Take, read, study, and practise the Rules contained in this little book. Pray over and treasure each Rule. It may be like the little book which was bitter to the taste, but sweeter than honey to the soul. It is not to be copied, save in the heart. It must not be given away or lent, but returned when called for by the Prior. God bless the inner keeping of it.
A Commentary on the Rule CONVERSION
MY DEAR SON:
IN seeking the Religious Life it is not only necessary that you come with a good moral character, and with a devotional spirit, a desire to forward Christ's service, but you must come also as a converted man. There are many halfway Christians, comparatively few who are deeply and thoroughly converted. For the Religious Life a thorough conversion is essential.
Now, what is conversion? It is the conscious turning of the soul to God. It requires repentance, a change of heart, and the active cooperation of the will by the aid of the Holy Spirit. While some may preserve, through God's grace, their baptismal innocence, most persons fall into sins of different degrees, and require to be converted. This applies to many.
Covetousness is idolatry, yet there are avaricious and money-loving people. We are to "judge not" that we be not judged, yet there are those whose whole talk and conversation is censoriousness of others. We are to "love one another," yet there are many who nourish revenge and ill-will and harsh judgment. We are to be "true and just in all our dealings," yet there are many who go with the multitude in practising the common dishonesties incidental to their trade. The "meek and quiet spirit" enjoined for our personal adornment is superseded by an extravagant luxury of surroundings and dress. We are to be content with the lot of life in which God has placed us, yet some of the best souls among us are ever filled with a restless and all-constraining ambition. Though we were made for the one purpose of serving and adoring the Supreme, yet how infrequent and lukewarm is the service of most of us. But without dwelling too much on this state of the unconverted, how many are there who in making a review of their lives find so many transgressions of God's Holy Law.
St. Paul, probably referring to his childhood's innocence, says that when he became conscious of the law and the conflict of his own nature, sin manifested itself, and he consciously acted against the dictates of his own conscience. So it has been with many of us. Leaving behind our childhood, when we grew older we fell into more pronounced sins. We were disobedient to parents and teachers. We gave way to faults of temper, little acts of gluttony, dishonesty and untruthfulness, evil imaginations; and our school life had its own sins; and youth was not unmarked by vanities and pride and evil temper; and as we grew up, other sins manifested themselves. Perhaps we were neglectful of God, of prayer, of our duty towards Him. There were many sins of neglect and omission, sins which sprang from selfishness and self-love, sins it may be of the flesh, or jealousy, of word, or thought, or deed, and though kept from greater sins, we were yet far from God. In different ways God comes to the soul by His prevenient grace. "Behold I stand at the door and knock," says God. He has many different ways of knocking at the door of the heart. "Sometimes," Pusey says, "it is by voices within or without." It may be by sermons, or some Scripture texts which God brings home to us, by the warning of friends, the reproofs of elders, the taunts of equals; by the example of the good, or some shock from the sins of the bad, by change of outward circumstances, by removal from old associates, by unwonted solitude, by terror of death, or sudden deaths, by accident, of others. With patient care God watches over the soul, and thus seeks to arouse it to a knowledge of its true condition. Apart from Him, it is in a lost state. The sins which it has committed are acts against God, and have separated the soul from Him Who is its true life. It had thought little of the nature of sin. It had lived much as others about it had lived. Its standard of goodness was simply observance of the social standard. Its idea of sin was simply that of great crimes. It had not realized that spiritual sins were as bad, even more deadly, than those of the flesh. As an act against God, it had little conception. But sin strikes at the very life of God Himself. It outrages all His attributes. It sets at naught His Wisdom, His Justice, His Power. It takes the gifts He has bestowed upon us, and turns them against Himself. When the soldiers lashed the Body of our Lord, they were using all the time the power He gave them to torture Him. So it is with all the disobedient acts of our souls and spirits. A great lesson at the Cross is that God shows thereby that all our sin is wrong done against Himself; nor must we think that God, being Almighty, does not feel. Being a moral Being, He feels in His Greatness all the more the ingratitude, the disobedience, the neglects, and the wickedness of His children. He has made us, and His paternal love is grieved by the sins of His children. He cries out, "How can I give thee up, Ephraim?"
So at last it comes to pass that the soul, touched by the sense of God's wounded Heart, is convicted of sin. It grieves not because God has brought upon it some punishment, or because it suffers some loss of health or friendship, or fortune, or reputation, but because the Good God has been grieved. It feels keenly the separation of its soul from God Who is its Father, Maker, and End. The anguish sometimes is long, terrible. The sense of failure, of wickedness, of the guilt of sin, is intolerable. The soul can scarcely bear it and live. It desires reconciliation to God. It desires to have its sins pardoned by Him. It prays that it may be delivered from the bondage of sin, of faults, of evil habits. It desires to make some reparation to the offended Heart of God. It cries out for mercy and forgiveness. It is like a shipwrecked, drowning man crying out for life and health; and then it is that Christ, the ALL-loving Saviour, reveals Himself to the soul. Like the prodigal, it begins to realize its sin against the Father. Like the publican, it beats upon its breast and says, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Like the Magdalene, it forgets self in its courageous penitence.
Now, Christ has made an Atonement for us. He is the Propitiation for our sins. He has borne the punishment due to them. He has made an act of reparation to God on our behalf. Beneath the branches of the olive trees at Gethsemane, He knelt down, and, as the World's Representative, confessed, as if the guilty one, the sins of the whole world. He wrapped round Him in vision the sins of the world, as some one might clothe himself with the filthy garments of some dead leper. He, as the Son of Man, made His act of contrition, shedding tears of repentance, as of blood. He took the bitter cup of Penance, and drank it to the dregs. He bore in the spirit of penance the punishment due for sin, and suffered death on the Cross. Its terrible pains racked for hours His tender Body, while a dereliction of God's Presence racked His soul. O great, awful, terrible act of Atonement! Any moment, He, by His Divine Power, might have dismissed the agonies He felt. But love for the salvation of men made Him endure.
All eternity will not suffice to make us grasp the depth of that agony or the power of that love. The soul convicted of sin thus sees in Christ the one way to reconciliation to God and forgiveness of its sins. As standing on some high mountain you have seen the sun arise, and the whole majestic machinery of the world move on in obedience to its power, and known if you were the only being on the planet that sun would have to arise in order that little you might live, so as you kneel before the Crucified One, you must realize that all the tragedy and ghastly suffering would have to be endured in order that your sinful soul might be forgiven and live.
What does not such a love demand but a response in kind? Surely the penitent soul must say, "All I have and am I give to Thee." It must be love for Love, and life for Life.
As the fall is different, so is the restoration of those whom God in His infinite mercy spares. Sorrow and aching of heart brought upon us by God are mostly the means by which God brings back His prodigal children. Stricken to the earth like Saul, sinners see what they have done. It is then they realize as never before, like the prodigal, the great grief they have caused to the Father's Heart. A sorrow springs up in their heart that they have offended Divine Love. They not only hate and loathe themselves, but are deeply contrite for the Love they have offended. Saul ever remembered his forgiven sins. Peter also, the legend runs, mourned daily his great fall. The Church teaches us this lesson in her daily confession.
It is a most hopeful sign of a real, healthful change wrought in us when we become in life other than we were before. If for ambitious, we become lowly; for proud, humble; for angry, meek; for impatient, patient; for self-indulgent, self-denying; for covetous, liberal; our first conversion is usually followed by a deepening penitence. The tree to grow higher must extend its roots more widely for support.
I believe it is true of all of you that you have felt within yourselves the truth of St. Paul's utterance, "He loved me and gave Himself for me," and that deep sorrow and grief for sin has gone along with the peace of His assured forgiveness. O the joy of knowing that one is forgiven, that we are reconciled to God in Christ. O the blessedness of trusting in His promise, "Whosoever cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out." He Who knows us loves us. He Who knows it all accepts us. His all-sufficient merits obtain acceptance for us. He blots out our offences. He casts all our sins behind His back and makes them as if they were not. He washes us and makes us whiter than snow.
