I hate telling people what to do and I’m hopeless at correcting them. I am so aware of my own failings, that I stand back in dread at the thought of having to draw other people’s attention to theirs. One of the many rules I break is that of silence, so I hope you won’t mind me reminding you of the importance of silence and the real need we have for it in our lives. In particular, I would like to mention the period between Morning Office and Conventual Mass and the half hour between Vespers and Supper. These two short periods of silence should be dedicated to prayer and reading and not to chatting or idling away our time. We all complain how busy we are and, yet, when given quiet time for prayer, we prefer not to use it wisely. Lord, forgive me for being such a foolish virgin!
One of the things I like most about living at Belmont is that we are a relatively happy and relaxed community. We have our difficulties, problems and worries, but none of these manage to oppress us unduly or subdue that sense of fun, or should I say Christian joy, that permeates everything we do and every moment of the day. It is also something that our visitors and guests tune into very quickly and comment on from time to time. I would go on to say that I believe this sense of joy helps us to pray better and to experience something of that “pax benedictina” which is the goal and, indeed, the fruit of a community that, in each one of its members, is truly seeking God and trying, with the help of divine grace, to do the will of God. I also believe that this is the Work of God, the authentic “opus Dei”, for which we have been called to the monastic life and because of which we remain faithful to the Lord. He has called us to follow him along the narrow road of patience and humility, a path which gradually opens out onto the verdant pastures of our heavenly homeland from which we have been exiled for a while. As St Benedict says so eloquently at the conclusion to the Prologue, “ As we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” It is undoubtedly this “inexpressible delight of love” that finds its fullest expression in the joy we share in ling the coenobitic life together.
You might be thinking that I am a deluded romantic and that this is not your experience, but I don’t think I am wrong. Oh yes, we all have our ups and downs; we all get bad patches when we feel pretty low (I am not talking about depression, which is altogether something else). Sometimes there is a reason for this, but often there is not; it is that overwhelming spirit of sadness, of emptiness, of pointlessness, that just gets hold of us. The desert fathers called this “accidie”, though I have always liked the French word “ennui”, as it has fewer religious connotations. There are times when all sorts of things get us down: our weaknesses and failures, those of others, our innate laziness and lack of enthusiasm, and so on. There are times when we have doubts about our vocation or about our faith. Some of us have sunnier dispositions than others, but, in the end, a human being is a human being, and there is not that much difference between me and my neighbour. Perhaps it is only a matter of detail or degree.
I think it is important not to allow ourselves to be affected other than on a superficial level by our changes of mood. No matter what happens on the surface, beneath it all we need to keep ourselves firmly rooted in Christ. Deep within, the self-giving, the sacrifice, the oblation of our lives to God, has to remain complete, absolute, unflinching. The words of Christ, that we sing every night at Compline, need to keep reverberating in our hearts and minds at all times. “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” In fact, the words we sing and say in our daily celebration of the Liturgy have to remain with us and mark every aspect of our lives as we go through the day, from “O Lord, open my lips” to “The Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end.” I have always been firmly convinced of the power of prayer and of the power of the words we use in prayer, especially the words of Scripture. Not only do we ask the Lord to make them a reality in our lives, but we can already see them becoming that reality when we repeat them regularly throughout the day. No matter what else we may be doing, if we but keep a word or a phrase of Scripture in our minds, repeating it over and over again, our inner vision will be fixed on God. Call it contemplation in action if you like. I think this was one of the reasons why St Benedict wanted his novices to spend a lot of time learning the psalms by heart. It wasn’t because there was no adequate form of lighting in the oratory. Nor was it because they couldn’t afford to provide everyone with a book of psalms. I also find that when you’re praying in this way, the time goes by very quickly. It’s not only the latest films that I watch on the plane when I go off on these long trips for AIM.
Keeping the words of Scripture on our lips we begin to fulfil, without effort, many of the Tools of Good Works mentioned by St Benedict. ”Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire. Hour by hour keep watchful care over all you do, aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be. Listen readily to holy reading, and devote yourself often to prayer. Every day with tears and sighs confess your past sins to God in prayer and change from these evil ways in the future.” The list goes on. But sometimes we get the feeling that our spiritual life is stagnating, that we are not getting anywhere or that we are simply drifting in the doldrums of life. There are those who leave the monastery in despair, or give up while staying put, at seeing themselves standing still or even going backwards. And yet you can always revitalise your spiritual life with the simple use of the Word of God. As St Peter said, “ Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Lord Jesus, help me to live in the power of your word. Let it transform my thought and speech. Let it change my way of life. Help me to live for you alone and never to forget the life to which you called me and on which I set out with such longing and hope. May your word be the source of my joy. Amen.
And let us not forget, brethren, that in all this we are here to encourage and help one another.