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.

 

He is the Love that Draws Us:

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross 2014

 

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross presents to us through its rich liturgy the meaning and purpose of Christ’s Passion and Death.  It shows us the transfiguration of suffering through glorious victory, with the Cross as the symbol of this triumph of life over death and sin.  It presents the wood or tree of the Cross under its aspect of tree of life; as Vexilla Regis, the standard of the king raised aloft in victory.  This raised cross, foreshadowed by the bronze serpent lifted up on a pole by Moses in the desert (Num 21), exercises on us the power of healing and attraction.  It is the drawing power of the Cross, that is, of Christ’s sacrificial love for us, which is our theme today.

 

Salvation history is full of events where God draws a people, an individual, to transcend their own limits and follow Him into the unknown.  An early example is Abraham called to leave Haran for Canaan; then the people of Israel in the Exodus from Egypt.  The prophet Jeremiah in 31:3 has an insight into the workings of this covenantal love: “In  caritate perpetua dilexi te: ideo attraxi te, miserans.”  “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore have I drawn you, taking pity on you.”  (Douai)  In a similar way, Hosea empathizes with God’s Heart in 11:4 “I will draw them with the cords of compassion, with the bonds of love.”  Jesus, the fulfillment of covenantal love and inaugurator of the new covenant, will give this imagery of attraction an unheard-of turn.  Listen to three of His statements from St John’s Gospel.

 

            “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (6:44).”  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (12:32).”  “When the Spirit of Truth comes he will guide you into all the truth (16:13).”  In the first of these texts, it is the Father who draws; in the second it is the Son; and in the third there is the idea of educating, drawing out and into the Truth, attributed to the Holy Spirit.  The whole Blessed Trinity, then, co-operates in a great redemptive endeavour to attract the human race towards the Heart of God, revealed in Jesus Christ.  “Centre of all ages, it is towards You that they converge, towards You that creation hastens from all parts.”  (Gregory of Nazienzen)  The act of drawing is also an act of unifying.  Whatever is scattered, whatever fragmentary , whatever is lost and wandering, or sceptical and searching will be brought into one great communion in Jesus Christ.

 

            It may be objected that this idea of the ascent of the human race has gnostic overtones.  After all, the gnostic myths also included notions of leading or drawing up on high.  Schnalkenburg finds a certain influence, for example in St Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians, where he calls the Cross a ‘hoist’ while the Holy Spirit is the ‘rope’.  But the emphasis in St John is different.  In our texts it is the person of Jesus who both draws and is the goal of the drawing.  There is a further earthing in human time by the reference to the historical cross of Jesus and to the need for personal faith in its saving power.

 

            How does this Cross draw mankind?  There is a paradox here.  The instrument of torture, the material cross, becomes the sign of victory that draws all things into an eternity of peace and love.  More even than a sign of victory, it becomes the sign of a compelling love that attracts all men and women into a relationship of love with the Blessed Trinity.  It is a victorious love.  Immediately before the statement  about the drawing of all men to himself, Christ proclaimed the advent of judgment on the world and on its ruler.  The latter’s power is irretrievably damaged at the roots and so the way is clear for Christ to withdraw men from Satan’s dominion and lead them into His own.  He does not simply draw men to His Cross and leave them there.  The Cross points beyond this world, in the first instance to Christ’s own Ascension and glorification and then to the place prepared in heaven for us all.  “When I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself that where I am, you may be also.”  (Jn 14:3)  This is the language of return, of going home.  In Christ, by His Cross, we return to God’s Heart, drawn by the kindness of God towards the source and origin of loving kindness.

            Let us consider for a moment the nature of this mysterious and magnetic force of love.  In the thought of St Augustine there is in every soul, as in every physical body in the universe, a weight drawing it constantly, moving it always to find its natural place of rest.  “My weight” he says, “is my love.”  Pondus meum amor meus.  (Conf XIII,10)  “Wherever I am carried, it is this weight that carries me.”  Man, then, is moved by the inner force of the love placed in him by God, as a falling stone is moved by its weight.  There is something inevitable about its course.  We are made for love.  The real question, as Augustine posits it, is:  What shall we love?  “Love” he says “but be careful what you love”  (Enarr in Ps 31)  The only worthy goal for our love is God and, inseparably, everything else in Him.  Unlike the falling stone, however, we do not always fly straight to the mark.  As sentient beings with free will, marred by a tendency since the Fall to go in the opposite direction to God and essential love, we often stumble and grope, even if the overall movement is Godwards.  We live then, in a dynamic of God’s gentle attraction and our eventual, sometimes tardy, response, in a gravitational field, so to speak, of interacting loves.

