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"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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Saturday, 24 June 2017

ENGLISH BENEDICTINES IN THE SACRAMENT OF THE PRESENT MOMENT


Such a mixed bag as the English Benedictine Congregation would have probably never been founded if it had not been true in the late Middle Ages that high contemplation was found as much outside the cloister as within it.  Tertiaries of the mendicant orders, lay people living outside the cloister like St Catherine of Sienna and St Rose of Lima, lay contemplatives and anchorites only too ready to profess that they weren't monks or nuns, like Richard Rolle and the author of Piers Ploughman in England, all showed that you didn't have to live in a monastery to seek God and live a life of contemplation.  Recent authors have  even doubted the common belief that Dame Julian of Norwich was a Benedictine nun and have suggested that she was a widow whose family had been wiped out in the plague.  Finally we have the example of the Jesuits who adopted the classical principles of the religious life, but insisted that they can be fully implemented as much outside the cloister as within, and under any circumstances, and called themselves "contemplatives in the streets".   It was only a short step to the foundation of a monastic congregation whose members lived both inside the community and outside, in habits and without habits, with a sense of coherence and continuity.

This is implied in a story of the abbot St Antony who was told, one day, by God that there was a man in Alexandria much holier than he was.  St Antony asked to see this man, so he was taken by an angel to a funeral.   There were two angels among the mourners.
"Who are they?" he asked the angel.
"Oh, they are the angels of Wednesday and Friday, which are the days on which he fasted."
"I see his wife and children; but who are all those other people?"
"They are all the poor and injured whom he has helped during his life.  He keeps a portion of his earnings for his family, a portion for the Church. and the rest he gives to the poor."
From this St Antony learned that however great the contrast between his life in the Egyptian desert and that of the Alexandrian family man, holiness for both consisted in living in harmony with God's will as revealed in the concrete circumstances of each of their very different lives.  The depth and strength of that "synergy" is the depth and strength of their holiness: a mere comparison between the external details of their different life-styles would be superficial and could lead to wrong conclusions.

It is not surprising that the French Jesuit de Caussade became the facourite spiritual guide for so many English Benedictines.  

 I learnt the basic principles of his spirituality after reading Thomas Merton from Father Luke Waring in my last year in school; and it was this that persuaded me to be a monk of Belmont rather than a Cistercian.  Father Luke learnt this spirituality from monks of Ampleforth in his home parish of Leyland in Lancashire.   In my noviciate, our commentary on the Rule of St Benedict was by a monk of Solesmes.  That and other books I came across at that time were by themselves poor preparation for the life I was to lead afterwards in school and parish; but, read through the filtre of de Caussade's teaching, they became pure gold.

Both St Benedict and de Caussade identify "self-will" as our main obstacle to seeking God and conformity to God's will at all times and in all circumstances as our way forward.  St Benedict would fully agree with de Caussade in finding God's will packed into the "sacrament of the present moment", in the ordinary details of every day, but he would see this whole quest within the context of living in the monastic community: while de Caussade, in his typically Jesuit way, applies this principal to any circumstance and any context.

Thus, de Caussade provides continuity and coherence to monks who have to live their lives in a variety of settings, doing a variety of jobs in different contexts.  I remember the example of a monk who spent his whole life on parishes since his ordination; and then, after his sixtieth birthday, returned to the monastery and took to its exigencies as though he had never left, a good example to us younger monks in his attendance at choir, at lectio divina and study, and in the work the abbot gave him to do.   He never complained about his parish work and did it with relish, but he adapted his own private monastic observance to the sacrament of the present moment; and, once returned to the monastery, he did not waste time indulging in nostalgic memories, but plunged into living a very different life-style with gusto, still finding God in the present moment.

De Caussade's book, "Abandonment to Divine Providence" needs to be complemented by the teaching of the monastic fathers on seeking the presence of Jesus Christ in the heart, but the two teachings fit into one another perfectly and without strain.  If we want to, we can find Jesus wherever we look, both without and within.  Who says that Christ is far away! We are like fish swimming in the Holy Spirit that unites us to Christ; and when we breath in these waters, we do not drown but are given life.

De Caussade gives us a rich teaching which is applicable to any circumstance. Here is a small introduction to what makes many of us English monks tick. It may be useful to you. 

my source:      

Caussade on the Practice of Self-Abandonment) by Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J.:


BOOK I



On the Virtue of Abandonment to Divine Providence; Its Nature and Excellence



CHAPTER ONE



Sanctity Consists in Fidelity to the Order Established by God, and in Submission to All His Operations



1. Hidden Operations of God.



Fidelity to the order established by God comprehended the whole sanctity of the righteous under the old law; even that of St. Joseph, and of Mary herself.





