Although I love celebrating the great feasts of the liturgical year, and the twelve days of Christmas are no exception, I also like getting back to the daily routine of ferias and memorias, just peppered with the occasional feast day. Though even when it comes to ferias, there’s nothing quite like Advent, Lent and Eastertide. I suppose what I dislike most of all is the interruption of the cursus of scripture readings both at Mass and at Vigils. Still, as St Paul reminds us, all Scripture was written for our building up in the faith. It can be helpful to use these daily readings as the basis for our lectio divina.
Now the reading that doesn’t change, other than for the occasional clothing, perseverance or profession, is the reading from the Holy Rule at our daily Chapter. It can seem incongruous at times to hear about the Abbot’s Table or the Presumption of Defending Another in the Monastery on a great feast day or, at any time I suppose, those parts of the Rule that now appear to us as anachronistic. Even so, I can’t help but think that every chapter, paragraph and phrase of the Rule has something useful and helpful to teach us, if we only stop and look at it closely.
That is why I am convinced that we should use the Rule as one of the basic, essential texts for lectio and that meditating daily upon the words of St Benedict we will be more and more convinced of the beauty of our vocation and more and more aware of God’s work of conversion and sanctification in our lives. Although every aspect of the monastic life helps us in this lifelong process, above all the difficult practice of obedience, nevertheless lectio and the personal prayer and commitment that results from it lie at the very heart of our Benedictine life and vocation. It’s when I practise lectio and that prayer of silent adoration, mental prayer, that derives from it, that I become convinced even more that the monastic life is the life God wants me to live and the life which, through God’s love and mercy, will result in my salvation.
As I go round the monasteries of Latin America in my work for AIM and, of course, nearer home and at Belmont itself, monks and nuns often tell me that they don’t find it easy to do either lectio or mental prayer. Of course, there is no easy answer or solution to difficulties in spiritual reading or personal prayer. Unlike the Divine Office, it’s not something we do together in choir, so we are not carried along on the crest of the wave of community prayer. However, it does help us to know that in practically all the cells of the monastery our brethren are probably going through the same trials and temptations as we are. I think it’s important to remember constantly that we are being supported by our brethren even when we don’t see them and even when it’s not obvious. It’s a good idea as we begin our lectio each day to say a little prayer for our brethren: that the Lord may help them as he helps us to know and to love him more and more as he reveals himself to us in his word and in his loving mercy.
It is now just over ten years since I was elected Abbot on 14th December 2000. How time flies! One of the many things I have grown really conscious of is the power of prayer, especially that prayer which derives from our reading, ruminating, savouring and inwardly digesting the word of God. As we listen attentively to him, so God provides for our spiritual and even material needs. The words of Abraham to Isaac keep coming back to me, “On this mountain, the Lord will provide.” In my life, in your life, in our life together in community, the Lord will provide and the Lord does provide. So it is that we take all things to the Lord in prayer, not that we pray, “Do this or do that. Give me this or give me that.” No, that’s not the way to pray, though at times of desperation no doubt that’s what we do. But we can and we do place ourselves, and others, in God’s hands and pray that his will be done.
I am so grateful for the prayers of the brethren and the prayers of our oblates, parishioners, relatives, benefactors and friends. Above all, though, I am grateful for your prayers. I am affirmed by the knowledge that you are praying for me constantly. We are all affirmed by the knowledge that we are all praying for one another every day. Jesus taught his disciples that even the most personal of prayers are in fact communal and the prayer of the Church when he taught them to say, “Our Father.” When we say, for example, “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” in fact we are praying as members of the one Body of Christ. As Christians and as monks we never pray just for ourselves, our prayer is inclusive, we pray for each other, we pray for all who have need of God’s forgiveness and loving kindness.
As I bring these few words to an end, I feel sure that what I have said is a true reflection of how we live as monks of Belmont, a community of brothers who really and truly love one another. In our prayer for the community we also remember those who have gone before us and lie in the cemetery close at hand. We pray too for those who passed through Belmont in their search for God and the purpose of their lives. I know you won’t forget them as you hasten to your heavenly home, as St Benedict puts it at the every end of the Holy Rule. With Christ’s help, then, let us keep this little Rule for beginners. Only then will he allow us to set out for the loftier summits of teaching and virtue, the desire for which spurs us on each day as we seek to love God and our brethren in the monastic life. Amen.