1987, Serial No. 00917

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May the outpouring of your Holy Spirit, O Lord, cleanse our hearts and make them fruitful by the inward sprinkling of His dew, through Christ our Lord. Well, my dear fathers and brothers, I must give you ample proof that I'm not so good a carpenter as St. Joseph must have been. In fact, I should have done better to be like that lovely, silent Abba, Joseph, who came from time to time with a group to ask questions and answer the great. You'll remember the story, I'm sure. When it came to his turn to say something, all was implied, I do not know. So Anthony said, indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way. Yet since I'm commanded to speak, I have at least tried to make sure that what I've been saying was not wholly my own. And so I shall ask you a last time, I think, at any rate for the next couple of talks,


I may be wrong, I haven't looked at them yet again, see what I've said, but to think about this business of spiritual maturing with the help of those sermons on different subjects of St. Bernard, who I seem somehow to have fallen in love while I've been preparing this retreat. It's been a very lovely experience to come back to him and look at him again very carefully. Let's turn to number three of these, which is built upon the song of Hezekiah after his recovery from sickness, as recorded in chapter 38 of the prophecy of Isaiah. As we're all of us recovering from something or other most of our lives, until by the mercy of God our final recovery in the moment of our death, the theme is appropriate enough for us, I suppose. And what Bernard has to say benefits from this clarity of mind about these changes in the spiritual climate of which all the great spiritual writers necessarily have to speak. Bernard begins by shocking us into attention with a quotation from the last verse of Psalm


54, the bloodthirst in deceitful shall not live out half their days. They continue in their aging, says Bernard, until their death, and this because they do not fear God. But the man who fears God puts himself to school with wisdom, and so attains half his days. He will not need me to give you the background of that, either in the script or in chapter seven of the rule. And then we get to the opening of the hymn of the recovered king. I said to myself, I'm going to the gates of hell, and so to the king, like anyone in a similar situation, or going through an experience like his, the king looks around for consolation. It makes me remember someone I knew during a somewhat sharp and severe breakdown which occurred during his thirties, who one night heard voices saying to him, you just wait until we get into those fires which you say burn eternally, you will see it for me so


much as one little bone left of you. And to make things worse, was greeted by the orderly of the hospital the following morning, whose first spontaneous words were, you see we've all got to be burned. You see, we haven't got the space to go on with all this burying. Another consolation friend of mine went through a similar experience about the same time in his life. There are, of course, sometimes in many lives when the only way to exercise the virtue of hope is to do the next thing that has to be done. It's very important not to refuse to do that. That's why we have to practice not worrying about what we feel all the time, if we see what we have to do. Because we might need that some day when we just stop hoping if we don't do the next thing. At such times, I cannot expect, I think, the luxury of feeling what Bernard says at this point, that the only consolation is the hope of eternal life.


You'll remember, of course, how this was the special thing that little Therese, Licio, was deprived of in her last two years. She said, you know, just like a wall going up, there's nothing there. She really thought she was going to be snuffed out like a candle. That's what it felt like. In this, Bernard says, once relieved of the sins which separate us from God, and perhaps some other things which at least appear to be obstacles, we might venture to add, I think, that sometimes it's other kinds of obstacles that just prevent us letting God in somehow, not very directly sins. I suppose they are generally connected with the wounds of original sin. But after this, we find, by the grace of God, new life and overflowing joy. But, says Bernard, there's nearly always, of course, a but in everything in this life, to the extent to which anyone makes progress in this way, which is to live in Christ, he will necessarily have to suffer persecution, as Scripture says, and his newfound joy will


change to sadness. His lips will scarcely have touched, so to speak, the sweetness of good when it changes itself into bitterness. He then weeps for his loss more than he once wept for his sins. And his grief lasts until God in his goodness gives him consolation. On finding it again, he understands that the trial he underwent was a time of testing. That's, of course, what all breakdowns are about, really. Generally, it means we've got to reassemble the whole picture. And so it's very good, rather than something to be discouraged about. For trial has its purpose, our building up, and not our destruction. As Scripture says in the book of Job, you visit him at dawn and test him suddenly. As a result of this, becoming more aware of the profit he gains in being put to the test, far from flying from it, he seeks it. Examine me, Lord, and try me, says the psalmist in Psalm 25.


