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.


The Rosary and the Rule

Silver Jubilee of Sr Gertrude

Memoria of the Holy Rosary 2017

Someone once passed me a short study consisting simply of quotations from the Holy Rule and entitled: The Rosary and the Rule.  This talk connects each quotation with a mystery of the rosary. 

The Joyful Mysteries

1  The text proposed to illustrate The Annunciation is the opening lines of the Prologue.  Hearken, my son, to the precepts of the Master and incline the ear of your heart; freely accept and faithfully fulfil the instructions of a loving Father.

Mary hearkens to the angel with the ear of her heart.  The ear, the listening organ, is sometimes portrayed in early illustrations as the route, so to speak, of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation.  On Mary’s part, there is an attentiveness, a willingness to listen, therefore a disposition to act in accordance with what is heard.  This is because the message is recognised as coming from a Master, from Someone who must be obeyed.  The implication is, further, that she is a servant, an ancilla Domini.  It is not, however, slavery in the sense of total passivity under a greater force.  There is a freedom: freely accept.  This Master is a loving Father who elicits, does not exact, obedience.  Her freedom is real and her consent is unforced.  The freedom of the human race is thus secured; its sin, the old bondage, will be redeemed.  There is not only acceptance but fulfilment of what is asked.  May it be done; and it was done, but not without the whole engagement of Mary’s body, mind and spirit.

In our case, too, we recognise the authoritative voice of the Master, to which we are free to respond or not.  Christ respects our freedom with infinite sensitivity.  It is, nonetheless, a pressing invitation, which the refined conscience finds impossible to ignore.  The disciple finds that her acceptance of the yoke brings with it an unsuspected freedom.  She is ready to run, to work, to suffer, to do whatever he asks, trusting in the sufficiency of grace. 

The Visitation  In the reception of poor men and pilgrims special attention should be shown, because in them is Christ more truly welcomed (RB 53)

St Elizabeth and her unborn son welcome Christ in Mary, she by her ecstatic prophecy, he by his leap of joy.  In the course of our monastic journey there are many meetings.  There may be, indeed, literally poor people and pilgrims along the way, but the real poor and the real pilgrims towards Jerusalem are our sisters in all their humanity, whom we meet many times daily.  We welcome Christ in them with all the gentleness of the fear of the Lord and with fervent charity (RB 66) 

The Nativity  And from that day let him be counted as one of the community (RB 58)

Christ is born of Mary on Christmas Day.  He has come from the Father’s side to his own home and his own people.  They received him not says St John (Jn 1:11).  Yet, as heaven rejoices, the shepherds and Magi adore on earth, representing all those down the ages who will receive him into the community of men.

Monastic profession resembles a new birth.  When, through the hands of Mary, we are presented to the monastic community, we are received by them as new life, with thanksgiving and hope.  We, too, embark on this life with determination and faith. 

The Presentation

Our Lady and St Joseph present Jesus to the Lord in the Temple, along with a sacrifice, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons”.  The illustrating text from the Rule is from Chapter 49 on Lent Let each one, over and above the measure prescribed for him, offer God something of his own free will in the joy of the Holy Spirit. We offer ourselves to God in the monastic life – not only in Lent – with sacrifices according to our ability.  These sacrifices represent our willingness to translate our self-donation into hard coin; we do not want to pay with words alone.  The sacrifices can be physical, as we know, but the ones which pierce the heart most are likely to be those which oblige us to grow and reach out and to let ourselves be humbled.  And all, as St Benedict says, in the joy of the Holy Spirit, not in a grudging spirit. 

5  Finding the Child Jesus  Let them vie in paying obedience one to another (RB 72)

St Luke reports that, after an apparent declaration of independence, he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them (2:51).  In our monastic life, we want to be true to ourselves and, above all, to our relation to God.  That is inviolable.  But there will be no conflict with our monastic obedience, because that obedience is the truth about our relation to God and the expression of our best self. 

The Luminous Mysteries

In the Mysteries of Light we are led along the paths of conversion to transformation.  It is the journey par excellence of the monk or nun.  The surprising quotation given for The Baptism of the Lord is   Let him hate ill-doing but love the brethren … he should eradicate evils prudently and with charity (RB 64)

We are called to conversion – the axe is to the root – but it is the Lord who draws us.  The grace of inner change does not depend on our efforts, though God does not save us without us; it is freely given as in a baptism.  Profession we say, is like a second baptism.  We are immersed, put gently in cleansing waters, by another’s hands.  We are shown what must be done to change, how the monastic tradition, if followed faithfully, will make us whole, lead us back to Eden through the desert. 

The Wedding Feast at Cana  Let the subject know that it is expedient for him, and let him obey out of love, trusting in the assistance of God (RB 68)

The journey of obedience can be testing.  Although we are clean through baptism, the flesh is still weak; it still resists and is prone to self-doubt.  Trust in the sometimes disconcerting ways of God does not come easily; yet Do whatever he tells you.  You cannot see why, now; but later you will understand.  Once water became wine; and every day on our altars, wine becomes Blood.  If we obey what seems the impossible command, God acts in us and through us.  He can do anything; He asks only for our co-operating will. 