The dear Good Shepherd has received us and brought us home in His Church. O the sweet joy of a forgiven soul. It is a mutilated Miserere which omits the verse, "Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice."
O Divine and Heavenly Father, I grieve from the bottom of my heart that I have ever offended Thy Love. I dare not come before Thee, save in the Name of our dear Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Between Thy righteous judgments, I set and plead the merits of Thy dear Son. Behold, O Lord, our defender, and look upon the Face of Thine Anointed, and accept me for His Sake.
O Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, Who loved us even in our sins, let the depth of our misery plead to the greater depth of Thy mercy. We have denied Thee, sinned against Thy grace, crucified Thee afresh,--yet Thou didst pray for Thy murderers. I come just as I am,--a broken-hearted penitent to Thy Feet, because Thou bidst me come. I trust Thy promises. I believe in Thy Word. Be, dear Jesu, a Saviour to me, O Blessed, Holy Spirit, Whom I have so often neglected and grieved, in Thy great Love convert me, and make me a miracle of Divine Grace. I trust in my Saviour's merits. I repose in His forgiving Love. Make me a new creature, and renew a right spirit within me, for Jesus' sake. AMEN.
LIFE UNDER RULE
You have come, my son, to seek perfection, such as is attainable in our present state, by a life in a Community formed by the discipline of a life under Rule.
A life in Community without Rule would be a collegiate, but not a Religious, Life.
As a Community life requires order and discipline, and without order there can be no religious life.
We, as Bishop and Abbot, enjoin the following rules as supplementary and expository of our fundamental Rule as given by our founder the Holy St. Benedict. They may seem to the Novice matters of small moment, but their observance tests vocation and forms character. He that despiseth little things, little by little shall he fall, but he that is faithful in little things is faithful in much.
We earnestly pray you, my Sons, lay these directions of your Father to heart. The yoke that wisdom binds upon you at first may seem like chains of iron, but being worn with a loving heart, becomes as scarlet lace.
The principles which lie at the foundation of the Religious and Community life are the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They were given by our Lord and exemplified in His practice of them. He fulfilled them in their highest degree. He gave them, not as commands which all were to follow, but as counsels of perfection; not as being ends in themselves, but as means to the acquisition of it.
Let me explain to you the reason of their selection. There are three sorts of sin in our triple being, one in each portion of it. There are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Sensuality, covetousness, and pride are the roots of all our sins. The three specific remedies as given by our Lord are found in the practice of the three vows. The body is disciplined by chastity, the soul detached from covetousness and prosperity by poverty, and the spirit made humble and so receptive of God by obedience.
A life under Rule is a restrictive one. Nature is often restive under it, the mind often critical. But we must remember that our Rule has God for its Author, and is endorsed by the example of great saints and the experience of many centuries. We must cultivate a spirit of trust in it and loyalty to it. We do not come into the Community to use it to aid us in our self-directed spiritual life, but to throw ourselves into it, that it may remould us.
The life is a restricted one, but, by that very reason, one of power. As the soldier can only be effectually made by the discipline of a West Point, so we cannot become Christian athletes without the hardness and discipline of the Religious Life. It should test and train every portion of our nature. The real work we shall do for God depends on our being emptied of self, and not acting on our natural impulses, but being wisely aided by the Holy Spirit.
Restrained as we are from self-asserted philanthropic plans, we do as Religious a greater work for God by the witness we bear against the luxury and pleasure seeking of the world. We bear witness to the power of Christ to enable us to lead a supernatural life. We bear witness to the truth that man cannot give up anything to God, but that God can, and will, give back something greater. We bear witness to the subordination of this life to the life to come and its promised rewards. The great final battle between good and evil, Christ and Satan, is on, and our country is at its strategic point. The great struggle in our Church for the reclaiming of our full Catholic heritage is now being made. Angels and saints are looking on with extreme interest, and it is with Religious the final victory rests.
POVERTY is the virtue that detaches our hearts from all earthly things. A Religious has removed into the Kingdom of Heaven, and he is interested in the world only as subordinate to it. He desires not wealth for himself nor for his Community, knowing its futility and danger to all good works. It is full of deceiving arguments, and has been the ruin of many Communities. The Religious renounces the honours and decorations of the world. They will pass with death, and he seeks only the lasting rewards Christ will give. He rejects the delights, the amusements, the excitements of worldly pleasure, for union with Christ in His hard life of poverty, labour, and the Cross. He loses interest in worldly politics, in the worldly schemes for bettering itself, being interested in the politics of the Kingdom of Heaven and in the designs of Christ its King. The world tosses about like a sick man on his couch, turning from one side to another, restless and ever seeking, and ever failing. All kingdoms and nations will soon pass away, and only the Kingdom of Christ will endure.
The Religious is thus detached in heart and will from earthly things, clings to nothing, desires nothing for his own. Having nothing, he is invulnerable, for he can be deprived of nothing. He remains unmoved by any sacrifice or deprivation he may be called upon to make. His heart feels no pain at the loss of any earthly things, for it has been detached from them. He has given up himself and all to be more fully attached to Christ. He has emptied his hands to stretch them forth in prayer, and God owns them. Because the soul gives itself thus to God, God gives Himself back to the soul. Because we are poor in all things the Lord is our portion. He endows us with His power, His riches, His Goodness, His Wisdom. His Love places His Will at the disposal of our emptied wills. We are clothed with the wedding garment of His Righteousness and made ready for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
The general rule concerning poverty is, that each Postulant and Novice shall arrange with the Prior what is the sum, according to his ability, he will contribute to the Community, and be it little or much, it will be regarded as a confidential communication.
No Postulant or Novice shall be allowed to give any of his capital, if he have any, to the Order, and need not give up all his income if he feels he has relatives who need his aid.
On being professed, a Brother shall make his will if he has aught to dispose of, and may remember the needs of friends and relatives and any charities of which the Superior may approve.
The Community must not seek endowments, but may have one to cover the expenses of fuel, lighting, insurance, and repairs. It may also have endowments for any charities of its own, such as a school, House of Rest for aged clergymen, Mission Chapel, and the like. It must not lose its spirit of dependence on God for its daily bread.
If any of the brothers subsequent to his profession shall become possessed of property, it shall be at his option to give it to the Community or to relatives or friends living in the world, but he shall not retain any of it for his own personal use.
If any one be able to bestow means on the Order, he shall not think himself entitled to any special privileges on that account, but shall in all respects share alike with his brethren.
The law of poverty applies to all things, great and small. As our Lord trained His Apostles, so must we be trained to endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ.
Our cells are what necessity requires for repose, and are unadorned, save by a Crucifix and one picture of devotion. We are to accept them as a soldier on a campaign would the shelter of his tent. We would hereby unite ourselves to our Lord in His loneliness, His homeless state, and in His nights of prayer. Our sleep is to be made an act of devotion, remembering that within us, beneath us, and around us are the Father's Everlasting Arms. Our food is for the support of life and is simple and plain. Our habit tells of our dedication. The Rule of the House forbids smoking in it, or on the premises, or when travelling or in any other place. The same Rule applies to the use of all intoxicants. The Religious retains no money for his own personal use. He is forbidden to have any temporal things in such a way as to have a right to use them independently of the will of the Superior. He is not to own anything. Of those things placed in his care, he is not allowed without permission to give anything away, or lend them. He must always be careful not to accumulate a number of little things, books, etc., which he regards as his own. He must be always ready to give up anything, work, or place, or article, and not feel hurt if it is withdrawn from him. He must be careful not to waste anything belonging to the Community and take no gifts from externs without his Superior's permission. He must not conceal from the Prior any need of help which sickness may require, but not expect any other aid than what a poor man might obtain.
Poverty seems hard at first. But it has its light sides. It unites us to Christ. It shields us from the world. It develops a Community spirit. We are all brothers, soldiers in arms, sharing the trials of the same campaign. It has the seal of God's blessing on it. It develops sanctity and fits us for Heaven.