Though perhaps, I think we might add, no one would likely venture to ask for trials of the more extreme kind, which God may send as he sees fit for our good. And perhaps sometimes even for the good of others, because one shouldn't forget that there's a social dimension even to suffering. And sometimes it is connected with our becoming different, and having something to offer, which we can only offer out of the experience of having suffered. Every trial, heavy or light, is certainly the most natural occasion for praying more intensely for those who are undergoing similar things. I'm quite sure many of you will have found this. It's the surest rule. If you can't cope with anything, go and pray for everybody else who can't, that minute. And then it gets, not necessarily it solves it, but it gets much easier to bear. And especially, of course, if this prayer sometimes has to pray for those who have no faith to begin with,


even if by the mercy of God they emerge with it at the end, as they sometimes do. I suppose perhaps several of you must have been fascinated, as I often have, by one's awareness that faith, to have faith at all, is a great gift. And you sometimes don't know this until you meet someone who obviously hasn't got any faith. And the kind of absence of it is so startling, it's like a noise reaching you. And it's very frightening too. What it must be like to be alive in 1987 with no faith, I think it hardly bears thinking about. But back to Bernard. Through frequent changes of this sort, between the visits of grace and the tests of trial, man progresses in the school of virtues. He's a fortunate fellow. I was suddenly thinking, reading Bernard, of one of my favourite things about Philip Neary, perhaps some of you will know. You have to hunt around for these authentic sayings of his, but they are very exciting.


He often said to his young disciples, when they would complain, oh I'm going through the most terrible time now, and Philip would say, oh my dear, you're not worthy, you're not worthy of it. This can fool you a bit. God's paying attention to you. For as Bernard adds, the visit of grace prevents him from falling away, and the trial from getting proud. This kind of formation, by purifying his interior sight, and suddenly that light appears in which he so longs to establish himself. And since the burden of his body forbids this, in spite of himself and of his distress, he falls back into himself. Nonetheless, he's tasted how good the Lord is, and even after this return to himself, the taste buds of his heart still savour it. And do so well, that it's not really just God,


no one except God himself he longs for, and not some good coming from him. This is the love that does not seek its own good. It's this that makes of the son, somebody who doesn't insist on his own way, but who loves his father. Doubtless, says Bernard, it's through these phases that Izekiah passed, and wanted to make them known for those who would go through them. Because this is Bernard's practical application of something I've just mentioned, that very seldom is a personal trial something which will never be of any benefit to anybody else. Very often we're going to be, to our surprise, able to say to somebody, yes, I know what that's all about, and if you just hang on, it'll be all right. It's very important to be able to do it. Izekiah says, my life was cut short as though by a weaver, to teach me to expect progress in my life, not from my own hand,


but from the side of my creator, rather like cloth in the hands of the weaver. Yet, he continues, if my strength faltered, it didn't abandon me, lest someone should think that he who began the good work was incapable of finishing it in me. By this I soon discovered that strength is made perfect in weakness. It's good for me that I was humbled. It's not by the morning of his visits alone, nor only by the evening of his testing, but by both the one and the other together. You then, Lord, from day to night, complete me. I, whom the lion's teeth brought low and put to the proof. You'll remember, I think somewhere near my first talk, I was saying how we shouldn't really aim at being a complete man. We haven't got a picture of what that is, but God will do that. And so, burn a picture, says he, saying how, somehow or other, the Lord brings this work to completion in his own way.


For there's one morning and one evening and then made one day. This is why, as I've learned to do, I will bless the Lord at all times. Bendicam Dominum et Omni Tempere. Edith, I apologize for being so long about that. I've been to say you will find many books that speak of these things at much greater length and to much less memorable effect than Bernard does in these very few concentrated paragraphs. What then is the upshot of this little sermon? It would seem that these difficult experiences occur to prepare us for the bitterness of bitterness when the graces of contemplation fail. As Issachar says towards the end of his poem, it's the living who prays to you. In other words, one who lives not only physically, but spiritually. To live through these two dimensions of life is only possible if you grant me grace. The father makes your truth known to his children, says the next phrase.


