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.

 

New Year Conference 2018

Erudiamur Æternis

“God has put eternity into man’s mind” (Eccl 3:11).  There is a capacity in man, a wound as it were, which seeks a remedy, but at the same time does not want to be cured.  Once we have been touched by the eternal, we are always seeking for it, even among the things of the world.  If we think that we shall find it definitively in earthly goods, however, we shall soon be dissatisfied; yet there are things on earth which are truly a reflection of heavenly things.  The monastic life is founded on and permeated by such values.  It is a school not only of the Lord’s service as St Benedict says, but also a school which will fit us for eternal life.

“This is eternal life” says Our Lord in John 17:3, “that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”  We know the Father by contemplating him in the Son: “he who has seen me has seen the Father.”  We not only see Jesus but are incor­porated into him by our baptism.  We become members of his Mystical Body; and since the heavenly life consists in being where he is, our heaven has already begun through the life of grace.  We are in him who fills heaven and earth.  We are in him who dwells in our hearts.  Our hearts, then, have become the kingdom of heaven.  Thus, through him, in him and with him, we are led into communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

In the heavenly communion, there is vision; on earth there is infused faith, which tends of its own accord to vision[1].  There, we will possess full enjoyment of the truth; here we see “in a glass darkly”, but nonetheless accurately.  We ponder, we savour the Word of God, which is the Bread of Life and a pledge of the clear knowledge in store for us in heaven.

Since our communion with the Blessed Trinity has already begun in the seed of glory which is grace, we are able to participate in Our Lord’s own prayer and praise.  Not that this is always or often experiential, but we believe, and it is not fanciful to say that we know, by a secret, inner seeing, that our prayer becomes one with the prayer he makes to the Father.  Even on earth, our contemplative prayer is a seeing; the eye of the soul, looking through a lattice, so to speak, perceives something of heaven.  In spite of the gravitational pull of self and fallen human nature, there can still be a glance, even a lingering gaze, on the eternal.  There is, then, this active aspect of looking and of developing our ability to see by purification of the heart.  We tend towards him, in prayer, and offer him all that we are.  In the merciful hands of Mary, we may be certain that this “all” will be presented in a fitting manner (by her merits) to her Son.  However, we have also the capacity through grace to receive back from him and to repose in him in reciprocal love.  He attends to us as we attend to him.  Nevertheless, he does not have to wait for our self-offering, because he is always giving himself.  It is for us to open our eyes to this reality.  There ensues a union, as he himself promised: “Even as thou, Father, are in me and I in thee, that they may also be in us.  I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one”, to the glory of the Father, that glory he desires us to contemplate and which he had with the Father before the world was made.  This going out towards God and resting in him, being “oned” with him, is a reflection of intratrinitarian life.  Between the divine Persons there is, on Our Lord’s own testimony, a mutual knowledge and love, a kenosis, imitated by sacrificial love on earth, and a sabbath rest.

This self-emptying is a reminder that life in the spirit calls for the evangelical counsels for its full flourishing: chastity, which keeps itself for the Beloved, whose source lies in the Blessed Trinity itself and which belongs to the angelic nature; poverty, which seeks to possess nothing but the Beloved; obedience and humility, which thirst to procure the good of the Beloved and to do his will by the joyful laying down of the self.  Jesus, second Person of the Trinity, chaste, poor and obedient, trod the path of the counsels first and crowns them in heaven with special beauty.  We, for our part, imitate on earth what might be called a heavenly ascesis, which is the perfection of love.

As we have stressed, the life of the Blessed Trinity is a communion, a divine society, unchangeable in its essence.  As such it is reflected in our common life and vow of stability.  Silence, too, the atmosphere of heaven, is another closely guarded element in our monastic observance.  Above all, heaven is the place of unceasing praise and intercession.  There is a heavenly liturgy, which is joined to that of the Church, the earthly “society of praise”, to echo Dom Guéranger.

The American convert and theologian, Scott Hahn, describes vividly his initial impression of the Mass while still an evangelical Protestant.[2]  “In less than a minute the phrase ‘Lamb of God’ had rung out four times.  From long years of studying the Bible, I immediately knew where I was.  I was in the Book of Revelation, where Jesus is called the Lamb no less than 28 times in 22 chapters.  I was at the marriage feast that John describes at the end of that very last book of the Bible.  I was before the throne of heaven, where Jesus is hailed forever as the Lamb.”  He continues: “In that chapel – as in that book – I saw robed priests, an altar, a congregation chanting ‘holy, holy, holy’.  I saw the smoke of incense; I heard the invocation of angels and saints.”