            God is the main actor here.  He is even attracted by our helplessness and vulnerability; He is not rebuffed by our coldness; He sets about eliciting a response from us.  The drawing of His love may not always be perceptible at first but may have the subtlety of a fragrance, as the Fathers of the Church so often noted.  The soul is lured to seek the source of the perfume and, in time, by increasing faith, desire and effort may reach a maturity and a personal love which is capable not only of seeking spiritual enjoyment but of actively drawing others to Christ.  She may then be able to help release others from their isolation and unhappiness, or simply to indicate a path for them to follow.  Then they will run together after him “Post te curremus” as we sing on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  But Christ remains the initiator, the one who invites.  Of the woman in the Gospel who anoints Jesus with her costly nard, Origen remarks: “It seemed not so much that He received fragrance from the nard, as the nard received fragrance from Him …  Mary draws to herself the fragrance not so much of the ointment of nard as of the Word of God Himself.”

 

            This happens in prayer as well.  There may be nothing tangible to speak of but a hidden pull keeps us at our post even in dryness and difficulty.  The drawing of God persists and meets in us, by His grace, with an answering tendency towards Him.  Sometimes that is all prayer seems to be.  But as long as there is attraction and response, a fathomless love interacting with our small spark of love, the end is a most high, and indrawing unity.  “What we are that we behold; and what we behold that we are; for our thought, our life and our being are uplifted in simplicity and made one with the Truth which is God.”  (Blessed John Ruysbroeck , Sparkling Stone,Chapter  9)

 

Man is drawn by his desire for the Truth.  Augustine again, quoting Ps 36: “Delight in the Lord and He will give you your heart’s desire.”  When a person is drawn in Christ, he is “delighted by truth, happiness, justice, all of which is Christ ….  Give me one who longs, who burns, who sighs for the source of his being and his eternal home; and he will know what I mean ….  If we are to be drawn, let us be drawn by Him to whom His love says: Draw me, we will run after thee (Cant 1:4) ….  What does the soul more long after than truth?  But here men hunger, there they will be filled.  Wherefore he adds, and I will lift him up at the last day.”

 

To be “uplifted” recalls to us once more the way by which we are lifted up, that is by the way of the Cross, the Cross of Christ, however great or small a part we may be given in it.  Blessed Angelo of Foligno used to say: “On your Cross I have made my bed.”  In more prosaic language, if we choose the love of Christ above all other loves, we shall experience the need to share His lot with Him.  But this Cross on which we are lifted up, which becomes one thing with us, or rather into which we are inserted is the very means by which we are covenanted to Him forever.

          The same might be said of our religious vocation.  A vocation is a particular way of being drawn by and of following Christ.  There is that element of irresistibility which we have so often noted already..  It has been called as much an ecclesiological as a personal election and falls upon someone or other, just as, for example, every tenth person is shot in a war.  The person called goes not only for himself, but for all; or, one might say, drawn by Christ, his business is to draw others to Christ, that all may be one.  Nonetheless, the response of the will moved by grace is a constitutive part of a vocation.  The will, explains Augustine, must be exercised to make an act pleasing to God.  A vocation is a meeting of two wills, informed by one love.  Although Augustine is speaking of faith, it applies equally to vocation to say: “We are drawn by our will.”

            There is a final dimension of our theme to be considered: the drawing power of the monastery as a whole on the world.  Various metaphors are favoured, for example, a beacon on a hill or, even if it is more often used of the Church, a net cast into the sea - not that we want to spend our time fishing for candidates, rather that, in unison with the Church, we seek to draw mankind to Christ by making his holiness visible, by the truth and beauty of an authentic witness.  As contemplatives, we do not normally go out to the world in a literal way; we try to hold up Christ to the world that it may come to Him.  It cannot be stressed too much that we are not aiming to draw people to ourselves but to Christ.

            As I have tried to show throughout this talk, the ultimate drawing power is love, the kind of love which allows itself, if  needs be, to be derided, crucified and lifted up.  In our small way, we seek to imitate this love because we seek to imitate Jesus Christ.  In the words of William of St Thierry in the Mirror of Faith (23): “He is himself the light that enlightens the poor in spirit.  He is the charity that draws them.  Ipse trahens caritas.  He is the sweetness that touches them deeply.  He is man’s access to God; he is the love of the lover.”  IPSE TRAHENS CARITAS,  He is the love that draws us, a phrase expressing our faith that  Christ will draw us individually and as a community beyond ourselves and ever more deeply into a communion of love with Him and with each other.


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