The truth is not revealed to the slave, for the servant does not know what his master is doing. But it is to the son that the father will make the truth known. And the son hears it, and he says, not what I will, father, but what you will. Hear the voice of the son. O Lord, save me, says the final verse of the poem. Why? Was he afraid to burn in hell or be deprived of his reward? No. But we shall sing our psalms all the days of our life in the house of the Lord. This is not the voice of the slave or the hired servant, but the one who wants to sing his psalms in the house of the Lord instead of flying from the dangers that threaten him seeking his own advantage. This one really loves, without a doubt. Yes, he loves the God he desires, and vividly has longed to praise Him all the days of his life. This conviction of Bernard that praise and thanksgiving


is the mark of the prayer of the liberated man is something to which Bernard returns, as far as I can see, in at least two others of this group of sermons. In number 25, he's asked how we can know we have forgiven our sins. Bernard explains the unmistakable signs by the use of the symbolism in the miracle of the healing of the paralytic told in Matthew chapter 9, who is first told that he's forgiven his sins and then told to take up his bed and walk. It would, in fact, be impossible for you to rise without having been, at least in part, relieved of your burden. Impossible, too, for you to carry your bed without having been more completely freed. Finally, it would be impossible for you to walk with the figure of full life, full of energy, where you're still crushed by the weight of your sins. This is why a man who has reached this stage in his Christian life can make his prayer with full confidence.


Yet even here, as more marked in number 27, to which we must turn in a moment or two, Bernard is concerned that we should reach the prayer of thanksgiving more often than we do. Of this he says that it's the more precious for being rather a rarity. It's an abundance of grace that the man who has reached this point finds with God, in virtue of his promise, that God hears him even before he calls upon him, just as the Holy Rule in its prologue promises us. And the spirit he has received from God bears witness to his spirit that his desire has been heard. Thus such a man can, in complete certitude, no longer ask but give thanks. It is in this way that on the occasion of the raising of Lazarus, our Lord, before having asked anything, God cries out, I give you thanks, Father, for having heard me.


For anyone who finds themselves slightly troubled in this kind of thing, I think we must look at Sermon 27, which is more explicitly about monastic life. A life in which God, not satisfied by taking us as servants, has chosen us as friends, that we may go and bear fruit. But a fruit that doesn't perish, which comes from a counsel that's only revealed to his friends. And here Bernard quotes, of course, chapter 6 of John, verse 27, Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life. Let us not stop working for this food, even when by obedience a command or concern for fraternal love keeps us occupied with material work. For for us it's our intention that makes the difference between us and those who labour for that which perishes. Our work hasn't the same roots.


This is, of course, fairly well. Why then is it that God doesn't always seem to hear us as generously as he once did, when we get to this point? Bernard feels that the true answer is that in this form of life too many are apt, after their conversion, to settle down and feel they've arrived. Among us, he says, a man is considered to be great who remains faithful to the first stage of his conversion. In fact, how many do we see who've lost their remembrance of themselves and their sins, who've also forgotten God and his benefits? Far from redeeming the time, they lose it. And the last thing they're troubled about is the idea of carrying on their existence and mastering their sensibility. They come and go to church, but they're not really involved in what's going on there. The real root of the trouble is that these people don't feel grateful for what God has done for them


and take his grace all for granted. Were the nine, who, like with them all, had cried out, Jesus, son of David, have mercy on us, when only one came back to give thanks, that's what's really wrong. We see many still today, says Bernard, insistently asking for things they see they lack, but we know few who give thanks in any way proportionate to what they've received. There's nothing wrong about instant requests, but to show oneself without gratitude is to wipe out the effect of one's request. I'm quite sure Bernard is here talking about something that's extremely important in the life of prayer, and it's too seldom mentioned so explicitly as Bernard does in spiritual books or sermons. Happy, says Bernard, is he who for every grace received comes back to him in whom we have faith in fullness of grace. In showing ourselves without ingratitude,