God continues to speak today as He spoke in former times to our fathers when there were no directors as at present, nor any regular method of direction. Then all spirituality was comprised in fidelity to the designs of God, for there was no regular system of guidance in the spiritual life to explain it in detail, nor so many instructions, precepts and examples as there are now. Doubtless our present difficulties render this necessary, but it was not so in the first ages when souls were more simple and straightforward. Then, for those who led a spiritual life, each moment brought some duty to be faithfully accomplished. Their whole attention was thus concentrated consecutively like a hand that marks the hours which, at each moment, traverses the space allotted to it. Their minds, incessantly animated by the impulsion of divine grace, turned imperceptibly to each new duty that presented itself by the permission of God at different hours of the day. Such were the hidden springs by which the conduct of Mary was actuated. Mary was the most simple of all creatures, and the most closely united to God. Her answer to the angel when she said: “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum”: contained all the mystic theology of her ancestors to whom everything was reduced, as it is now, to the 2purest, simplest submission of the soul to the will of God, under whatever form it presents itself. This beautiful and exalted state, which was the basis of the spiritual life of Mary, shines conspicuously in these simple words, “Fiat mihi” (Luke 1:38). Take notice that they are in complete harmony with those which Our Lord desires that we should have always on our lips and in our hearts: “Fiat voluntas tua.” It is true that what was required of Mary at this great moment, was for her very great glory, but the magnificence of this glory would have made no impression on her if she had not seen in it the fulfillment of the will of God. In all things was she ruled by the divine will. Were her occupations ordinary, or of an elevated nature, they were to her but the manifestation, sometimes obscure, sometimes clear, of the operations of the most High, in which she found alike subject matter for the glory of God. Her spirit, transported with joy, looked upon all that she had to do or to suffer at each moment as the gift of Him who fills with good things the hearts of those who hunger and thirst for Him alone, and have no desire for created things. 

II. The Duties of Each Moment.

The duties of each moment are the shadows beneath which hides the divine operation.


“The power of the most High shall over-shadow thee” (Luke 1:35), said the angel to Mary. This shadow, beneath which is hidden the power of God for the purpose of bringing forth Jesus Christ in the soul, is the duty, the attraction, or the cross that is presented to us at each moment. These are, in fact, but shadows like those in the order of nature which, like a veil, cover sensible objects and hide them from us. Therefore in the moral and supernatural order the duties of each moment conceal, under the semblance of dark shadows, the truth of their divine character which alone should rivet the attention. It was in this light that Mary beheld them. Also these shadows diffused over her faculties, far from creating illusion, did but increase her faith in Him who is unchanging and unchangeable. The archangel may depart. He has delivered his message, and his moment has passed. Mary advances without ceasing, and is already far beyond him. The Holy Spirit, who comes to take possession of her under the shadow of the angel’s words, will never abandon her.

There are remarkably few extraordinary characteristics in the outward events of the life of the most holy Virgin, at least there are none recorded in holy Scripture. Her exterior life is represented as very ordinary and simple. She did and suffered the same things that anyone in a similar state of life might do or suffer. She goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth as her other relatives did. She took shelter in a stable in consequence of her poverty. She returned to Nazareth from whence she had been driven by the persecution of Herod, and lived there with Jesus and Joseph, supporting themselves by the work of their hands. It was in this way that the holy family gained their daily bread. But what a divine nourishment Mary and Joseph received from this daily bread for the strengthening of their faith! It is like a sacrament to sanctify all their moments. What treasures of grace lie concealed in these moments filled, apparently, by the most ordinary events. That which is visible might happen to anyone, but the invisible, discerned by faith, is no less than God operating very great things. O Bread of Angels! heavenly manna! pearl of the Gospel! Sacrament of the present moment! thou givest God under as lowly a form as the manger, the hay, or the straw. And to whom dost thou give Him? “Esurientes implevit bonis” (Luke 1:53). God reveals Himself to the humble under the most lowly forms, but the proud, attaching themselves entirely to that which is extrinsic, do not discover Him hidden beneath, and are sent empty away.

Abandonment to Divine Providence is also available as an Electronic Book Downland and as an Audio Book on CD.
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