With all his being the monk must try not to wander away from God through infidelity, and fall back into the condition of hardness of heart out of which God’s grace had brought him. He must take very seriously his new identity as servant of God, put in charge of a particular work within Christ’s household. His humble, obedient service out of love must embody the selfless goodness of the physically absent Master, who could return at any moment. The practice of vigilance is, therefore, essential to a person who is not living for himself or by his own tastes and criteria, but whose joy and fulfillment in life consist in being faithful to the will of the One who has done so much for him, the Lord who has trusted him to care for what is most precious to God’s Heart. The monk owes such service and vigilance not only to the Lord himself but to the Lord’s Bride, the Church. The monk keeps vigil both figuratively and literally, says John Paul II, because for him “eschatological expectation becomes mission, so that the Kingdom may become ever more fully established here and now” (Vita Consecrata, 27). The monk who shuns the practice of vigilance does so at his own peril. He runs the risk of turning in upon himself and becoming enslaved to desires that are far below the delight God promises. But the vigilant monk again echoes Isaiah: My soul yearns for you in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks you (26:9). This is what a loving heart is always doing: searching for the Beloved in the night.
St. Benedict wishes that his monks should keep protracted vigil during the hours of the night, while the rest of the world sleeps. It is as if an essential part of the monk’s calling—something he owes both the Church and the world—is this generous watchfulness in prayer. His sluggish lower nature may not at all like it, but he is appointed to act as a link of love between the slumbering world and the ever-wakeful tenderness of God. The monk is called to be the willing vehicle for God’s tender mercy traveling through the darkness. Could it be that my fidelity in keeping vigil in the night here at Spencer could, by virtue of the circulation of graces in the Mystical Body of Christ, bring relief from terror to one little girl in Syria or Iraq tonight? Our faith tells me it’s in my power to have this effect, or rather in the power of Christ who dwells within me. In this aspect of monastic life, the prayer of waiting without idols is typical. Christ is experienced as the ever-present Teacher who through lectio, fraternal relationships, and in the depths of the heart instructs the monk and draws him ever more closely to his own Heart.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Simeon