without ingratitude for the gifts received, we prepare a space for grace to give us still greater gifts. If it is ingratitude and that alone that prevents us from making progress in the Christian life. As for us, poor and miserable as we are, when in our beginnings we think of ourselves still as strangers, we show ourselves to be full enough of fear, fervor and humility. But, as time goes on, we so easily forget that gratuitous character of everything we've received, and we presume on our familiarity with God. Well, I suppose lots of this may sound a bit hard, and I haven't given you all of it, but it needs from time to time to be heard, I think. There's something about this business of thanksgiving which is very much a feature of the New Testament itself. Do remember this. It's not just a bit of spiritual theory, the New Testament's full of this, and not least with our Lord himself as incarnate Son of God.


No one, I'm sure, will forget the wonderful close of Matthew's Gospel, chapter 11. I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you've hidden these things from the wise and prudent. And how many times, although we're not told the words he used, we're told of our Lord giving thanks. And how touching it is, too, in St. Paul, who must have cherished some of this habit of giving thanks as part of his Jewish inheritance that he rightly didn't think he had to reject. I give thanks to my God every time I think of you, he says to the Philippians, making my prayer with joy. And something very similar to the Colossians. How often do we do it? Here we are, all making a retreat together. I can easily think of a good many busy people who would be enormously grateful to be here for one day, and here we are for eight. Should we not, like the Colossians, be thankful,


sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God? Do we not need to do for each other and for those we know what Paul tells the Thessalonians he does for them? We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and art of love, and the steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus this puts us both into the heart of God's work in the world, which never ceases, as our Lord himself tells us, and gives us to a sense of that larger community in which we very much need to be living, for without it we should none of us be here. But there's more to it than that. This is the spirit which makes a different kind of man and our communities different kinds of places. Do we forget that God makes his rain fall


and his sun shine on saints and sinners alike? This is undoubtedly the perfection to which we are called. For what is that our Lord tells us at the end of chapter 5 of Matthew's Gospel we should be? It is just the very thing we should be like our Heavenly Father in our concern for others and in our great gratitude for all that God does for us all the time. It's doubtful if we should really carry this sense of things in our hearts unless we follow as Bernard's advice to be grateful for everything we've received and daily receive. It's this spirit that unlocks all the doors of grace, especially of course when we can manage to thank God for not understanding what he's doing and granting us the gift even of feeling too weak to do what we have to do, like feed. It's this that keeps us near to him. There are, I suppose, some whose gratitude is the very seed of their holiness.


It's long seemed to me I really gave away what I was going to talk about. I can never forget Bede every day. I have a little icon of him to remind me if I ever forgot. I think it must have been the case with that great English monk, St. Bede. Bede, you'll remember, was brought to it as an oblate to the monastery at the age of seven and he lived through all its changes, many of which can't have been easy, whatever we've all been through in our lives in the last 30 years or so. It isn't anything like what Bede went through in the course of his life as a monk, even when he was still quite young. For it's of course by no means impossible that it was he who was the boy who found himself deciding with the abbot when they were the only survivors from the plague to see in the office rather than simply say. They tried saying it for a bit and they thought, no, we must do something else. And they just got down to it, doing it the two of them, the abbot and the boy.


And although things got better as they grew older, Bede never led an idle life. Right through his very last moments, even as he was dying, he was dictating a translation of the Gospel of John to his young brothers in the community. But he was, unknown to himself, teaching them something better than that. The student who wrote the wonderful little letter describing Bede's death, do read it sometime, perhaps in the next day or two before you forget. It's wonderful. You'll find it in the Penguin book and probably could be in the other books too. It tells how, as Bede grew weaker, he gave thanks to God for it. And indeed, says the boy, I've never known or heard of anyone who gave thanks so much as Bede did. Perhaps it's like he was also able to say he'd never known anyone who died in such deep devotion and peace as he.