AN eminent Religious writer has said:--Great is the sacrifice which a Religious makes unto God when he binds himself by the vow of poverty; for he thereby renounces that wealth which men hold in such high esteem, and deprives himself of the right ever again to possess anything as his own. Yet, generous as is the offering which he then places upon the altar of God, it is far surpassed, in point of self-renunciation, by that other which he lays at the feet of the Divine Master when he takes upon himself the obligations of the vow of chastity. For, by poverty he gives up what is external to himself; but by chastity he vows a daily and hourly crucifixion of self, which is accounted by many to be more grievous and more meritorious than a cruel martyrdom. As these obligations regard both his body and his soul, it is necessary that we should examine into them, and see what is that which he binds himself to do when, in the face of Heaven and of earth, he solemnly vows chastity unto his God.
In the first place, this act entails certain obligations which affect his body. Not the Religious only, but every man who is washed in the regenerating waters of Baptism, is by that sacramental act constituted a temple of the living God, in which the Holy Spirit abides till sin renders it impossible for Him to dwell there any longer. In consequence of this solemn dedication to the service of God, and of this mystical adoption into the number of His children, which is a result of it, each of us is obliged to preserve himself from all that defilement which is so strictly prohibited by the Seventh and Tenth Commandments of God. From the moment of his dedication, the Religious ceases to belong to himself. He is the property of Jesus Christ, and is pledged before Heaven and earth not only to avoid all the prohibited sensual gratifications of the flesh, but also to abstain from such as are sanctioned by the Divine law in the married state. This renunciation, being a matter of counsel only, is left to the free choice of all, and no one is ever suffered to take upon himself so heavy a burden, unless he feels that he has a special call from God to do so. It is to this call that our Lord referred when he said: "All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." He, therefore, who is conscious of this internal impulse, and who hears the voice of God sweetly inviting him to make the sacrifice, should give heed to the call and generously commit himself to the guidance of God. Having done this, he must remember that the vow affects all the senses of that body which he consecrates to the divine service, and deprives him of the liberty which might be his if God did not call him to higher things. It places a guard upon the eyes, and restricts the range of their vision to such things only as will not excite any desire for sensual pleasures. Therefore the vow of chastity forbids us to look upon anything that would imperil the purity of the soul. It does this with good reason; for, through the eyes, as through windows, the devil and the world effect an entrance, and leaguing with our own sinful flesh, steal away the treasure of God's grace and the precious pearl of our chastity.
Again, the vow of chastity places a curb upon our tongue. It forbids us to say anything that is impure, and the sin which we commit by giving utterance to words of this nature must be measured, like all other sins of the tongue, by the intention with which we speak, by the nature of the things which we say, and by the scandal which they are calculated to give to those who may chance to hear them. St. Paul, writing to the Christians of his day, forbade them to mention even the names by which those hideous crimes against chastity are designated. "Let them not so much as be named among you."
The vow of chastity also prohibits the hearing of impure discourses, and thus plants a hedge of thorns about our ears; for it stands to reason that we may not willingly listen to that of which we may not lawfully speak. This prohibition is specially strict with respect to all matters of this kind, because of the extreme peril to which they expose the soul. For words are the symbols of ideas.
Now while the vow of chastity directly prohibits the seeing, or the hearing, or the touching, or the speaking of anything that is forbidden by the Law of God, it, at the same time, indirectly forbids everything that may lead to the violation of that law. Chief among these is the pampering of the body by excess in the use of what contributes to its well-being. Therefore, as the body in all its instincts is animal, and tends to gratify these instincts just as the brutes which perish, it will follow that in exact proportion to its vitality and energy will be the vehemence with which it will seek for whatever is flattering to the animal man. This vitality and this energy, or, as we may say, this animality, is maintained in full force and vigour by the food with which we sustain our life.
If, therefore, that food be taken in excess, or be of such quality as to inflame the blood and augment the humours till every nerve is tingling with an overabundance of vital force, the body, naturally enough, will overleap the barriers which both reason and the Law of God have set for it, and be guilty of excesses which even reason vehemently condemns. It is therefore absolutely necessary that those who purpose to lead a life of chastity should keep that vital energy within due bounds, and never sutler it to acquire such force as to overpower the strength of the reason. But how is this to be done, unless by withholding that aliment which feeds and maintains and augments their bodily strength? Hence, if in their own hearts they wish to hold the reins of government, they must be sparing in their meat and drink, they must not be too dainty in their fare, nor seek in it the gratification of their taste, but only the appeasing of their hunger. Their aim must not be " to live in order that they may eat, but to eat in order that they may live." If this method of proceeding will not suffice to give them a mastery over themselves, they must beat down the pride and diminish the strength of their foes by fasting, which is a most effectual means for taming the haughtiest spirit and making it obedient to the slightest dictate of the rational will. Wise, therefore, is the counsel of the old heathen poet: 'Principiis obsta' resist the very beginnings of evil and we are safe. We may hinder a conflagration by putting our finger upon a spark, or save a huge vessel by stopping a leak, or ward off death by a timely remedy; so also, by the prompt ejection of an evil image, we may save our heart from the fire of impurity, our virtue from shipwreck, and our soul's life from the jaws of eternal death. It is for this reason that the Sacred Scriptures and the masters of the science of the Saints are so eager in counselling us to resist the very beginnings of evil. They exhort us to kill the enemy of our souls while he is weak and little.
As we consecrate our entire being to our Lord, our aim should be to love Him only. Consequently there must be no division of our love between Him and creatures. If we love them at all, it must be in Him and for Him. If our love of them is not of this nature, it is an earthly love, a carnal love, a love dangerous to our chastity. God is a jealous God. He will not accept a divided heart. Either He must have all or He will have nothing. When the heart is divided, He withdraws, and with Him depart His special graces and fatherly watchfulness over us. Then it is that we go from bad to worse, till at last either we fall into some grave offence against our vow, or we are mercifully roused from carelessness and made aware of our peril by some extraordinary grace of God.
You have come, my dear Son, I do not doubt, to the Abbey truly seeking perfection. You have felt drawn to a life of devotion and Christian service.
You have found a delight in prayer and devotional services, a desire for holiness has grown in you. But, let me ask, in desiring perfection have you desired the means whereby perfection is attained? Have you considered the hardness of the Religious Life? Have you considered the poverty of it, its humble fare, its coarse garments, its deprivation of home comforts, its isolation from the world, above all its Rule of Obedience? Have you not only considered these, but are willing to accept them, and as a means to perfection embraced and desired them? Unless you desire the means by which you can be perfected, you won't make a good Religious.
You do not come hither to become a better Christian, but to be a Religious. As pride is the principal root of all sins, so humility is the foundation of all virtues, and its foundation is laid in the sure stronghold of holy obedience.
Now, the great means is the discipline of obedience to the Rule, and to the Superior as the interpreter and administrator of it.
Obedience is the essence of the Religious Life. A Religious is one who aims at perfection in a state fixed by vows, in a Community approved by Church authority. Now while poverty and chastity may be vowed outside a Community, obedience cannot, in its full extent, be practised without one. It is therefore of the essence of Religion. It is the great law of its life. It has for its authority the approval of the Church and the teaching and example of our Blessed Lord. He was the first and greatest both of ascetics and Religious. He was absolutely poor, pure in body and soul, and obedient. He absolutely surrendered His Human Will to the Divine Will. The Holy Scriptures, filled with the details of His Life of suffering, were His written Rule. He was obedient also to the conditions of our humanity and never called upon His Divine Power to relieve His sufferings. He obeyed the law of infancy's silence, and as the Lamb of God was silent under the insults of His enemies. He, although Almighty God, humbled Himself to obey His fallible human guardians and was ever under the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In this life He trained the Apostles, taking them into the danger of the storm, into His life of poverty, sending them on seemingly impossible errands, to take the money from the fish's mouth, or the colt from its owner, or to claim the Upper Chamber for His Passover.
