On Sunday the community gathered in the Abbey Chapterhouse, as our brothers were clothed in the novice's habit by Abbot Vincent. He addressed the following remarks to them.
Br. Andrew and Br. Kenneth, I understand that the two of you are energetic souls who have participated in strenuous athletic and spiritual activities in your younger days. St. Benedict has a word for you in the Prologue of his Rule; in fact, not only a word, but a kind of map for the entire life of conversion to which you are dedicating yourselves. Let us listen to his words, the words of a father who loves you and wants only the best for you.
He starts in a good place, quoting the words of Jesus: “Run while you have the light of life…” It is interesting how often in the Prologue St. Benedict refers to running, as though you were joining a cross country team. But it is true that monastic life is a long race. There are times of jogging, times of sprinting, and times of enduring long stretches of grueling countryside. He wants us to keep moving. The one who stands still or runs in the wrong direction is doomed. God forbid that we be daunted by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation.
But we can’t run aimlessly. We have to run in the light of life. And what is that light? As always with St. Benedict, the light is Christ who is dwelling within us, whether it be in his word of Scripture, in the Divine Office and sacraments, or in the brothers we meet. His indwelling began with the grace of baptism, and our monastic calling is a flowering of that grace. The presence of the Lord lightens our path, especially when monastic life becomes dark. Since our life is limited and the darkness can be great, we need to let that light shine forth from us to lead us toward that voice which we hear in faith: at vigils, in quiet prayer, in service to the brothers.
That is why as a loving father, St. Benedict offers firm directions and exhortations. Above all, he exhorts us to the labor of obedience, to prayer, to watchfulness, to receptivity. He wants us to run now and do those things that will profit us for eternity. But before we can do anything, we need to rise from sleep and open our eyes. Rub them if you need to. Clear the wax from your ears! The Lord and his angels are all around, urging us to join our brothers, whether it be at the divine office, at work, at chores, or anywhere else. Any temptation to avoid the daily exercises and one’s duty must be dashed against Christ. We don’t do these exercises just because St. Benedict said to do so. He urges us to do them because Christ did them, and he wants us to be totally like Christ Jesus. Of course, St. Benedict never fails to remind us that any good that we do comes not from us but from the Lord who dwells within. The theme song of our running must be, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory!”
Finally, St. Benedict reminds us of the most important point: God has run to us first. He loved us first. He called us first. Like the father in the gospel going out to welcome his prodigal son, our heavenly Father is constantly running to meet us and make his dwelling place within us, together with his Son and the Spirit. We must simply embrace this grace. A little fidelity and gratitude on our part, and we will hear him whisper, “My eyes are already open to you and my ears likewise to listen to your prayers, and even before you ask me, I say to you, ‘Here I am.’” As St. Benedict says, “What indeed could more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us? See how the Lord in his love shows us the way of life.”
Brothers, you are here with your brothers who welcome you into this new phase of your monastic journey. We invite you now to run with us in the race of holy obedience. It may seem that some of us have become too old to run, but you have to look into our hearts. If you hold fast, you, too, will learn that running with hearts expanded on the way of God’s commandments is worth whatever dura et aspera you may encounter. May St. Benedict bless you on your journey!
Photographs by Brother Brian.