It's surely a thing to be greatly wished for, for already in this world, we don't thank God for being what he is for us, and by his mercy we for him, who constantly seeks us and invites us into his presence, giving us time, that he may give us an eternity of joy, when, whatever we may have gone through this rough year, it all seemed nothing, it all seemed like a dream when we looked back, I'm sure it all seemed absolute nothing. And then it'll be nothing but joy, and we'll have learnt how to get our hearts ready for it by being thankful now. God will give us all the grace to be among the grateful ones on the Day of Judgment. We've all of us got so much to thank God for every day. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of yours faithful,


and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created. Let us pray. May the outpouring of your Holy Spirit, O Lord, cleanse our hearts and make them fruitful by the inward sprinkling of his dew, through Christ, our Lord. Oh, my dear fathers and brothers, I wonder, perhaps you wonder too, exactly where and how I should go from the point we reached yesterday evening, which may have seemed to be looking too explicitly at the end of the story of life with God, before we've looked a little closer at the process of spiritual maturing, which it ought to presuppose. And then, a newcomer to the house, by no means a young man, said to me apropos of some work he was doing on which I'd made a comment. But then, that isn't what we all came for, to do.


Then I knew where we were. Back in a difficulty which, as far as I can see, can persist more or less the whole of a lifetime, if doesn't get put right, either directly, by God himself, or through some human instrument. For not only do remarks of this kind often get made by enthusiastic would-be recruits to the monastic life, an underlying similarity of thought is sometimes revealed in the questions of older men who may want to know if one is able to find time for one's spiritual life. I suppose the answer ought to be that there's always time for that, provided there's time for life at all. Or we might just as correctly say that if the whole of our life isn't becoming increasingly the life of our whole being with God, then we shall never even begin to have a spiritual life. My guess would be that the reason why this kind of talk is not, as far as I know, ever found in earlier monastic writers, nor is it for them a problem,


is because it never occurs to them to think that the life of prayer or the life of spirit is conceivably something apart from monastic life as a way of living. Something which, as it were, goes on between me and God in order to make it possible to bear all the rest of a life which is not truly spiritual. There can surely be no one who reflects on these things who will not come to see how disastrous this way of thinking can be, both for the work that has to be done and for the prayer. It means that the work done in the monastery or the tasks undertaken for the common good of the community and its guests will tend to cease to be as authentic an expression of the love of the monk for the two great commandments as his prayer also is. The fundamental spiritual virtues required to do both the one and the other in our condition in this world are so closely connected as to be almost inseparable. This is of course the reason why


if one arrives in a religious house where everywhere there are signs of neglect and of work badly done one is generally right to wonder what's happening about the life of prayer. The newcomer whom no one has helped see that he has come to live a whole life with and for God in this place is on his way to being seriously betrayed by the system. Now I'm of course well aware that monasteries nowadays like other kinds of human enterprises in a rapidly changing world are often causing headaches to their superiors or those responsible for making consultative decisions for their houses. Sometimes the buildings, commitments and plant of the house into which young people are entering really presuppose and may even require a personnel different in both kind and numbers. In the course of the last few months I received a moving letter from a friend, a monk who is an infirmary in a well-known European monastery


mentioning among other things that among 40 monks 12 are over 80. One of these is virtually paralyzed and has to be fed through a tube. That's a very great thing for such a house and I'm glad to see it also goes on in this house that he is at home being looked after. It's not everywhere the case. But several of the others are still alive and are members of the community except for occasional indispositions which require more or less prolonged periods in the infirmary. One of whom he spoke to me is among those marvelous brothers many of the elders have often met in European and other monasteries which came from, many who came from sturdy farming families accustomed to and generally fit for hard physical work from the cradle to the grave. The like of whom we shall not see so very many again. So, so is anyway. Even in his eighties such a man would be planning jobs for the monastery exactly as though he had


