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.

 
 
 

Tu Satis es Nobis

                                          New Year Conference 2020

The Psalmist often addresses God robustly, demanding redress for the trials and misfortunes incurred through his loyalty: “Rouse thyself!  Why sleepest thou, O Lord?” (Ps 43:23).  More importantly, he is aware that only God can satisfy the immemorial desire of his soul: “O God, thou art my God.  I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee.”  And why?  “Because thy steadfast love is better than life.”  No sooner the petition made than it is answered.  His soul, he exclaims, is “feasted as with marrow and fat” (Ps 62).  It is deeply satisfied.  In Ps 130, he compared himself to a child that is quieted at his mother’s breast; after all his striving he is at rest.  But it is not a passive rest; it is a delighting in God.  In a text which prefigures the Resurrection, we read: “When I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding thy form” (Ps 17:15).  The Hebrew word for “satisfied” is linked to the term for Sabbath, the seventh day, and expresses perfect fulfilment.  In Genesis, it is used in reference to God, who is the first to enjoy the Sabbath rest after the labour of creation.

          We find the same ebb and flow in Our Lord’s life.  There were times when he showed dissatisfaction with human existence.  There were moments when the dreariness caused by man’s lack of faith or responsiveness made him exclaim: “How long am I to be with you?  How long am I to bear with you?” (Mt 17:17).  And again: “How long have I been with you and yet you do not know me?” (Jn 14:9).  This to Philip, who had said insensitively: “Show us the Father and we shall be satisfied.”

          Jesus was always trying to change man for the better.  Humanity was manifestly out of joint; he is the one who is dissatisfied with things as they are.  He is always at work: “My Father is working still and I am working.”  On the other hand, he calls to man to rest in him; to put down their burdens at his feet (Mt 11:28f).  He defends Mary for stopping to listen, when there was plenty to be done.  There is a rhythm of work and rest, change and fulfilment, in man’s affairs.

          Not only his sense of urgency to convert hearts or break through the dullness of his followers arouses the divine dissatisfaction, but also the tension of waiting for the accomplishment of the Father’s will.  This intense longing springs from his love for the Father and humanity: “I came to cast fire on earth and would that it were already kindled!  I have a baptism to be baptised with and how I am constrained until it is accomplished” (Lk 12:49-50).  However, despite the unsatisfied desire of his human heart, he remains, as Beloved Son, in the tranquil bosom of the Father, delighting always in the Beatific Vision: “He who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him” (Jn 8:29).  He had the glory he longs to share before the foundation of the world (cf Jn 17:24).  His repose in the Father in heaven is not in opposition to his thirst and labour for men’s souls on earth.  In him there is always a fruition in the Father and an equilibrium between rest and desire.

          This should be the pattern for Christian life, also.  Our own dissatisfactions, however, are due frequently to discontent rather than a pure desire for amelioration of ourselves and the human condition.  They tend to spring from restlessness, rather than a quiet purpose.  Isaiah likens sinners to a “tossing sea” which is unable to rest.  “There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked” (Is 57:20-21).  Even if, by God’s grace, we have escaped that category (more or less) our desires are often tinged with self-love.  We want this or that as well as God, the subtext being that he does not entirely suffice us.  If we want something for a group to which we belong, it may be an altruistic disguise for obtaining our own way.  This state of mind may manifest itself in murmuring, comparisons, a stream of suggestions and so on.  St Benedict disapproves.  His visiting monk may stay, only if he is simpliciter contentus, simply content with what he finds.  This is not to condemn all judicious change; indeed, in another place, our Holy Father St Benedict says that the Abbot should consider with prudence whatever may be censured discreetly by a charitable outsider.  The difference lies in the attitudes – the one from a sometimes hard spirit of criticism, the other from a spirit of fraternity.

          By way of an excursus, if we fall into a state of such dissatisfaction, it is of benefit to revisit our call.  The world may have given us the opposite, with its warm friendships and relationships, beauty in all its forms, intellectual pursuits, the opportunity to do good in different ways, an apparently larger stage.  And yet God beckoned us away from these excellent things.  We saw, perhaps not in every detail, but unmistakeably at the time, that he is the source of all we held – and hold – dear.  To follow this source more nearly seemed to us an exercise of supernatural common sense and the faculty of spiritual sight.  What we didn’t bargain for was the sense of loss.  There may have been moments when we forgot the clarity of the call or wondered if it had ever been clear at all.  Self-doubt is always couching at the door; it does not come from our guardian angel.  Here we are, we may have reasoned, surrounded by things which do not give us any sensible satisfaction.  We are suffering, perhaps, from amnesia about our sense of vocation; we have renounced many things in favour of a Good which eludes us.  Having given everything up, we have not yet found what we had been seeking with a confidence which now seems naïve.  This empty space, however, is not a sign that everything has gone horribly wrong.  It is an invitation to face, even to rest in, the emptiness, the dissatisfaction, and to trust God to fill it with himself.  For nothing and no one else will do.  His Spirit is stronger than our discontent and although we cannot prove this, our perseverance against the odds is striking evidence.  It is a form of coming to rest in the obscure yet certain knowledge that we already have what we seek.

