We can see that this Word who seeks us and find us, that we may make response to him by seeking him in our turn, is the whole essence of the Gospel and the whole of Christianity. And in its turn monastic life is nothing else, no more and no less, than a Christian life whose Christianity has penetrated every part of it. It is a Christian life which is completely open, without refusal or delay, to the Word, which opens itself and abandons itself to it. This is the response that the Word expects--expects and elicits, for it is the creating and re-creating word. (Louis Bouyer)
Bouyer also iterates St. Augustine's image of the movement of the monastic life, as it is not a "state."
my source for the above quotations: The Complete Hermit
He comments that the monk is one who seeks God. 'To seek God,' to seek him as a person, as the Person par excellence, and not only as the 'Thou' to whom all our love should be addressed, but as the 'I' who has first approached us, whose word of love, addressed to the primeval chaos, drew us forth from it in the first place, and, spoken to us in our sin, draws us forth from it again: to be a monk is nothing else than this. To be a monk, then, is simply to be an integral Christian.
St Benedict ends Chapter 73, which is really an Epilogue to the other 72 chapters that make up the Rule, by saying, “Are you hastening toward your heavenly home? Then with Christ’s help, keep this little rule that we have written for beginners. After that, you can set out for the loftier summits of the teaching and virtues we have mentioned above,” i.e. the works of St John Cassian and the Rule of St Basil, “and under God’s protection, you will reach them. Amen.” This question and the answer, which St Benedict proposes, lie at the very heart of our understanding and observance of Advent. As we know, there is no mention of Advent or Christmas in the Holy Rule, only of Lent and Easter. The fact is, it was early days in the development of the Liturgical Year in the West. Nevertheless, the quintessential spirit or character of the Rule, as of the monastic life as a whole, is that of Advent. Even though Chapter 49 tells us that “the life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent,” we could say that our lives are, in fact, a continuous Advent, so important to us is the search for God, the constant longing, yearning, desire and expectancy that make our monastic journey a life-long vigil, for in truth we live “in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ”.
Yesterday morning at Vigils, we read from Cardinal Jean Daniélou’s wonderful book The Mystery of Advent, first published in French in 1950. In it he writes, “The mystery which we are now living in the world is the mystery of Christ’s gradual coming to every soul and every nation. Christ has indeed come, but he remains always the one who is yet to come. We are forever in the season of Advent, awaiting the coming of the Messiah. Just as Jesus was born according to the flesh in Bethlehem of Judea, so he must be born according to the spirit in the soul of each one of us.” He then goes on to say, “The whole mystery of the spiritual life is the continual birth of Jesus within us. To be a Christian means to be gradually changed into Christ so as to be truly children of the Father.” This idea of the continual birth of Jesus within us gives meaning and sense to all we do as Benedictine monks, our prayer, our work, our living together as a community, our various ministries, our relationships, our sufferings and, ultimately, our diminishment and death, our lying in the grave. The search for God includes our patient waiting and loving desire for him and the confident knowledge that Christ is continually being born in us, that we are gradually changing into Christ and becoming ever more “sons of the Father.”
Of course, it’s not all plain sailing and there are many obstacles and upsets on the road. We give in easily to temptation and we can acquiesce into sinful ways in thought, word and deed. We can become self-centred and so focus not on God but on ourselves, and this can lead to selfishness, thinking only of ourselves and of our own needs. We become irritable with others, complaining and criticising our brethren and those God has placed in authority in his Church. We put ourselves on a pedestal, considering ourselves to be wiser and more knowledgeable than others, even more virtuous, and so take liberties in judging and condemning those we should love and respect. You know what I’m talking about. I needn’t labour the point. St Benedict, on the contrary, invites us to aim for humility and moderation, for obedience and charity. If we are growing closer to God, gradually changing into Christ, then we should acquire the mind and heart of Christ. We should offer ourselves daily to the Father as a sacrifice for others, especially our brethren, whom we should love with a chaste love, indeed with the “love of God that surpasses all understanding,” that “love which casts out all fear.”