Obedience is essential to our perfection as it develops humility, and as it fits us for our life of ordered service in Heaven. It is necessary to the being and existence of a Community life. The first thing a Novice is to do is to place obedience before him as his sincere desire. He will obey the Time table, the Rules of Silence, the directions of the Prior, the Rules respecting poverty and concerning smoking, receiving gifts, visits, not leaving the Monastery without permission, and all other regulations.
It will help him if he regards his Rule as given by God and the Church, and regards his Superior as its living exponent. Instead of criticising, let him look beyond the man to his office and to Him Whom he represents. He may know, or think he knows, better than his Superior, but it matters less how or what things are done, than the spirit in which they are accepted.
Let us study to obey as looking to Christ and seeking to please Him. Let us obey without murmuring and criticising in heart. Let our obedience be of the joyful, truthful, and happy character. Let it be prompt like that of the Shepherds and of St. Andrew and St. Peter.
Let it be blind, trusting like the Apostles in their obedience to our Lord.
Let it be courageous, knowing our soul will open, if necessary, the prison doors or remove mountains.
Let it be entire, that the full measure of service may be rendered.
Let it be persevering, as looking beyond the trials and sufferings of the present time to the exceeding weight of the great reward.
ST. BENEDICT places humility at the foundation of the spiritual life. He places it before us in twelve degrees. One by one we should study and strive to practise them, for without the foundation of a deepening humility, we never should become good Religious. Humility is something more than a foundation. It is like unto a spiritual leaven that permeates all virtues. Without it the spiritual life has no sure foundation, nor without it can any virtues be brought to perfection.
Charity, because it unites us to God, is the greatest of all the virtues,--but humility, if not the greatest, is the most beautiful. It gives a fragrance to a virtue that makes it a beatitude. It is the invention and characteristic of Christianity. The proud heathen had no place for it in his catalogue of virtues. It eulogized self-esteem, self-reliance, self-assertion. It despised humility and looked down on it as a token of weakness. It regarded it as an enemy to human greatness and strength of character.
But it came from heaven. God, Who could not practise it in Glory, came to earth that He might do so. He humbled Himself at the Incarnation, humbled Himself at Calvary's Cross, and He perpetuates His humility in the Eucharist.
Docility and so humility lie at the root of all true progress. As based on truth, humility delivers man from vain-glory and self-deceit. As enabling him to bear unmoved trials, slanders, and malice of enemies, it makes him strong. As freeing him from envyings and jealousies, it makes him trusted as a loving companion. As submissive to God's dear Will, it attracts God's love and bestowal of grace.
It fits one for Heaven, where all will rejoice in the greatness of others surpassing in goodness themselves. It is a most lovable virtue, and beautiful with the radiance of the Holy Spirit. It is a missionary virtue, "We fell through pride, lifting ourselves up to be as a God: we must rise by humility, lowering ourselves that God may raise us up."
It may help us to consider the virtue of humility in three ways, as it is developed in the Mind, the Will, and the Heart.
Now, as to the Mind. Its first effort is for it to seriously realize our own nothingness. Only God has substantial life in Himself. We are but as vapour, or a cloud that passeth away. We exist only by the Almighty Power that sustains us. God made and preserves us. In Him we live and move and have our being. We have no right or claim to our life or our spiritual faculties. We must sink down into our nothingness when we approach God. Were we pure, innocent beings it would be necessary for us to be humble. But there is our sinfulness. What a ground for humility! The holier men are, the more ready they are to acknowledge their sinfulness. In God's sight the Heavens are not clean, and He charges His Angels with folly. How do we appear to Him? What kind of characters are we? What weakness and irritability are to be found in us. What unknown self-deceit and subtle self-love. What vain-glorying, pride, and worldliness. What self-seeking, opinionatedness, and ambition. What petty envyings, jealousies, and tempers. What murmur-ings, discontents, rebellions, what neglectfulnesses, what excuses and procrastinations of duty. What sort of Christians are we?
If Religious, there is our holy Rule. Try and measure yourself by it. One cry goes up from all, "Mea culpa, mea culpa." "Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy." Let the thought of your sinfulness keep you humble before God.
Another and yet more humiliating sight is that of our own sins. They may have been committed long ago, but the thought of them humbles us. God in His dear Love, we believe, has forgiven them. But they wound our pride, and an abiding sorrow remains.
We grieve that we have ever offended our dear Heavenly Father. We grieve that we have sinned against our Blessed Lord, and that we have grieved too the Blessed Holy Spirit. Had we to live our life over again, we think and pray that we should do better. But we cannot do this, and must not waste time by foolish regrets. We must, forgetting the things that are behind, press on and upward. The past, however, may be a ground of lowliness and humility. Then again, let us think of the lives of the Saints and what love and devotion do we find in them, what heroism in the martyrs, what steadfastness in the confessors, what prayerfulness in the hermits, what lives of laborious self-sacrifice in the vast multitude of the Religious. We have inherited their calling; how have we fulfilled it? Consider our faults, our failings, our imperfect correspondence with grace. Are we worthy to be called their companions? Let us at least now learn the lesson of a humble mind and pray the prayer of the Christian Pilgrim, "I am naught, I have naught, I am poor and sick and sin stained. I am not worthy, O Lord, of the lowest place in Thy Kingdom. But it is my desire to become what Thou wouldst have me become and do Thy Will."
Nor is it from the Saints only we may learn humility. We are bidden to esteem others better than ourselves. This is not to be untrue. For the humble know the greatness of God's Grace toward them. In themselves they are, so far as is good, God's work. In themselves they are God's good and their own evil. In others, they look not to the evil when it is not a duty to see it, but they look to whatever good there is in others. We know how we have failed to cooperate with it. This should keep us humble in mind. We cannot know but that our brother has, with all his faults, better cooperated with the grace given him than ourselves. One said, "If Christ had loaded any wicked man with the same mercy which He has shown to me, I suppose that he would have been much more grateful than I." Well may we therefore account ourselves least of all and set ourselves in the lowest place. We must correct the overestimate of ourselves, flattered by the flatteries of home and social life, and be more modest in the expression of our feelings, less critical of others, more content with obscurity. Let the heathen motto be ours, "Know thyself." Pray God to show thee thyself. Bear, in God's light, to see thyself, what thou hast made thyself, what thou hast been, what thou art. By God's grace the sight will never again let thee be proud.
Never seek praise, neither speak of any good that is in thee, nor disparage thyself if it leads others to think thee humble. Be afraid of the praise of others. If it comes, offer it in heart to God. Do not excuse thyself when blamed, unless God's service demands it. Distrust thyself. Rely not on thy resolutions. Distrust self, fear self. In all things, small as well as great, trust God.
But humility does not only rest in the mind. It is not a mere conviction of our state which reason shows to be true. It is not a mere feeling or pious sentiment. It is, or becomes, a governing principle of our life. It affects our interior thoughts and governs our external conduct. It is not aided, but the reverse, by talking about ourselves in the way of disparagement. It evaporates under any such self-advertisement. It seeks shelter from notice by hiddenness. It is a principle that grows by practice and acceptance of humiliations, and when at length it becomes a habit, it is recognized as a virtue.
Now the opposite to it is the voice of pride. Pride is the most deadly of all spiritual sins. It has multitudinous forms and degrees. It lies in the spiritual nature of man. It is the assertion and independence of self. It ends in disobedience and rebellion against God. Its result is to degrade man's nature and make him God's enemy. Over and against this terrible self-destroying vice of pride is the virtue of humility. The vice and the virtue contend for the mastery of man's will. Hence it follows that in the will informed by grace lies the perfected virtue.
Our first step to practical humility lies in the surrender of the will. Our wills are given to us that we may make the best use of them in giving them back to God.
The great motive is that we are little children and have a kind, loving, Heavenly Father. He loves us. He knows what is best for us, and we can trust His Love. We have perhaps led an ordinarily good life, and our environment has been so much under our own control that we have not realized how self-governed we are. We have not fully or practically surrendered our will to God. We have prayed, "Thy Will be done." But the surrender by the lips even in prayer is not the real thing. God sends some trial, disappointment, affliction, to test the soul. Take all such trials as answer to prayer. Lean on God, surrendering the will by real submission.