20 years before him. But it would obviously be wrong for the monastery to think this, I think. I imagine Cistercians if they have any sense of their tradition are less likely than other types of monks to be able to forget the words of St. Benedict that then are they truly monks when they live by the labour of their hands. And while these words are certainly meant to be of general application it's also right to note that they are used by St. Benedict in a connection which Benedict thinks of as exceptional. The harvest work, remember. And the final mark of this chapter of 48 of the Holy Rule is insistent that no one should be overborne by excessive toil or driven away by it. I noticed I think it was in about two numbers ago of the Cistercian Collectane in French that Dom Lafon from Pierre Cuvier in writing about buildings did actually mention what are we going to do about the tremendous pressure that everybody tends to feel under in almost every place nowadays


with regard to their work. Evidently each community has to decide what's excessive especially in relation to its personnel and its commitments of a kind which could and sometimes probably should be changed. This is what everyone trying to live the Christian life anywhere has to do. And equally evidently I should have thought the decision ought to be made in relation to a view of the life as a whole. The prayer of an exhausted man is doubtless of golden value in the sight of God but only on condition that his fatigue is not the result of an habitual perversity of judgment about some situation about which he could and should act differently. We should not forget that the primary purpose of all asceticism is to liberate the soul for the purposes of God which is why St. Benedict wisely discerns that it should be adjusted to the needs and possibilities of each one and why extra ascetic practices should only be undertaken


during Lent with the consent and approval of the abbot. And doubtless one of the most difficult sides of personal asceticism normally typical of the second half of life is the gradual realization that we have to be humble enough to recognize that we are no longer able to do the same things or with the same intensity that we once so gladly did. If in our beginnings we learned habits of living with God through the days whatever their use and whatever their uses and whatever their changes and so on and so acquired a certain quality of fidelity and a strengthening of our faith and hope slowly we find our initial ideals and possibilities taken from us and not apparently simply by physical causes. God himself seems to have a mysterious hand in it since no efforts of ours could explain the changes that occur in us. I'm not of course here speaking of those kinds of difficulties which arise from


straightforward habitual infidelities and sins. These developments suppose that whatever our weaknesses and failings we've evidently tried to continue a life all of whose aspects are normally referred to God in prayer. I should be reluctant to refer to those schemes of spiritual development which are sometimes given in books with all their attendant dangers that we should want to identify exactly where we are and spend a lot of time looking at ourselves when it would be better to look away at God and live with him as best we can. Books about prayer can often be among the obstacles to prayer of which we'll say something in a moment or two. But I think if we look at a great writer like St. John of the Cross taking his manner of living together with what we authentically know of his life I'm sure that's fairly important. It's extraordinary how you do get a quite different picture of the way he's talking if you really know how he lived. Taking this


and also his few surviving letters of direction I think in those we find ourselves referred to those principles which we can clearly relate to the doctrine of the New Testament and to the experience of Christians in all centuries from the years of their conversion to an honest attempt to live the life of faith. At the risk of oversimplifying I suppose we might say that in our beginnings we're learning detachment both through what we actively do about it and what we suffer through deprivations of one kind or another provided we accept them in faith and hope and the beginnings of love. Then, as St. John of the Cross knew by experience this detachment has to go deeper freeing us from the limitations of our own spiritual conceptions whether about God or ourselves. Even the simplest documents of our faith the Creed the Our Father and the Hail Mary remind us that God is a mystery both in himself and in his way of working.


But as long as this awareness is something that's only in our heads and in our imagination we do not in any serious way know this mystery which one day as our Catechism tells us we're destined to live with for all eternity. It's normal that by his mercy God does begin to prepare us for this meeting even in this world if we want it. To do so requires of course love and wisdom to live through whatever this may entail that only God can give us. This too that we can do nothing about it all without God is something that God also teaches if we wish to learn it as well as the fringe of the joyful and glorious mystery of himself. Are there normally any obstacles to these developments genuinely coming to fullness in us? Yes, I think there are and there are most of them in ourselves


