are already a very nearly perfect monk.