Such is our daily Mass, where the Lamb slain for our Redemption and now standing as our advocate before the throne of God alive and glorified, becomes present on our altars.  This action which takes place simultaneously in heaven and on earth is the centre and peak moment of our monastic day.  Our Divine Office, likewise, is joined to the adoration, praise and intercession of Mary, the angels and the saints.  Indeed, in the divinely inspired psalmody and scripture, we hear the very voice of Jesus the Lord.  Even our ceremonies imitate, like a slow and simple dance, the beauty and graciousness of heaven.

Solitary and social: such is heaven, such is the Christian community, where, as we have tried to show, eternal life has already begun.  Not to grasp this is to subject oneself to a life of futility.  Happily, we can learn.  Says Garrigou-Lagrange: “Not in heaven do we learn to love God, but here on earth”, and he quotes 2Cor 9:6 “He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly and he who sows in blessings shall also reap blessings.”  The Holy Rule teaches us to sow in blessings.  To change the metaphor, it teaches us how to see.  All its provisions are made so that we can look beyond this life to the next; to see the next life in this one.  That means, paradoxically enough, living in the present moment, immersed in what looks to all appearances a highly regulated existence.  If we were to be deceived by appearances – and the French word déception means disappointment – and even to live on a purely horizontal plane, we should chafe at the restrictions of community life.  We might notice very readily the defects of institutions and individuals.  We might even be reasonably happy or resigned, but we should still have missed the point.  If, on the other hand, we incorporate the vertical dimension into our daily life and live in the presence of the eternal Father, making each moment an act of love for God and for neighbour, then we are entering into the joy of the Lord already here below.  Joy is entering into us.

This joy, as we said, is social; it is bound up with the happiness of others.  Each soul will rejoice, not only in its own reward, but also in the reward given to other elect souls, including the saints who were our friends on earth.  This joy will be a natural consequence of charity, which has now been perfected by the vision of God.[3]  The joy of others will even multiply our own joy.  St Anselm, in a well-known passage from the Proslogion, writes: “O human heart, O needy heart, O heart experienced in suffering, how greatly would it rejoice … if it could comprehend its joy in its so great blessedness.  But surely if someone else whom you loved in every respect as yourself possessed the same blessedness, your joy would be doubled, for you would rejoice as much for him as for yourself.  …  In that perfect and pure love of the countless holy angels and holy men, where no one will love another less than himself, each will rejoice for every other as for himself.  …  Indeed, to the degree that each one loves some other, so he will rejoice in the good of that other; therefore, just as each one in that perfect happiness will love God incomparably more than himself and all others with him, so he will rejoice immeasurably more over the happiness of God than over his own happiness and that of all the others with him.”

In happy communities, where nothing is preferred to the love of Christ, this freedom of spirit and disinterested joy in the happiness of others has already begun.  There can be no lasting envy or jealousy, if we all truly love God above and in each other; when we can see and admire the work he is doing in another.

In eternity there is perfect peace and harmony.  Contradictions are reconciled.  Judgment and mercy, which might seem opposed, at times, on earth, are resolved in the unity of heaven.  We need faith to entrust the apparently irreconcilable to God, to hand over the impossible challenge, to grasp that anxiety is, at least, a failure of the imagination, if not of trust.  All is in hand.  It is being worked out as we sit here.

During a canonical visitation when I was a novice, I was explaining the beauty of the monastic life to the Visitor.  He said drily: “Alors, ma sœur, c’est un paradis sur la terre?”  (“So, Sister, it’s heaven on earth?”)  “Oui, mon Père.”  (“Yes, Father.”) I replied sincerely.  I was not being as naïve as the august Abbot President presumed.  We are being tutored for eternity by living out the eternal values here and now.  Pope Benedict writes: “The distinguishing feature of the disciple of Jesus is the fact that he ‘lives’: beyond the mere fact of existing, he has found and embraced the real life that everyone is seeking.  …  The early Christians called themselves simply ‘the living’.  They had found what all are seeking – life itself, full and hence indestructible life.”[4]

In the Postcommunion prayer for the 29th Sunday of the Year, we read: “Grant, O Lord, that, benefitting from participation in heavenly things, we may be helped by what you give in this present age and prepared for the things that are eternal.”  Erudiamur Æternis.  This is our motto for the year.  It may be translated variously: May we be instructed, trained, prepared for eternal things; or, May we be taught by eternal things.  Rather than quibble, let’s leave literal translations aside and settle for “In the school of eternity”.  In this School we find life, full and indestructible.

Erudiamur Æternis

In the School of Eternity



[1] cf Garrigou-Lagrange: Everlasting Life

[2] The Lamb’s Supper: the Mass as heaven on earth

[3] cf Garrigou-Lagrange

[4] Jesus of Nazareth, Vol 2


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