"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Monday, 20 August 2012

MONASTIC CONFERENCE BY ABBOT PAUL addressed to Br David, our novice at his second perseverance (plus) BAROQUE: FROM ST PETERS TO ST PAULS

            Dear Br David, so you have come to your Second Perseverance. As I remember my novitiate, it seemed to fly by without a spare moment to call my own, and that’s just how it should be. The Holy Rule reminds us that after Profession, “from that day he will not have even his own body at his disposal.” Surely St Benedict has in mind Hebrews Chapter 10, where Christ, coming into the world, says, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me. See, O God, I have come to do your will.” Here the author is quoting from Psalm 39 (40), which in fact says, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” And herein we learn a basic truth about the Christian faith and about the monastic life, the Benedictine vocation: it is we ourselves whom God wants, not just bits and pieces and the things, the “sacrifices and offerings”, we might wish to give him. He wants us because he loves us. God knows that only his love for us and, in return, our love for him can make us whole, complete, fulfilled, happy and at peace.

            Someone once described the monastic life and our commitment to it as writing out a blank cheque and handing it over to God, but not just to God as a sort of private arrangement. We hand him the blank cheque of our lives in and through a specific monastic community, its abbot and brethren. In this we conform ourselves to Christ, who in the Eucharist proclaims, “This is my Body. This is my Blood.” During the novitiate you are preparing to hand yourself over to the Belmont Community in order to hand over that blank cheque to God, saying, “This is my body. This is my blood. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Not only does God want all or nothing, we too, the Belmont Community, want all of you or nothing at all. I don’t mean that to sound harsh or threatening, not at all, because just as God loves you, so do we. Living in community, we learn to love one another and, truly, we come to love one another deeply. As St Benedict puts it in Chapter 72, “To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love.”

            In order for our love to be pure, unfeigned and humble, it has to be purified by ‘the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Romans 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.” Again, I am quoting Chapter 72. We are to put others first, always practising respect, patience and obedience. The question for you as you make your Second Perseverance is, are you prepared to do this for the rest of your life as your response to Christ’s call to take up your cross daily and follow him? The monastic life, being a Benedictine monk, a monk of Belmont, means no more and no less than living the Gospel life, putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, in the words of St Paul, (Romans 13:14) or as St Benedict writes in the Prologue, “with the Gospel as our guide.” But, of course, all this commitment and self-giving doesn’t come easy in “the school for the Lord’s service”. It’s true that the Prologue says, “In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome.” However, St Benedict adds, “The good of all concerned may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.” “A little strictness”, that’s all the Lord asks of us, but as you’ve already discovered, and as all of us know all too well, that “little strictness” comes at a price, which we are not always willing to pay. We don’t always succeed in fulfilling what we had hoped and promised to do.

            Which brings me to a related theme, the disappointment and frustration that can often afflict us in the monastic life. The shortfall between the ideal, which I have described above, and the reality, that we live from day to day, can lead to disappointment as well as anger, resentment and sorrow. We would do well to remember the saying of Abba Silouan, “Pray for the ability to hold your heart in hell and not despair.” And we can repeat the prayer of St Ephrem, “Lord, make me aware of my own sins and not judge the sins of my brother.” Now Br David, the monastic life, even life in such a beautiful place as Belmont and among such wonderful brethren, has to be disappointing, as is the Church herself, precisely because it is not the mechanism for accomplishing all our human ambitions and aspirations: it is the mechanism for subjecting all things to the will of God. The disciples were disappointed because Jesus turned out to be not the kind of Messiah they wanted or had expected. Even after the Resurrection Luke shows how the disciples on the road to Emmaus were still dreaming of a political restoration of the kingdom of Israel. When people turn away from the Church because they find satisfaction elsewhere, it is important not to assume that we ought to be providing such satisfaction ourselves. When you find yourself living below the ideal for which you’re aiming, do not give up but persevere.

            Only God can make us truly happy, and perfection, when it comes, will be his gift and will only blossom fully in the life to come. All we can do here is make a start and set out on the journey. Entering and persevering in a monastery necessarily involves remaking and refocusing our hopes, and our disappointments are an unavoidable part of the process. Now the Rule never talks about walking but running. You can imagine St Benedict’s monks being permanently out of breath. We are men on the move, men who shouldn’t be looking back or stopping on the way, no matter how attractive the distractions might be. No, we are hastening to our heavenly home. Paraphrasing St Paul, let us hold fast to what we have attained and rush forward in hope to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:16). We should never let our failures get us down, nor should we be tempted to give up because either we or our brethren don’t always match up to the ideals set forth in the Rule, the Gospel or the teaching of the Church.

            Our prayer for you, taken from the Holy Rule, is simply this. May you progress in this way of life and in faith. May you run on the path of God’s commandments, your heart overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. And never swerving from his teaching in the monastery until death, may you through patience share in the sufferings of Christ so as to deserve to share as well in his glory. Amen.

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