1987, Serial No. 00919

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#item-set-174, Ecclesiastes


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and let it 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. Amen. I've never tried to estimate how far some familiar sayings from chapter 4 of the Book of Ecclesiastes are quoted by monastic writers of earlier times. And it's not really necessary to know, but it certainly must be very frequent. We'll all recognize them at once, and I shall like to quote them here in a very careful translation from the Hebrew by a modern Jewish scholar, who's done a very splendid edition of Ecclesiastes,


with the Hebrew on one side, and his translation and commentary on the other. It's very good, by Dr. Gordy, an American Jew. Men say, two are better than one, because they have reward in their labor. True, for if either falls, the other can lift his comrade. But woe to him who is alone, with no one else to lift him. Moreover, if some enemy attack either one, the two will stand against him. I shall not try to discuss these phrases in the context of the thought of the author of this memorable little book, which narrowly escaped exclusion from the Bible on account of a puzzle that some of the things it says cause. I shall like simply to remind you of the extreme importance of the common life in the entire monastic tradition of the West. The Carthusians are really the only significant exception, and even they instituted common life for their brothers.


The fact which at least one living Carthusian, with whom I've been able to speak, leaves is not unconnected with the markedly lower number of petitions for dispensation from vows among the brothers as compared with the fathers. I shall endeavour not to say too much about matters which are merely questions of conjecture on this interesting, important subject. About your own early Cistercian fathers, you will certainly need me to tell you how much the atmosphere of the first houses was made by their impressive numbers from various walks of life. And they still are, of course. It's doubtless not the invention of William of Santeri, but it was the arrival of the young Bernard with, was it, 29 new recruits that saved the struggling reform in the marshes of Cito. And in his sketch of what the foundation of Clairvaux was like, you'll remember how he says, I'm quoting here chapter 14 of the Vita Prima,


Although they all lived together, it may truthfully be said that they were all solitaries, for although the valley was full of men, the harmony and charity that drained there was such that each man seemed to be there all by himself. It is of the holy secret of that sentence that I should like to try to say something this evening. I call it a holy secret, for some of what I shall find it necessary to say is very difficult to establish from books, I think. And I believe that many monks in modern times have often misread the facts in a desire to give them a clarity which they probably do not possess. It's enough to say that a feature of all the movements of monastic reform, starting with Cluny in the 10th century, and with monasteries that came under its influence, was a re-pondering of the rule of St. Benedict, certainly taking very seriously chapter 6 on silence, intending at least to talk about solitude as an ideal,


though seldom in fact arriving at anything like a Carthusian formula for this. Not even in the case of St. Romuald, incidentally, and the Commodolese, not even with him. Not only did Romuald's first disciples frequently share their selves, and take the foundation of the common life for granted, but they always remained lovers of the common life, and of each other's fellowship, as all the earliest documents clearly show. The most important one we have is one which one of our, better than New Commodolese, Commodolese itself is doing an English edition of, which he wants me to work with him on, The Lives of the Five Brothers, which is actually much more important than Peter Damian's life of Romuald, because Peter Damian of course never knew Romuald, and it's the early, the early Lives of the Five Brothers that brings out very, very clearly a strong sense of the common life, this continuous movement between solitude and the common life. We have no less a person than Bernard himself telling us


that we prepare ourselves for the truth of God by going through the truth about ourselves and the truth of our neighbor. Now this is something which is very obviously Christian and psychologically sound, but as a historian likes the Morris Poet, one said to me years ago, we were sitting next to each other after lunch one day, and we'd been talking about medieval studies, which of course one would with Morris Poet anyway, and he said to me, how did they do all this? There are lots of indications that they did talk to each other quite a lot, but when did they do it? It doesn't seem to be very clear. Forgive me, my dear brothers and fathers, as someone with a very lifelong love of the rules of Benedict, I'm rather fanatic about it really, which outside the Gospel is surely the most precious book in the world for a monk, it's a constant source of inspiration, one has it in one's head and one's going back to it again and again, weighing it up. It seems to me that I believe that the Holy Secret about all this


lies not in any sets of rules and customs that anyone could draw up, but in the rule of St. Benedict lived in great simplicity and truth. Not so many months back, when I was asked to talk about the Holy Rule with a view to reviving our own common, the essence of it at Newcomer Adelaide, I thought it was perhaps important to try to draw a sketch of how the rule might look if you don't take chapter 2 on the abbot too early into consideration. And of course, when you come to that chapter, you take it very closely with chapter 64 on the choice of an abbot, where after all it looks as though Benedict is talking, consciously modifying his portrait of an abbot in the light of a growing conviction about the importance of the common life, which comes to a brief and very personal expression in chapter 72, the one chapter in the rule which has no evidence source outside Benedict himself. So it's very clearly Benedict's voice that is speaking there.