The Call to Conversion  continues all our lives.  Let him be told all the hardships and trials through which we travel to God (RB 58)

Life without struggle would be suspect.  We have to be clear-sighted and expect a life-long wielding of the sword of combat in our taking of the Kingdom.  Yet we already possess it through the sword of the Spirit.  It is the pearl of great price, which costs not less than everything.  It is the treasure in the field, hidden at times amid briars and thistles. 

The sword is wielded but the Lord lets us glimpse his future glory and ours in The Transfiguration  And this will the Lord deign to show forth by the power of His Spirit in His workman now cleansed from vice and from sin (RB 7)

Even now, we are being changed from glory to glory, although we cannot gauge our progress.  Only by the power of the Spirit and a growing peace, which is His fruit, do we trust ultimately in our gradual transformation into another Christ.  Yet sometimes too, there is the balm of His presence, the sight of His beauty, to reassure us that we are not toiling in vain. 

The supreme pledge is The Holy Eucharist  And before you call upon Me, I shall say to you “Lo, here I am” (RB Prologue)

Here is sustenance for the way.  All that Christ want to do is to give Himself and, so as not to blind us by His splendour, He gives Himself in the humblest form, the bread of human hands.  Here I am.  This is My Body; this is My Blood; this is Myself.

The Sorrowful Mysteries  are all proofs of this love.

Christ allows temptation and abandonment to assail him in The Agony in the Garden  He does not succumb, in spite of sweating blood, unlike the disciples who are heavy with sleep and sorrow.  Yet he has won for us all the means to resist: They are able now to live without the help of others, and by their own strength and God’s assistance to fight against the temptations of mind and body (RB 1)  We need not sleep the sleep of sorrow.  Grace is sufficient; it is also efficacious.  It obtains even that utter detachment from our body and will, placed before us by St Benedict as the ideal of the monk.  For monks should not have even their bodies and wills at their own disposal (RB 33) 

Christ was Scourged at the Pillar; and we are healed of our self-will by his stripes.  Healed, too, of our pride, 

when we consider The Crowning with Thorns  When struck on one cheek they offer the other … and they bless those that curse them (RB 7)

Here is a silent suffering, not guessed at, the inner wound caused by contempt and the misuse of power.  Better to suffer this wound than ever to inflict it.  What better way to conform ourselves to Christ than this? 

The Way of the Cross  Conformation before transformation.  Sometimes – perhaps usually – the Cross is imposed on us.  We do not choose it, though we can be ready to receive it in whatever form it comes.  Simon of Cyrene was “compelled” to carry the Cross of Jesus; he is a model for the monk or nun.  We want, all the same, our compulsion to be that of love and not only of constraint.  St Benedict recommends to us a very humble cross.  Let them bear with the greatest patience one another’s infirmities, whether of body or character (RB 72)  We all bear and we are all borne.  Patience to bear and patience to be borne with.  We are all on the via dolorosa but with the hope of heaven. 

5  The Crucifixion

Completion of the life’s work will one day be at hand.  When Jesus has made the climb to Calvary and ascended the Cross, his final words are Consummatum est.  It is finished.  The Father’s will had been fulfilled by an obedience unto death.  In every act of obedience, there is this sense of completion.  And almost in the same moment of time that the Master’s order is issued, is the disciple’s work completed, in the swiftness of the fear of the Lord (RB 5)  We recall Ps 18:5: Where the swift course of the sun from one end of the heavens to the other makes some commentators think of Christ’s eager obedience in the Incarnation: He runs its course with joy.


The Glorious Mysteries

With joy and towards joy.  Through the Passion of the Cross to the glory of The Resurrection  And may He bring us all to life everlasting (RB 72)            The passage of the monk or nun through life to eternal life is a reflection of Christ’s own pasch.  Pain is woven into the warp of existence but even it will be dissolved in a greater love, as if it had never been.  There is that beautiful, (as yet) anonymous text: “The life (or soul) of the monk is like Easter night, for he sees Christ rising from the dead.” 

While in the night of faith we live in the light of the Resurrection and indeed of The Ascension.

Jesus said to his disciples (Jn 14:4): And 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.  And you know the way where I am going.  He goes on in reply to His disciples’ objections: I am the way, the truth and the life.  Thus, when St Benedict says, in his Prologue to the Rule: Behold, in His loving mercy the Lord showeth us the way of life we understand that he is pointing to the Lord, risen and ascended, after toiling on earth.  Like the men of Galilee we look after Him, not in idleness, but in invincible hope. 

The Descent of the Holy Spirit  This hope is not disappointed at Pentecost.  The Lord ascends; the Holy Spirit descends, in fulfilment of the Promise.  The disciples are transformed by fire and breath; their poor human nature raised by grace to share in the Trinitarian fullness.  And let us ask God says St Benedict that He be pleased, where our nature is powerless, to give us the help of His grace (RB Prologue) 

Our Lady was always full of this grace and has already become through her bodily Assumption what we shall be: partakers also of His Kingdom. (RB Prologue) 

If she has been led from the lowliness of Nazareth to Queenship by Her Son’s side in heaven, we, too, can hope to be led to the summit of perfection (RB 73) through clinging to her side.

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