and not all the more serious ones are at least directly sins. Some of them are illusions bolstered up by our pride. And Bernard somewhere says it's better to have fallen and be humble than chaste and proud. And evidently he's not the only one to observe whether in himself or others the dangers of not realising that the things from which we once had been preserved is a pure gift of God. Nor, we can be sure, can he say there's an invitation to go out and commit some impressive sin in the hope that one might be more humble. All of us have limitations of both imagination and experience and God will cure us for those of which we need to be cured whether for our own sake or others provided we refrain from identifying ourselves in a childish or egotistic way with those very limitations. These and the things of which we feel deprived or about which we seem to be wounded need constant exposure to the sun of the divine mercy


until they are healed. Self-pity in any form evidently locks out the pity of God which is what we really need. Similarly, we need to throw as promptly as possible into the furnace of divine charity any of our particular hates which are likely to remain much more terrible obstacles to God's work in ourselves than any of those passing attachments of one kind or another which are really at the mercy of our emotions. Should we one day let ourselves really hate someone and it does happen I'm afraid sometimes we are likely to find ample proof of how right we are for years and years and years and that will bar our path to the threshold of true prayer which necessarily can only thrive in a climate of charity since this is the atmosphere in which God himself lives. As you all know very well by experience by dear fathers and brothers there's only one cure for this difficult problem


and that is to pray for the person who causes this trouble whether they be absent or present. For to begin with not only will God who has no problems like ours about this certainly do what is for the good of the person in question but we ourselves will also slowly find that we can neither feel quite the same nor behave in quite the same way in relation to someone whom we genuinely pray since prayer always changes us too when it's really true. Indeed remarking on these things is the occasion to remind ourselves that our spiritual purgation and growth consists stated in the broadest terms in the gradual transformation of two basic drives of desire and anger. Inevitably some of this process is painful and these are sometimes the waters in which the devil will fish the one who is the great enemy of prayer. Of course


Teresa of Avila is very good on this particular subject how the devil will go round the world twice to stop somebody saying their prayers if he can. For our protection we should remember the consistent teaching of the spiritual master from the earliest times of St. Thomas that the devil can only work upon our soul indirectly through the imagination. So that our distractions when we come to our prayer will often teach us something important to know. We should not be far wrong in guessing who is the author of those splendid rages into which we can fly when nothing else is disturbing us. Or those convictions of things that ought to be said and done as soon as possible. Or of course those depressions that build up to enormous proportions from relatively little beginnings. Even if we ourselves are perhaps sometimes colluding with these. It's quite extraordinary how they happen in moments of silence. On anger


sadness and discouragement we should certainly with the help of God keep our eye. They're very destructive if they're not transformed. Especially the basic power of anger which of course is when it's transformed patience, long suffering. It's a strong thing. Anger is the thing which defends the forces of life when it's rightly used. A little letter from St. James scores two direct hits on this matter. Is anybody sad? Let him pray. And a little earlier in the same letter submit yourself to God resist the devil and he'll flee from you. On all this business of obstacles to our growth and transformation through struggle and through suffering going up and going down I should like to quote some phrases from a letter of direction written by St. John of the Cross in October 1589. For it exactly


situates the life of prayer in the centre of our Christian life in this world. Those to whom it may already be familiar will not mind hearing it again and I think for it's so fundamental and unanswerably sound. The person to whom he's writing is discouraged because he's gone too far away to be accessible. And of course we shouldn't underestimate the value we have of those people to whom we can refer ourselves either directly or in spirit to help us through these difficulties. At the same time I suppose something like this behind us at least in our memory is very important. St. John says While you are in darkness and emptiness with spiritual poverty you think that everything and everyone is failing you. This is not surprising for then it also seems that God is failing you too. There's nothing wanting to you nor have you any need to consult me about anything. For all is merely


suspicion without a cause. He who does not want any other thing than God does not walk in darkness. Over dark and poor he finds himself. You are in a good way. Be quiet and rejoice. Who are you to be anxious over yourself? You would do well to stop. What do you want? What life or manner of procedure do you imagine for yourself in this world? What do you think serving God to be if not the not doing evil keeping his commandments and going about his business as best we can? If you're doing this what need is there of other apprehensions or other lights or sweetness whether from here or there in which ordinarily there are never lacking stumbling blocks and dangers for the soul which with its understanding and appetite is deceived and fascinated and its own faculties cause it to err. Thus is the great