We must see how God's Will is revealed to us by real submission in all the common course of life. The revelation of God's Will comes in things both great and small; in the choice of our mode of life, in the matter of work, in the choice of our companions, in the performance of our duties, in the place of our summer vacation, in the charitable work we should take up, in the time to be given to our social duties, in the amount of expenditure on our dress and amusements, in the bestowal of alms, in the support of the Church.
Submission becomes more difficult when some wrong is done to us, when we are rightly incensed or robbed of our projects, slandered in society or deserted by friends, misjudged or hurt in reputation. We cannot but feel indignant at the wrong, and tempted to retaliate. But the wrong done to us by the evil-minded or mistaken is not God's Will, but that it may happen to us is God's Will. It is not the Will of His good pleasure that any one should do wrong, but it is His Will, as signified by the event, that we should have to bear the trial. These particular trials may not come to us as Religious, but they do come in a great many ways. In all things, humble thyself under the hand of God. Take all things, through whomsoever they may come, from Him.
But we must advance from submission to conformity. "Not my will, but Thine be done." The humble soul advances from the degree of submission to a higher one. It not only accepts God's Will as He gives health or sickness, prosperity or adversity, renown or disgrace, success or failure, friendship or desertions, but it desires that God shall have His Will. It rejoices in the joy that He has in having it. It finds its peace in this repose in Him. It has come to have a truly broken heart. It has broken away from self. It has become broken unto His Will. It says in truth, "Let come what will come, Thy Will is welcome."
It is in the heart especially that humility finds its home. Its Jesus was humble, and the virtue exercised by love unites to Him. Like Him the soul desires no honours the world can give. It cannot be bribed or bought by its proffered kingdom. It lives in a higher region and looks down on this earth. It is in love with Jesus, and what He loves it loves. He did nothing to gain worldly applause, but was content to be rejected by it. He might have come surrounded with all the external signs of kingly pomp, but preferred the cave of Bethlehem and the workshop of Nazareth. He laid aside the glory which belonged to Him and took on Him the likeness of our sinful flesh. He might have been openly escorted by legions of Angels, but chose for His companions the rude and uncultured fishermen. He might have had the comforts of wealth, but chose to be as an outcast with no place wherein to lay His Head. He might have made friends with the great and wealthy, but became known as the Friend of publicans and sinners. He had His word of condemnation for the haughty hypocritical Pharisees, but gave His sympathy and loving forgiveness to the broken-hearted Magdalene. His Human Nature shrinks in agony from the Cross, but in penitence humbly He conformed His will to the Father's Will. He could have overcome the soldiers by a word, as He did in the hour of His arrest, but humbly He puts Himself at their disposal, saying, "This is your hour and the power of darkness." In all His bitter trials, amid lying witnesses and mockings, and spittings, blows and scourgings, He is as a Lamb led to the slaughter. He, Who is the Lord of Glory, dies the death of a Malefactor, stripped of His garments, on a cross between two thieves. Was ever such abasement? Such self-chosen humiliation? And the humble soul loves to be like her Jesus. He has bidden her learn of Him as humble and meek; in sorrow and pain, in want and weariness, in heart trials and wrongs, consolation is to be found in Him. He is the joy of the Religious, his life, his All-in-all. He leadeth him into the great hiding-place of His Love and gives humility a joy and peace.
THE two great principles of perfection are mortification and prayer. All special rules can be reduced under these two heads.
A Religious girds himself with the sword of the Spirit to mortify body and soul. The body is to be brought under subjection. According to the Rule of St. Paul, "I keep under my body, and bring it unto subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." A Religious must so have subdued the impulses of the flesh as to be freed from the dominion of sensual appetites. His life would be unreal if the appetite for food, sensuality, and sloth were not subdued. For the honour of our Lord he is engaged in a fight in which, to be a Religious, victory is essential. Our Lord trusts us through the Blessed Sacrament with His own indwelling. A Religious, like a Christian knight, stands on guard over that sacred Presence. He is to see that nothing unworthy of our Lord comes near Him.
Concerning mortification, I would first point out a mistake often made concerning its character and purpose. There is a wrong view concerning it, based on an error concerning the nature of matter and the functions of the body. There is an old Manichaean error which regarded matter as evil in its nature. The followers of this system sought by asceticism to deliver themselves from the thraldom of the body. We see this exemplified in the Indian Fakir, who tortures the bodily frame with the idea that he can thereby loose his soul from its control.
The Christian belief is that all God has made, matter and body included, is good. It had been designed for noble purposes. The necessity of taking food is to teach us our dependence upon God. It also reveals to us the truth that God gives us His blessings, both natural life and grace, through ordained instrumentalities. The prodigality with which God bestows His gifts of nature is to fill our hearts with thankfulness and provide for material sacrifice. Sacrifice in the way of any mortification is an offering to God. While in its lower office it is an instrumentality for self-control, in its higher spiritual purpose it is a sacrifice to God. As a sacrifice or offering to Him, it is a means of union with Him. Thus the Christian practises mortification in a spirit of penitential love and union with His crucified Lord. It is utterly different thus in character from Indian asceticism. The Christian soul, studying the life of our Blessed Lord, as His Bride, must share His life. It is for Jesus and in Jesus and with Jesus he accepts and practises mortification.
A life of mortification is a necessity to a Religious. "I must suffer, or die," said St. Theresa. It is a pledge of Christ's acceptance of us. It purifies the soul by making its aim single. It procures increase of grace and spiritual strength. It develops internal light and calms the unruliness of our emotions. As a work of love, it establishes us in peace of soul. Mortifications accepted in love lessen the need of future purificative discipline. Born in humility by them, self-love gradually dies, and so we become fitted with safety to receive the joys of eternal life.
Following the wisdom of Fr. Baker, I would give three general directions, concerning our duties respecting mortification.
I. Let us be ready to do or forbear doing whatsoever any law, human or divine, shall require of us to do or forbear.
II. Let us suffer with patience and resignation all the crosses and contradictions to self-love, which, by God's Providence, shall be sent upon us. These crosses may regard external things, such as loss of goods, of friends, sickness, disgraces, injuries; or . internal ones, such as trials, temptations, inward distresses, obscurity respecting duty, or periods of spiritual dryness.
III. If anything pleasing to nature is to be done, or anything displeasing to be omitted,--to do or omit such things, not merely because they are agreeable to nature, but because they are conformable to God's Will, doing all things, "Whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, to the Glory of God."
Mortification is ordinarily divided into that which is necessary and voluntary. The first concerns things which we cannot avoid. They may be external or internal, such as illness, want, loss of friends, or temptations, desolations of spirit. Secondly, those also which come upon us in our religious state of life, through our rules, or by obedience to our Superiors. Concerning those trials which God sends, or allows, we should strive not only to submit our will to His Will, but to conform it to His Will. We must submit, and submission becomes a virtue when we submit intelligently and willingly. But we should try to rise up to a greater union with God in all times of trouble and temptation. We need to practise in view of future trials a sweet conformity to the Divine Will. We must strive ever to say, "Not my will but Thine be done." In this way the soul enters into a peace and joy which mere submission does not give. We are striving, as we said, against self-love. We want the old Adam in us to die. We desire the old nature to be crucified. We want the old man to be cast out and to become new creatures. Now mortification is the great instrumentality by which self-love is cauterized. It is well, however, to know that the most effective mortifications are those which God allows or sends. We cannot kill self-love by anything we can do, though in a degree we may mortify it. Only God can so take us in hand as to probe by His mortifications into the depth of our self-deceit, and pierce our self-love. We must therefore, if in earnest, pray Him to do this, and work this great change in us. But let me give you here a great caution. God indeed loves such prayers. They show souls to be in earnest, but we should not make this prayer until we have considered the consequences. Self-love cannot be cured, as some other temptations, by being removed. Self-love can only be removed by sharp surgical operation. The wounding of the spirit will always be with distress and pain. The dressing of the wound also, the pouring in of the oil and wine, will not be without suffering. If you pray for the mortification of self-love, you must be prepared for some calamity, distress, special temptation, desolation perhaps, loss of friendship, breaking of heart. God will do it, but it will involve suffering.
