In early times, the daily Chapter was a traditional feature of the monastic timetable. The monks left church at the end of the office of Prime and processed to a room near by, where a portion, or "chapter," of the Rule was read and the abbot commented upon it. It was also the natural occasion for announcements to be made affecting the life of the community and for a blessing to be given upon the day's work. Soon the room itself came to be called "the Chapter Room, or House" or simply "Chapter." Even today some form of this practice exists in many monasteries, including our own. Each month this page will feature a chapter talk given to the Community, as well as news and features. We hope you will visit us regularly.

 

Being Pleasing to God

Certain personalities in Scripture are said explicitly to be pleasing to God.  To look at just three in the Old Testament, there is, firstly, Noah.  In Genesis 6, we read that corruption and evil were endemic on the earth, so that the “Lord was sorry that He had made man … and it grieved Him to His heart” (v 7).  However, one man “found favour” in his eyes.  He found favour because he took no part in evil, obeys God’s will, walks with Him, in that eloquent biblical phrase for obedience, seeks to please Him.  When he is told to construct an ark against the coming Deluge, “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him” (v 22).  There follows what could be called an interplay of contentment between God and His servant.  Noah’s first action on being saved from the Flood is to show his gratitude to God; he builds an altar and offers sacrifices.  And God responds.  “When God the Lord smelled the pleasing odour, the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man” (8:22) and He ratifies His promise by the sign of the bow in the clouds.  The sacrifice is fragrant to God’s nostrils, not only because it symbolises Noah’s meekness but also on account of his delight in God’s will.

            In a second example, there is a similar reciprocity.  Abraham’s heroic readiness to obey in sacrificing Isaac evokes God’s admiration.  “Now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (22:12).  Abraham, however, is determined even then to sacrifice and offers gratuitously, in Isaac’s place, the ram caught by its horns in the thicket, symbol of the Lamb of God.  Again God responds, this time with the promise to multiply Abraham’s descendants “as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore” (v 17).

            Thirdly, there is David, a man after the Lord’s own heart.  He is pleasing to God because he will “do all my will” and, like Noah and Abraham before him, his obedience finds its full expression in the sacrifice of praise.  The account of his exploits and accomplishments in Sirach 47 concludes: “With his every deed, he offered thanks to God most high, in words of praise.  With his whole being he loved his Maker and daily had his praises sung.  He added beauty to the feasts … providing sweet melody with the psalms, so that when the Holy Name was praised, before daybreak the sanctuary would resound.”  His delight in obeying the Lord he loves finds a ready answer.  “The Lord forgave him his sins and exalted his strength forever” (v 11).

            The most radical example in the New Testament – apart from Jesus – of delight in God’s will, is, of course, Mary.  We know from Gabriel’s address, that she had already found favour with God, even before pronouncing her fiat.  There is a responsory which puts in her mouth the words Cum essem parvula placui Deo.  This could be translated: “although I was a little one, I pleased God”; or if we decide to translate cum as “since”, we have the reason for God’s pleasure in her.  Simplicity attracts the Almighty and Our Lady’s habitual humility is the earth which brings forth the fruit uniquely pleasing to the Father: the Son of God and of Mary.

            This is confirmed in the scene by the Jordan at the Baptism of the Lord and again at the Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17 and 17:5).  These words express the Father’s satisfaction at the certainty of seeing His will accomplished in and by His Son.  Reciprocally, the Son is possessed and animated by a desire to fulfil the whole will of the Father.  It is His food, His reason for living.  He knows, moreover, that He is pleasing to the Father saying: “I always do what is pleasing to Him” (Jn 8:29).  He loves to do the Father’s will, for the Father’s will is love.  If God’s will is perfected in Him, then so is His love.  Here is perfect mutual enjoyment, revealed to us by the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus as He comes up from the waters.  The three Persons rest in one another, enjoy one another; it is an expression of life in the Holy Trinity.  In Jesus, the Father sees the fulfilment of His desire to give Himself wholly to man.  If human opacity and sin have hitherto prevented the full acceptance of the gift, now the Father’s will to love has been totally received, understood, accomplished (cf Bible Chrétienne).

            As well as repose in the Father’s will, there is an active dimension perceptible in the path chosen by the Son in His earthly existence.  Suffering and death are there, it is true, but also a fullness of life.  There is the enjoyment of the feast, provider as He is of the wine that “makes glad the heart of man” (Ps 103:15); enjoyment of simple meals with His friends and those whose hearts he seeks to turn back to the Father.  He takes pleasure in flowers of the field and birds of the air and bodily life itself.  “Is not the body more than clothing?” (Mt 6:25).  These beautiful things are all expressions of the Father’s will for His creation; it pleases Him when we enjoy His benefits, our enjoyment being a sincere form of praise.  His is no cramped will, but permits, encourages joy.  Jesus takes joy, too, in friendships, in the innocence of children, goodness in others and, above all, in the Father’s work in souls, the faith He infuses into them, the happiness he desires for them.