Advent has been particularly short this year and Christmas is almost upon us. Let us never forget that Advent is what the Christian life, and so the monastic life, is all about. As we kneel in vigil before the crib and give thanks that “God became Man that we might become God,” in the words of St Irenaeus, let us pray that Christ may find a home in every human heart, even if we might not recognise that to be the case, and that the grace of his Holy Spirit might gradually change those souls into Christ. In praying for others, we will be praying for ourselves as well. Amen
Advent with Jean Daniélou
by Carl E. Olson
Father Jean Daniélou's The Advent of Salvation, originally published simply as Advent in 1950, may be the best $3.00 purchase I've ever made. The out-of-print book is a classic work on the meaning of Advent. Here are a few of Daniélou's thoughts about this wonderful but often overlooked season.
Salvation and History: The Old Testament is the story of God's education of mankind, preparing man for the reception of supernatural gifts. God's covenant with Abraham marked the "opening of sacred history," just as creation had marked God's action upon the cosmos and the Incarnation marked the beginning of the world to come. The Abrahamic covenant promised salvation to the nations, to be realized in and through the God-man, Jesus Christ.
The first Advent was an outpouring of God's grace upon an unsuspecting world. Grace is "that bond between mankind and God which can never be broken, because it is founded on the manhood of Christ, in whom Godhead and manhood are henceforth joined together forever. . . . Christ has brought our humanity into the inmost life of God to stay." We enter that life through baptism, are nourished with the Eucharist, and become partakers of the divine nature: "The mystery of history is summed up in God's design of giving His spiritual creatures a share in the life of the Trinity."
John the Baptist: He prepared a way for his cousin, the Messiah, by proclaiming that the Kingdom was at hand. John, who brings grace by preparing the way for conversion, compliments Mary, who brings grace by being the Mother of God, "Since the coming of Christ goes on forever–He is always He who is to come in the world and in the Church–there is always an Advent going on, and this Advent is filled by John the Baptist. It is John the Baptist's peculiar grace that he prepares the way for what is about to happen." We can emulate John by calling for conversion, beginning with our own, and preparing the way for the world to meet the Messiah.
The Blessed Virgin: The Mother of God "did not imitate Solomon by asking for wisdom," he reflects, "She asked for grace because grace is the one thing we need." How simple and how amazing! Mary's example of faith should inform our thoughts and shape our actions during Advent. "She is the faithful virgin, who is never anything but faithful, whose fidelity was the perfect answer to the fidelity of God; she was always entirely consecrated to the one true God." Mary anticipated the birth of her Son for nine months and she now anticipates the birth of the New Creation when He returns in glory.
The Cross: It's unpopular, of course, but it is the way of Christ–and of His disciples. "The Christian, following Christ, must resemble Him wholly; and the only way to do this is by the Cross." We can only long for the coming of Christ and eternal life if we die to ourselves. We must know our place–in both this world and the world to come. God desires a unity of all men, in communion with the Father through the Son. The Cross leads to unity; pride leads to death: "The greatest obstacle anyone can put to unity is to want to make himself the centre of things."
The Return of the King: "We live always during Advent," writes Daniélou, "we are always waiting for the Messiah to come." Jesus came once and He will come again, but He is not yet fully made known. "He is not fully manifest in mankind as a whole: that is to say, that just as Christ was born according to the flesh in Bethlehem of Judah so much he be born according to the spirit in each of our souls." Advent is anticipation, preparation, and contemplation of the King.
To think I got all that–and much more–out of a $3 purchase. This is a well-focused Advent the pre-Christmas gift that keeps on giving all life long.
[NOTE: Although The Advent of Salvation is no longer in print, you might enjoy what is my all-time favourite Daniélou book, God and the Ways of Knowing.]