We will now consider the mortifications of the body, and in reference to it St. Augustine says that "sin is unregulated desire." Now I am writing for those who have by God's grace their appetites under such control that they do not fall into mortal sin. You are of those who have left all to follow Christ. You are aiming, not merely at self-discipline, but a loving union with your crucified Lord, and to be like Him is your desire.
Now our bodies, I am led to think, are like the garden of Eden. Are they to be regarded as such, or are they to be looked on as our greatest enemy, and so to be ill treated, macerated, and fought every way? There are spiritual writers who take this latter view. But unless we fall into the Mani-chaean heresy, we must hold that the body which God made is in itself good. Its natural appetites therefore are not sinful. They may have been more or less intensified by an evil heredity, but what God made is not to be regarded as our enemy. The body is, disciplined and controlled, the useful servant of the soul. It is, as St. Francis of Assisi said, "The beast on which it rides, and a merciful man should be merciful to his beast." I like to think that it is the garden of the soul, which is placed in it as Adam was in Eden. He was placed there to care for it, to dress it and keep it. It is as much a duty then to keep it as it is to subdue it. It is a noble creation, and the gift of God. We are trusted with it. The subduing and keeping it are part of our spiritual education.
Now in our day, the laws of health are far better understood than in former times. And it is a duty to know and obey these laws of God, as well as any other of His laws. Therefore in forming the Community, I consulted wise physicians as to the hours of sleep, the food, and general rules of life for the Monks. The Rule has proved itself to be a wise and health-sustaining one. And yet it has not been without its mark of self-denial. The Cross will be found everywhere in it. It is stamped on every part of our earthly tabernacle. Our food and sleep are regulated by a rule which protects us, not only from luxury, but self-indulgence. And in observing it we practise mortification.
FASTING is a subject, said Fr. Benson, which we must approach with much humiliation in the present day. For indeed, when we think how holy men of old fasted, and think of our own bodily necessities, and worse, our own spiritual weakness, we must indeed acknowledge that we are scarcely worthy to be numbered in their company. We must humble ourselves, and if we cannot fast in any sense that is worthy of the name, at least we must take our food in such a way as befits penitents. We must take our food for the maintenance of our bodily life, that we may live to His glory, and not for our own self-indulgence. We must take our food in thankfulness that He does still give us a life in which we may serve Him. We must take our food according to the regularity of appointment, not according to the various impulses of natural appetite. We must take our food with that reverence of demeanour, acknowledging thereby that it is God's gift, and that we are supported by His bounty. We must take our food without criticism, eating that which is set before us. Let me say we may add some words to Fr. Benson's teaching. In taking our food, we should carefully observe the great law of health, of eating slowly and with diligent mastication; while we should keep in mind a true spirit of humility, let it be a humility which does not avoid cheerfulness. It is a duty to cultivate cheerfulness and thanksgiving for our food, and the natural comfort that ensues from it is not to be regarded as sinful. Our Lord Himself gave us this rule, when He bade His disciples to anoint their head and wash their face when they fasted.
"So to eat," says Fr. Baker, as not to abridge himself of a necessary quantity, for that would for a long time after do more harm to his spirit by too much enfeebling of the body. Neither is he to judge that he has offended by excess, because he finds a heaviness for some space after refection. Let every one content himself with what God by Superiors provides for them, accounting that to be the best for himself, unless he has some disorder which requires special food, in which case he should make it known to his Superior. While urging plainness of food, and discipline in eating, Fr. Baker allows, "that the infirmity of our body may sometimes require, not only healthy, but also well-tasting meats, not for the satisfying of our sensuality, but, as St. Augustine saith, 'for the upholding of our strength.' In which case, meats of good relish even as such, may be sought for, yea, ought to be, for the recreation and comforting of nature, and such corporal consolation may also have a good effect upon the spirit."
IN like manner the Religious guards his soul. Self-love is to be mortified and put to death. He comes to be dead to the world, the world crucified to him, and to be dead to self. He is interiorly to have a soul God-controlled, to be a new creature, a changed character, a man governed by fixed and rigid principles of righteousness; in all things conformable to the Will of God, because God lives in Him. Our great battleground is to be found in interior or spiritual mortification. We must not only pray for a spirit of mortification, but practise mortification. The victory over self is a great and noble work. It can only be attained by attention to details. We must commence realizing that our whole soul and spiritual nature is to be mortified. Let us begin with the imagination. This must be mortified. It is a useful but dangerous faculty. It is given to us in order that the religious soul may better realize the great facts of the Gospel story. The Crucifixion should not be merely hung on the walls but in our hearts. We want to follow Christ as really present to us as He was to the Apostles, His miracles to be like present realities in which we have a part, His parables heard with the inner ear, and their seed dropping into our souls. We want so to drill the imagination that it makes Christ vivid and living to us.
We would therefore mortify this ofttimes unruly faculty and bring it into subjection. When tempted to idle castle-building and futile wishing of what we could be, or do, to put them aside. I do not object to the occasional reading of a good story, if it has a moral or religious purpose. But it is harmful to read exciting novels which bring pictures of passion, love, fighting, intrigues, and such matter before the mind. They leave an impress before the imagination which hinders the beautiful Vision of Christ. Whenever I have found in reading a story that it strongly aroused my imagination or interest in its termination I would lay it aside, determined not to finish it. Again, mortify the spirit, if you have such, of interest in the future. Do not allow speculations of what's going to happen. "He that regardeth the clouds shall not reap." The future for the Church and the future for our Community is with the Lord, and His promises are sure.
Learn also to mortify and put a curb on the memory. The past is full of blessings and also of danger. Let us ever keep in mind the wonderful way God has led us on to Himself. Let it fill our hearts with joyful thanksgiving and praise. It has been a heaven-lighted way, leading us up to God. But the past, as a spiritual writer says, "is also like a graveyard, and there are many things which it is better to leave in their graves to rot." Let us "forget the things that are behind, pressing forward to the mark of our high calling in Christ Jesus." Then we have a reasoning faculty. This is different from our understanding. Its natural curiosity should be mortified, and we should be content with the truths revealed as necessary for salvation, and not seek to be wise above what is fitting. The reasoning faculty proceeds from premises to a probable conclusion. As the human mind is limited in its knowledge, and its premises are not universal, its conclusions are only more or less probable. The function of the reasoning faculties in respect to religious truths is to better enable us to understand what God has revealed and our spiritual nature discerned. It must therefore be kept in its own proper office, to illustrate and not to be made the basis of our faith.
We must also mortify it by a certain distrust in it, and not be obstinate in holding our opinions. After the truths of the faith, there is nothing of belief which is a matter of grave importance. We should therefore never argue with earnestness of manner or assertions of certainty about theoretical questions or practical matters. Whenever opinions differ in the Brotherhood, be ready to yield to others. When questions have been decided by a Chapter or authority, accept readily the decision, and let all disputations or internal criticisms pass out of the mind.