            We see from the Beatitudes Our Lord’s unerring knowledge of what makes man ultimately happy; His divine and human insight that doing God’s will in these particular ways brings peace and wellbeing, even in this life.  We, for our part, are drawn by their beauty, even though they seem rooted in ambivalence.  What pleases God and secures our happiness, what makes us beata, flourishes in poverty of spirit and meekness; in acceptance of suffering for the sake of the kingdom; in a hunger for justice, in compassion, a peaceful spirit and a pure heart.  In ordering our lives thus, our own will, in all its ramifications, becomes subordinate to the unified will of God, so often expressed through other people.  It is our faith which effects this revolution in priorities, for it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us.  There is a new centre, a new subject.  An active faith will nudge the old will to recede into the background, even atrophy in time and spur us to embrace God’s will as the one necessary and desirable thing.

            St Augustine has a pleasant and subtle thought about the enjoyment of God’s will in his Second Exposition on Ps 32: “The most fitting way for us to dance in the Lord is for us to praise Him in whom alone there is nothing whatever that can be displeasing to us.  …  There is a pithy saying: one is pleasing to God if one finds God pleasing to oneself.  Do not dismiss this as frivolous.  …  When He has decided to act in a way human beings do not like, because He is the Lord and knows what He is about and is less concerned with our likes and dislikes than with what will be to our profit, people who want their own will carried out rather than God’s seek to bend God to their will, instead of correcting theirs by aligning it with His.  …  With this in mind, the psalmist first invites us, Dance for joy in the Lord, you just, because we could scarcely dance for joy in Him without praising Him and we praise Him by becoming more and more pleasing to Him as we find Him pleasing to us.”

            God’s will is God Himself.  Therefore, to take joy in God’s will, is to enjoy God; and, following St Augustine, if we enjoy God, He will take a special joy in us.

            There is a whole literature on the enjoyment of God, not all of which has direct bearing on our theme.  All the protagonists agree that the fullness of enjoyment is laid up for us in heaven.  As St Anselm puts it: ‘the rational creature was created for the purpose of being happy in the enjoyment of God’; yet even in this life, there can be a certain experience of this enjoyment.  Although God hides Himself from the proud, He reveals Himself “to the little ones to know and enjoy” (John of Forde).  These little ones have maturity of insight into the loveableness of God and His will.  In other words, they are pleased with God.

            We may enjoy God in our neighbour as well.  There is a logic to this, because of the divine image and likeness in each one of us.  If we find the exercise demanding at times, we can solve the conundrum by dwelling on what we see to be good in the other.  We shall then find the other pleasing and a new dynamic comes into play.  If we love, we shall be loved.  “Dwelling” is an appropriate word in this context, because enjoyment is a way of resting in the good.

            St Ælred helps us to understand.  “What does it mean to enjoy ‘in the Lord’?  About the Lord the Apostle Paul said, ‘By God he has been made for us wisdom, sanctification and justice.’  Since the Lord is wisdom, sanctification and justice, to find enjoyment in the Lord is to find enjoyment in wisdom, sanctification and justice … in the wisdom of holy conversation, in the justice of mutual encouragement.”  We might also say that we can enjoy God in holy things.  For us, especially, this means monastic life in its purity; our Divine Office, chant and sacred reading; revered tradition; even the hallowed walls of the cloister.  All speak to us of God, hold something of God, may, therefore, be enjoyed in God.  This spiritual joy does not depend on pleasurable feelings.  It relies on faith that God exists and is present in His creation; that to be united to Him and to His holy will is unfailing peace for man.  He is the supreme Reality.  Our communion with this Reality, by means of the theological virtues, enables us to rise above the changing kaleidoscope of human events and emotions.

This is not all.  “It is not only that we have fruition of God”, writes William of St Thierry.  “God Himself enjoys our goodness insofar as He delights in it and deigns to find it pleasing.”  We are back to the scene of the Lord’s Baptism by the Jordan, where the Spirit of union and love rests upon the Son and delights in Him.  Incorporated in Christ by our own baptism, the Spirit delights in us, too.

            In conclusion, you may remember the blind old Carthusian in “The Great Silence” whose face was illumined with joy.  How could he not be happy, went his message, when he lived in the presence of the source of all happiness, contemplated it, rested in it?  How could that old monk not be pleasing to God?  Not because of his good works, but because God was pleasing to him.

            Augustine’s saying, then, implies a whole programme which I propose we should adopt in the coming year:

One is pleasing to God, if one finds God pleasing to oneself

Ille placet Deo, cui placet Deus


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