mercy of God when he darkens the faculties and impoverishes the soul so that she cannot err through them. And how can she not err? Say, by going on the straight path of the law of God and of the church and living only in obscure and true faith certain hope and integral charity and waiting for our good things in the life to come living here on earth as pilgrims poor exiles orphans desolate without a road without anything hoping for it all there in heaven be glad and trust in God. What an extraordinary valuable passage that really is it's absolutely wonderful and note the underlying note of joy that comes to the surface a second time in the end because the surest signs of truth are unassailable peace and joy I suppose sometimes when one's trying to help


oneself or somebody else one has to ask the questions and John asked in the middle of that passage what do you really want? And of course if you find there's no direct answer to it then you don't have to worry you just have to go ahead certainly straight away if there's something to be done and to be clear if there isn't don't let it trouble you and I think you'll see that this kind of peace this kind of joy this kind of simple faith is the sort of thing that you find in the New Testament the foundation of which I've been trying to talk about this morning in the doctrine of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ I should like to leave us back there before we finish and continue with this a bit later this evening for then we see better I think we are living as John says only in obscure and true faith it is as you're well aware the conviction of Saint Bernard and the galaxy


of secession writers of the early generations that the true basis for our spiritual life in this world is God's initiative as expressed in the Johannine doctrine of the New Testament that God loved us first that's something to rest on perhaps we shouldn't neglect the complement to this which is expressed in the theology of the letter of the Hebrews which we've been hearing quite a bit of in choir in the last day or two which begins as everyone knows with the statement that God's full and final word about himself is shown to us in the person of his Son who is the reflection of the Father's glory and bears impressed upon him the very character of the Father the divine generosity embodied in the very person of the Son is the letter says as it develops particularly displayed in the genuineness of the incarnation of the Son he is able to be


our priest and our mediator because he's not an angel come down to earth but truly the one who comes down into our flesh and takes it back to the throne of his Father it's here that the thought of the Johannine doctrine and the thought of Paul and the self-emptying doctrine of the letter of the Philippians draw together with that of the letter of the Hebrews that letter expresses this coincidence of thought in a key passage in its tenth chapter where it says when Christ came into the world he said sacrifices and offerings you have not desired but a body you have prepared for me notice that this quotation from the Messianic Psalm Psalm 39 follows the Greek of the Septuagint which speaks of the whole body rather than of the ear which is what the Hebrew seems to originally mean let's say


in other words the phrase would mean perhaps in Hebrew that you have given me an ear so that I can hear what you're saying to me and the Septuagint has translated this as the Vulgate has as being the whole body because it's not just enough to hear but the body is the instrument in which one which one expresses what is what one has heard in action the truth of the son's body makes him the most active instrument for living sacrifice and by it he enters into our situation as far as he can without sin for as letters already said earlier he learned obedience by the things he suffered and humanly speaking he could grow in wisdom and age as we do as Luke tells us that he did now because he was sinless Jesus our Lord was not morally or psychologically wounded as we are and some of what


we suffer in growing spiritually is due to this disorientation within us yet it remains true that our Christian calling is essentially the same as that of the son of God which is expressed in the second part of the quotation in chapter 10 of the letter to the Hebrews in burnt offerings and sin offerings you take no pleasure then I said behold I've come to do your will O God as is written in the role of the book it's for this reason that our way is the son's way as he himself says in the gospel of John and St. Augustine loves to say over and over again in his commentary on the German line writings would you like to walk I am the way would you like not to be deceived I am the truth would you like not to die I am the life all this our Saviour says to there's nowhere to go but to me


nowhere to go there but through me and this of course I suppose make a good theme to reflect on during a Friday but on the whole development of this and our monastic Christian vocation in its essence I think we must look a little bit later on today we'll try to draw that together a bit tighter Lord Jesus Christ in your infant mercy you came to do the Father's will that it might be praised to him and salvation for us draw us into your life that you may be truly our way and our life you who live with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit God forever and ever Amen