Next; we must carefully examine our heart and its affections. There are three principal passions which are to be mortified: love, anger, and sorrow. Love is the root of the passions. St. Augustine said, "It is only a good or an ill love that makes our actions to be good or ill." Our spiritual affections tend to propriety, or the love of possession of things, to liberty and independence of action, to self-esteem, self-judgment, and self-will. "The only possible remedy for this horrible deordination," says Fr. Baker, "is to have a new contrary divine principle implanted in our hearts." It is the love of friendship to God and to men or ourselves for His sake. Whenever our affections become so inordinate respecting any one as to come between ourselves and the supreme love we should have to God, those affections are to be mortified. Whenever the soul feels an emotion of resentment or anger towards others--here is practice for mortification. The hot human feeling is to be subdued. It may be some little thing or some great one which disturbs us. It may be some wrong that has been done us by word or by act. We cannot help feeling hurt, wounded, it may be, indignant. Our Lord, when insulted, must have rightly felt the indignity done to Himself. And there is an anger, the Apostles tell us, which is not sin. In some aspects, as against a wrong action, anger, Bishop Butler said, "was a reflection of the Justice of God." But as Christ was meek under insults, so a Religious is bound to imitate Him. He is to practise self-control even under personal insults, by word or deed. He may find it hard in his heart to forgive those he thinks may have wronged him. But let us consider how we have wronged Christ. No one has so wronged us as we have insulted, betrayed, deserted, wronged Him. And if that dear and Blessed Lord forgives, blots out our sins, and bears with us, we must, for His sake, forgive and bear with others. Again and again, let the soul say, "Yes, for His sake, I will forget and forgive." We must use all our endeavour to curb the heart, and when provocations come, to brush them aside as being of little account, not worth considering. We must regard such as opportunities for reaping much spiritual benefit. "I coin the good money of grace out of every insult." We must practise the use of the mildest words and friendliest looks to any one provoking us or disturbing us by an interruption. We must ever pray for some blessing on those who do us, consciously or unconsciously, an injury, or dispute with us. We must practise resignation and peace amidst all the internal crosses which God may send for the purifying of our souls. We must strive to welcome our heart's discipline with joy. The martyrdom of the heart is more effective than the martyrdom of the body.
Next; let us consider the mortification of the tongue. Scaramelli speaks of those who have courageously renounced the world and suppressed grave faults, yet were guilty of grave sins of the tongue. We find them, he says, sliding back into impatient and peevish words. Impatience! How often has one been betrayed into impatience in word and manner. Peevishness! How fretful, petulant we become under trifling trials. " Others," he says, "give way to idle and vain talk." What a multitude of sins, and O what harm is done by what is called innocent gossip. It is gossip about good plans that often hinders their execution. It is gossip that often ruins reputations and vocations. It is gossip that sows discord and breaks the charm of charity. By gossip I do not mean things said to the discredit of a person's character, but the reporting of little incidents which excite ridicule or laughter about clergymen, laymen, or sisters.
Make it a rule never to say anything about persons unless it is something to their credit, unless duty requires you to do so. Gossip also relates to the telling of Church news, which is of no consequence or profit to relate. The holy hermits lived in a day when there were no Church newspapers, and they were not over-anxious to know what was going on. Scaramelli speaks also of those who cannot "refrain from sarcasm and sharp sayings, little in conformity with Christian charity." We are bound, not only as Religious, but as Christians, to put the best construction on others' conduct and to think no evil. We are bound by Christ's injunction not to usurp God's prerogative and judge our fellows. Those smart little sayings and sharp words are like daggers, and in the end will hurt the user, for with such judgment as we judge, we shall be judged. Others cannot refrain from criticising their Superiors, the Rule, their fellow-workers, and so mar the beauty of the Community life. We should all strive to have the stern mind of a judge towards ourselves, and the tender heart and loving one of a mother towards all others. And what shall we say to the sins of boasting, of self-praise, or of faction-making or other sins too numerous to mention? O strive, especially in your intercourse with one another and the world, so to control your speech that Christ and the Holy Spirit may ever speak through you.
We should be extremely careful in our intercourse with externs. Our intercourse with them must be directed to religious instructions and the good of their soul. It would be most disloyal to our Community to speak critically of any of our brethren, or its policy. The Brothers should not dispute with one another concerning such matters as politics, and on religious topics never with any heat, but with docile and teachable dispositions. " When prudence or charity requires us to speak, we must be very careful," says Fr. Baker, "not to make the imperfections of others the subject of our discourse." Religious will be very careful to avoid having any special confidant outside the Community with whom they consult concerning its affairs. In our recreations, let us keep a moderate watchfulness over ourselves. Let a spirit of brightness, hopefulness, cheerfulness, and mutual charity be the characteristic of our recreation.
Your rule of silence is a blessed help in the mortification of the tongue. It binds you to silence in certain places in the Monastery and outside of it, and at different times. It is not only a blessed discipline, but a shrine where you may dwell with God. It binds you to the silence of the Babe of Bethlehem and to His mystical one in the tomb.
And now we come to another fruitful line for the practice of mortification. It is the control and government of our thoughts and our moods of feeling. We must not think it impossible to get such a control of the workings of our mind, but that we can keep them under discipline. We may make a distinction between those wanderings which are wilful and those thoughts which arise, irrespectively of our will, in our subconsciousness. If our superior spirit is directed to God, such wanderings are not sinful. We should pay no attention to them, and when wanderings take place, from whatever cause, it is not wise to go back and say our prayer over again. Cast a look to the Divine Master and go right on with your prayer. It will help us to keep the mind from wandering if we make an act of realization of our Lord's presence, and determine to say the prayer or the psalm to Him.
Then there is a class of thoughts which may be put under the head of idle dreaming, or castle building, and of wishing what we could do if we had this or that. What is needed for your work, pray for it. Be content with what God gives and allows one to do, even if it is only like putting a straw under the horses' feet, which drew the stones for the Temple.
Then there are aversions, which are to be checked. We cannot naturally love all alike, but by grace we can love all for Christ's sake. Thoughts of jealousy or envious feeling may arise, because others are approved and we neglected. Pray always for further blessings on those about whom you are jealous, and rejoice that your Spouse or King has better servants than yourself.
But the soul has not only evil thoughts which spring up like weeds, but good thoughts which are to be prized and kept. God is ever speaking to the soul interiorly, and again and again He gives to some text of Scripture a new light and force. He warms and cheers the heart by many consolations, and these gifts from Him must be regarded as our jewels.
Now about our moods. Sometimes we experience low spirits. They come from various causes, sometimes from physical ones, at other times from neglect. These we are bound to crush out. We must say the great promises of Christ, or sing some hymn, or give thanks to God, and determine to be bright and hopeful. We have only to come back to God and our low spirits will go away.
Again, the soul may experience a time of dryness, when it seems almost impossible for it to say office; but dryness or aridity is no sin. God often detracts sensible devotion in order to strengthen our will and love. It is the same when any darkness comes over the soul, and spiritual writers all declare we have to pass through one before coming to the land of Beulah. "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" should be the soul's motto. Some tenderhearted souls are troubled occasionally with scruples. They are excessively minute in their self-examination and take for sins acts that are not so. Only what the will is known to assent to can be regarded as sinful.
Again, others sometimes are oppressed with the fear of death. A Religious should look upon it as entering into the King's Palace and meeting her Lord. If Satan attack the soul with a sense of its sinfulness, it must meet such attack by remembering that we are "accepted in the Beloved."
Again, a depression may come from the recognized slowness of our spiritual progress. We must know God is never discouraged with us, so we must not be discouraged with ourselves.
Lastly, there is our will, which is to be mortified. It is prone to be governed by self-love and to be the victim of secondary motives. It acts thoughtlessly, on impulse, without seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is necessary that we should surrender our wills to God in Christ, as a Holy sacrifice. His Will should become the rule of our life. As our King, His Will must be the sceptre by which He governs us. He must rule over us and all our faculties, our actions, words, and thoughts. It is by obedience that our wills are subjected to Christ. Every act of obedience to Superiors or Rule strengthens the will, while every act of neglect tends to weaken it. It is a good practice to do what we now do, thoughtlessly or mechanically, by an act of will. The will clasped in Christ's Will grows strong in its power of command. It develops within us a like fortitude to His Who endured the Cross. It is by the practice of mortification that tranquillity of mind is established and preserved in us. Every act of mortification disposes us for a better and more quiet recollectedness of spirit. "It brings," says Fr. Baker, "a true peace of mind, an immutability, indifference, insensibility to all creatures and events by which the soul transcends all, living in God only." As our wills become more one with His Will, a peace and joy unspeakable enter into the soul, and we rest in Him. Hidden in Him, nothing can harm us, nothing make us afraid. We are like babes at the breast of God, falling to sleep in His embrace. As the seabirds fold their wings and sleep on the ocean's waves, so the happy mortified soul rests on the ocean of the love of God, calmly and peacefully, while the waters rise and fall beneath him.