          Sometimes dissatisfaction works for us.  In a different but equally efficacious call, a person may lose her taste for things in the world, even or especially for those she enjoyed most.  Dom Delatte remarks that “discontent, moral unrest, inability to be happy elsewhere” may turn souls towards God.  “Our Lord, when he would direct us towards his ends, sows secret bitterness over all the joys of our life” (Commentary, RB).  Dissatisfaction of spirit becomes so acute that they are compelled to follow the path traced out by him.

          Even if dissatisfaction dogs us at times in community life, all is not struggle, as this Celtic prayer in dissatisfaction suggests:

 

Many a time I wish I were other than I am.

I weary of the solemn tide;

of the little fields;

of this brooding Isle.

I long to be rid of the weight of duty

and to have my part in ampler life.

O Thou who are wisdom and pity both,

set me free from the lordship of desire.

Help me to find my happiness

in my acceptance of what is my purpose:

in friendly eyes, in work well done,

in quietness born of trust

and, most of all in the awareness

of your presence in my spirit.

 

          The Blessing includes the assistance of human joys as well as the promise of God’s presence.  It is the latter which transforms human dissatisfaction into supernatural longing.  There are, in the monastic life especially, privileged places where he may be sought with faith, hope and love, that is, in lectio, in the Holy Eucharist, in the heart.  In lectio, where the mind seeks, by patient handling of God’s word, to penetrate its outer covering; or perhaps better, to sit before the mystery, which wills to yield its secrets to the desiring heart.  In the Holy Eucharist, where the search is for the Bread of Life, to become one in substance with Christ our Lord.  I am the Bread of Life.  In the words of St John Henry Newman one eats and drinks as from “His wounded side”.  By the reception of the Body and Blood, we are filled full, satisfied, with His sacred presence to such a degree that “our bodies become sacred.  They are not ours, they are Christ’s … they are inhabited by his Spirit.”  Eucharistic union is rest.

          Rest, but not, as we noted, passivity; rather, fulfilment of activity.  We are imitating God, revealing His image, when we enter into His Sabbath rest.  It is a foretaste of heaven, not a cessation of desire.  The bride in the Canticle, sure of her Beloved, never tires of seeking Him.  She goes about the streets looking for him, until she finds him.  “I found him whom my soul loves.  I held him and would not let him go.”  This is not the restlessness of non-possession, but the quest of the heart which seeks to go ever deeper into the mystery.

          Spiritual desire for knowledge and love, for God Himself, is not used up when it rests upon the beloved object.  It is at once replenished and given a new impetus of longing.  Since the Beloved is infinite, unlimited, the soul’s desire can never be satiated.  Its very satisfaction, when it rests in Him, propels it to desire over and over again.  Surrounded by a limitless love, it drinks to capacity, yet never ceases to thirst.  Its thirst, so to speak, is its satisfaction.  St Bernard’s 84th Sermon on the subject could almost be quoted in entirety.  Here is an excerpt: “I think that even when it has found him, the soul will not cease to seek him.  God is sought not on foot but by desire.  And the happy discovery of what is desired does not end desire but extends it.  The consummation of joy does not consume desire, does it?  Rather, it is oil poured on flames, which itself catches fire.  Thus it is.  Joy will be fulfilled.  But there will be no end to desire, and so no end of seeking.  Put from your mind, if you can, the absence of God as the cause of this eagerness to find him, for he is always present; and anxiety in the search, for you cannot fail to find his abundance.”

          St Thomas Aquinas, for his part, assures us that “eternal life is the perfect fulfilment of desire”.  It will be more than we could ever desire or hope for.  “The reason for this is that in this life no man can fulfil his desires, nor can any creature satisfy a man’s craving; for God alone satisfies and infinitely surpasses man’s desire, which for that reason is never at rest save in God.”

          Even in this life, knowledge and love of Christ bring satisfaction of our desire for God.  Negative dissatisfaction in our feelings cannot diminish it; positive dissatisfaction in our spirit can only augment it.  Nothing is to be preferred to him, says St Benedict.  Nothing is to be desired in heaven or on earth besides him, says the Psalmist (Ps 72).  The author of the Salva Festa Dies which we sing on Easter Sunday, writes: “You are our unique Good.  You suffice for us and without You there is nothing at all.”

 

Tu satis es nobis.

 

This is our motto for the year.