The Testimony of a Cenobite

dom ugo-maria
By Frá Ugo-Maria ESB (csr)

The monastery is a desert with as many dwellings as the number of elect that are called to remain in it. It is a populated desert, with a peculiar distribution of gifts and an organisation „its purpose is for the monks to be intimately united to Christ, because only in the intimate love of each one for the Lord Jesus can the peculiar gifts of the Eremitic vocation flourish.“

The dialogue with the Word has preceded us in everything. Without consulting our will and desire, it embodied our encouragement for consecration. And in the present continues to shape our future by diverse channels; the most ordinary of all, that of fraternal life. It is the place where Love is verified. In that school and in the school of the Word is where you learn what Love is.

The Prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict begins with this exhortation: “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

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Listen carefully my son…

Benedict seems to say: that with the open “ear” one you will notice the abyss of their nothingness, where other will gird you and lift you upon the rungs of a ladder, to a new heaven which is yet to be explored. Guardini described Christian intimacy as a reality coming from the „Other“: the hidden Trinity, who is the one who creates it within man. To enable the monk to access this he must develop his sense of hearing more than any other. That is why he will be, is bound  to silence more than anyone else: Silence, is considered one of the most peculiar values of Contemplative Orders; assures the monk of solitude within the community; favours the remembrance of God and fraternal communion; open their mind to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit; which stimulates the attention of the heart and solitary prayer with God alone.

Why else would St. Bernard have said in one of his letters that „he had  learned more by working among the beeches of the forest than by reading many books“? Hard work, and silence for the contemplative, have always been, the „school“ of contemplation. Those who allow themselves to be instructed within that school, and allow themselves to be united with the Word, learn, above all, not to separate knowledge from surrender, and to make the most platitudinous „service of praise“.

monk-cellarer
Bro. Cellerar.

St. Benedict in „Qualifications of the Monastery Cellarer“ ch. 31 s. 14 of his Rule, reminds the cellarer of the monastery that „A kind word is better than the best gift (Cf. Sirach 18:17).“ When a brother who has asked for something „unreasonable“ is denied what he asks for, the kind word transforms a formal gesture of denial into a word of affirmation that exceeds our limited possibilities of good. In this way we cooperate with the „yes“ of Christ. He exceeds all measure of good.

All of us, to some extent have had experience of people away from everything „commonplace“ and self esteem, in extreme situations with no real apparent way out, yet have been a channel for hope. Neither was his donation born by a human calculation. To the one who in this way has been neighbour to his neighbours, a biblical psalm (Psalms 111:4) gives him the name of „merciful“ „compassionate“ and „just“. The righteous has been a risen „light“ in the midst of resistant darkness deserves the praise as „the righteous.“

In the school of Love, however, the „thorns of scandal“ are not lacking: Maintaining unity among the brothers depends on a mutual and sincere commitment to reconciliation so that the thorns of the scandals disappear from the community, the brothers will not hold any resentment, but will make peace as soon as possible with his brother in discord.

Benedict promptly encourages us to make peace with our brother in discord. This cannot always be achieved. When discord has sown wounds, such a situation can be metamorphosed into years of dissension. Although some rules of courtesy in the treatment of others are respected, the experience of isolation and emptiness leads to a partial death of the soul: what a contemporary author once called „the dark night of the cenobite.“ We have all gone through it. And, sometimes, we are not always left unharmed by the experience …

st. peter at capernaum
St Peter

When violence overwhelms tenderness, the Word does not cease its unrelenting fervour for reconciliation. It always works. To those who fall into a spiral of criticism and bitter disappointment about the common life, grace will ask them to imitate the sentiments of St. Peter in the synagogue of Capernaum before the harsh language shift in the Bread of Life discourse: for Peter its a hard language as well, upalatable, but, unlike those who leave, he knows that “words of eternal life” sometimes hide behind a pitiful appearance. It is advantageous to meditate upon this: „It is better to keep silence and be [a Christian] than to talk and not to be(Benedict XVI writes from Vatican City on Robert Cardinal Sarah’s book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise). In our Christian lives, our purpose is not about understanding what to do, but to be – to stay – to understand“; Cephas was one who chose to stay!

That is why a baptised person should never be easily removed from their path by any of their peers, even if the small „reasons“ that assist us confront us with that decision. Basically, deciding to stay in love – as William de Saint-Thierry says in a famous „Meditativae orationes“ [Meditations on Prayer], – is to have located the “place” at a specific time of the day and set up our tent there, just as Andrew and John the first disciples did: «Rabbi, where do you live?». „Come,“ said he, „and you will see.“ «Do not you think that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?». «We thank you, Lord, we have found your place: your place is the Father, and the place of your Father is you».

The hermits of Saint Bruno pray fervently that others young and old, may find that safe and secluded place which most seek.  We will never stop thanking the Lord for the gift of the vocation that he given us „not to put anything before“ Christ, and that He may bring us all together to Eternal Life.

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