ONE comes into the Religious state, not to save one's soul, for that is the work done by the Church, but to acquire a special Christian character. The basis of this is laid in a deep and real conversion. The Religious comes seeking after perfection. He has a very persistent and earnest desire after holiness. It is ever a reiterated and daily desire on his part. He is to aim at becoming a Christian athlete, a victor over the world, the flesh, and the Devil. He is to become a man of God, with a God-controlled soul. He is not to be merely a pious Christian, but he is to become a holy man governed by fixed principles of righteousness. It should be seen in his demeanour, conversation, control, sanctified silence. Holiness should be the mark upon him. This consummation cannot be acquired in a week, or a month, or a year, but is the result of a long and laborious practice of sanctity. The neophyte will not be discouraged because the way seems long and the work slow and he experiences so many failures in it. He must put the great end of perfection before him and cultivate the love of all it means.
Now the two great principles that lie at the development of the life are mortification and prayer. All the rules concerning it can be placed under one of these two heads.
We have spoken of mortification, and now we would speak of the great work of the Religious, which he undertakes for the Glory of God, the good of the Church, and the transformation of himself.
To become a good Religious, he must study prayer and its different kinds, and pray for the gift and grace of it, love it, and grow into union with God by its use.
We will now speak of the instruments with which we must labour, in order to acquire charity, purity of heart, and humility. The first of these instruments is prayer, which is defined to be "an act of the practical reason, by which we ask God for whatever is either useful or necessary for us; or it is an ascent, or lifting up of the mind and of the affections to Him. It is usually divided into vocal and mental prayer. It is called mental when the faculties of the soul only are used in communing with God, and vocal when the acts of the soul and its emotions find expression in words also. The difference between the two kinds is like the difference between thought and speech. When we pray mentally, we are simply thinking in the presence of our Almighty Father, and laying before Him the thoughts of our soul. This is a purely spiritual intellectual process, which carries with it the full force of the will and which is unaided by the faculty of speech. But when we give expression to the thoughts which are stirring within us, and to the emotions of our hearts, there is superadded to the spiritual action of the soul a something material which makes that action manifest and gives to it an earthly existence. The emotions, the wishes, and the aspirations of one soul may thus be drawn up into formulas of prayer and made useful for others. Such, for instance, are the Psalms of David and other portions of our Church's Liturgy, which we may call "crystallized prayer"; the recitation of them goes by the name "vocal prayer." Any one who makes use of them can then only be said to pray when he applies the faculties of his soul to say them in such a way that "mind and voice may be in accord." If the mind does not make the sentiments, the affections, and the petitions expressed by the words its own, they cease to be a prayer, and are nothing more than an empty formula.
Prayer is divided into the different kinds of vocal and mental prayer, the latter containing prayer of meditation, contemplation, prayer of acts, and prayer of quiet.
Under vocal prayer we have, in its Community form, the recitation of the Divine Office. These Offices are known by the names of Matins with Lauds, which is the Office said by the Community at night, and the Day Hours are known by the names of Prime, Tierce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, Compline. The times of their recitation are settled by the Rule of the Abbey. Our Holy Father, St. Benedict, calls them "the Work of God." The .Divine Office has for its groundwork the recitation of a portion of the Psalter. In Lauds, Vespers, and Compline, the evangelical canticles are to be found. Early in its development a hymn was introduced. It ends with the collect, which sums up and collects the principal thoughts or intention of the Divine Office. How early we know not, but long ago, the habit of chanting the Psalter was introduced. It may have come from the Jewish custom of so reciting the Psalms. This may be the meaning of St. Paul's injunction to speak to "yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." The addition of song to vocal recitation completes our vocal offering to God. It is our Religious work to study the meaning of the Psalms, to learn how to apply them to our own special needs. In many cases they are beyond our understanding. We must remember that the Psalter was written especially for our Lord's use. It was His Office Book. As little children say their prayers after their mother's teaching, so we, in many cases, must say our Psalter in union with our Lord. We can intensify our devotion by interjecting at the colon of each or every other verse the words "Dear Lord" or "Blessed Jesus."
The Office should be said in divine fellowship with our dear Lord Jesus.
We should seek to realize increasingly the great dignity of our daily Offices, and that we do indeed come before God with the words, the mind, the power, the glory, the mystery of the love of Jesus Christ. The external care with which we say our Psalter must be the outward token of that inward reverence and love that our hearts feel.
EACH Office is to be said with its own intention. It is the intention which marks the difference between simple reading and praying. These intentions are either fixed by a Rule or changeable at the direction of the Abbot and Prior.
The Novice must study and practise the art of meditation. This is ordinarily called the first degree of mental prayer. There are two methods of meditation, the ancient and the modern one, of which instruction will be given elsewhere. Some minds are more adapted to one method than the other. The ancient consists in a series of acts of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitential love, and union with God. The modern method calls into operation in regular order the faculties of the soul. Memory and imagination recall and picture the subject of the meditation. The understanding discourses upon it. If a moral precept is involved, it applies the Scripture statements concerning it; if punishment, its rewards. The conscience applies the doctrine to its own case. It makes acts of gratitude, thanksgiving, praise, and penitence. It makes some practical resolution concerning its future conduct. It indulges in a colloquy with God, speaking with a familiarity and love of a child, or in some way according to the subject of the meditation. The various rules should be well studied and diligently practised.
Meditation is the science by which we practically grow in the knowledge of the Divine things of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who becomes practically our Example and the Mould of our new life. We are not only to look to Him Whom we seek to follow, but, remelted by penitence, to be recast into the mould of His Life. His Life is to take possession of us, transforming us into His own likeness. The virtues in Him are to be extended in us. We are not only to be a copy of Christ, but we are to reproduce His own Life in us. We are to be living publications of the Gospel.
The work meditation does is a slow work, but eventually it will make us true Religious and give us the Religious character. It requires the virtues of patience, perseverance, and courage, and the heart must be set with all its strength on Jesus. It must be warmed at the fire of His Passion. To be holy must be the increasing desire of the Religious, and the one great means is that of meditation.
The subjects of meditation will be given to the Community or to the individuals by the Prior or Abbot. During the beginning of this Novitiate, having learnt the Rules of meditation, the Novice will keep a Retreat of five days. The subjects will be somewhat of this kind: the end of man, the nature of sin, the necessity of conversion, the Passion of Christ, the two standards, the Return of the Prodigal. During his Novitiate he will also pass another Retreat on the Example of Christ, Christ's warnings, the Passion, Judgment. It will be the duty of all the Brothers to keep a monthly Day of Retreat, and the Community should have one once a year.
There are, we have noticed, higher degrees of prayer, like contemplation. But the soul, however, must not expect to receive the gift of contemplation until after a long period of practice in meditation. It is not necessary here, therefore, to speak of them. But an earnest soul may humbly look forward to their acquisition, ever remembering that they are God's gifts and not of man's acquirement.
In mental prayer, the soul realizes its union with God. "While we are acting on mental prayer," says a devout writer, "we are living: when we cease to act on mental prayer, we are dead." We ought, therefore, to approach our meditation with a real hope that God will reveal Himself to us, not merely that He will enable us to acquire a clearer view of this and that truth, which we have prepared, but that He will reveal Himself to us. Lord, show me Thy glory. This must be our one desire. Revelation is the coming forth of the Eternal God to the living soul.
May the art of prayer be devoutly practised by the Benedictines. May they all believe ever in prayer. May the Holy Spirit control all their hearts, desires, calm their fears, and brighten their lives, fill them with ardent faith, and a spirit of Divine charity.