Naturally, I do not intend to trouble you here with the sort of thing that was possible to say in a greater length than a series of talks. But I'd just like to suggest a few of the things which can legitimately be given a prominent place in an honest reading of the rule on this subject. You'll remember how the opening of the first chapter says that there are four kinds of monks. First, there are the Cenobites, that is to say, those who belong to a monastery where they serve under a rule and abbot, or if you like, something a bit more literal, where they're struggling under a rule and an abbot. Note the Latin word there is militare, which means both fight and serve. Fight in the same sense as putting on the whole armour of God, as in the letter to the Ephesians, and serving, even as humbly as our Lord does, or more dethirsty. Doubtless we shall need to retain both senses


for the idea of the Cenobite. Both fighting and serving. The two senses being sometimes, of course, interlocked spiritually and physically. Those of you who know about the relation of the rule of the Master to the rules of Benedict, will know that very little in this chapter one is really Benedict's own composition, except, of course, his rather wonderful decision to do what the Master said he was going to do and couldn't resist, and namely, stop talking about the ones he didn't approve of at any length. He goes on for five pages, and then Benedict just really stops. So Benedict has retained from his source and the tradition behind him the possibility that some monks might feel called to become hermits. But I think we should note that in retaining this, he retains also an important observation on the life of the community.


Even for Camarilles, it would be entirely wrong to suggest that the text of the rule gives the impression that the community exists only to produce hermits. For as we should note, it's explicitly said that any who do so in fact take that step because they've learned everything they know by the help and guidance of many, the many who form the ranks of their brothers. And what they've learned is how to fight the battles against the devil. It's only so that future hermits, if there any there be, have been made ready to go out to fight against the vices of the flesh and their thoughts without the help of somebody else. I think R.B. in 1980 is perhaps right to translate the word consulatio here as support. For that would seem to be how Benedict envisages the members of the community in relation to each other, all through the rule.


They're really mutually supportive in their struggles. So even if we pass over Chapter 2 as it were on the wing, we shall certainly note how this chapter also insists that whether slaves or freemen, we're all one in Christ and share alike in bearing arms in the service of the Lord. For there's no respect of persons with God. Only in this are we distinguished in his sight, if we are found better than others in good works and humility. One living American Benedictine commentator on the rule regrets that Benedict doesn't include here Luke's phrase about the first Christian community being one in heart and soul, as Augustine does at the very beginning of his so-called rule. It's obvious that Benedict knew the text of Augustine


because he takes a leaf or two out of that particular book on these matters. But it's difficult for me to be quite... I think I would say it's difficult for me to agree with the other Benedictine and feel very grateful that Benedict didn't put in this phrase for this text is often in my experience, this text about being one in mind and heart, being used to urge a kind of community conformism that's very unlike the spirit of St. Benedict, who insists again and again, both with the abbot and with others in the community, that the members of the community are not the same either physically or psychologically or spiritually. This makes for a much more adult, honest and in fact ascetically exacting view of people in the common life. Among whom what people receive is to be determined by their knee, as chapter 34


says, quoting the Acts of the Apostles. And similar instructions are given to the abbot in regard to his personal dealing with his monks, including the excommunicated. Incidentally, we should note that for Benedict, the really intolerable thing in the common life is not the fact that people are different and take different sizes in shoes and so on, which is the best place to be prided for. But that some people give way to grumbling on precepts of this kind, which, as I've mentioned earlier, he thinks should be severely punished. He mentions this and perhaps I can safely say this, I hope I can. I've covered one monastery where they said they only bought size 8s and size 10s in shoes. This is really contrary to the rule and contrary to its spirit. So, here, at the end of Acts,


Benedict is really one with the mind of Augustine when he says on this whole subject, we ought to be grateful for what one doesn't need. And he says at the end of the little chapter on needs, as he does at the end of the great chapter on the Sederer, that the idea is that no one should be troubled or vexed in the house of God, at least by us. Notice, too, how evidently with the same end in view, Benedict has, like the first letter of Peter, changed the command to honour parents into a command to honour everyone among the instruments of good works. For this is one of the things we all need as disciples of Christ and children of one Father. As far as that service which the monastic warfare involves us in, we should certainly not forget that the kitchen service is expected to fall on everyone, in the rule. And indeed, it's not only the habit that we should try to obey, but also


as chapter 71 provides, we should be obedient to each other, knowing that by this way of obedience we shall go to God. This kind of rubbing of shoulders in the common life will doubtless give us pleasantification to use those instruments of good works which tell us to respect the seniors and love the young, and to make peace with anyone with whom one is disagreed before the sun goes down. Something my patron Edward was able to say on his deathbed he'd always tried to do. If then we turn to chapter 6 on silence, I think R.B. 1980 in its translation is here to show what I believe to be a direct hit. By translating the single word tachyternitas it's restraint of speech. It's very good, I think. I suppose we come to a matter where the discretion with which St. Gregory


credited St. Benedict is much needed in this matter. It's extraordinary how one's attitude about these matters may sometimes be formed by small things that affect one's whole life. In my case, I've never been able to forget how I had a schoolmaster whom I was extremely fond when I was twelve, who used to say, and I think of it every day, I always ask myself at the end of every day whether I've made anyone's case worse by anything I've said. This covers obviously not only gossip but matters of taste and discretion and sometimes the keeping of confidences. And it's almost as useful a saying to bear in mind as the one about peace before the sun goes down, I think. Having not only lived in communities for a long time, but having had to come and go in a good many others


than my own, I years ago resolved always when preaching a retreat to mention the danger of creating a caricature of anyone in the house, whether by word or action. For the spiritual danger of this is not so much in any uncharitableness that this may involve as in the fact that we can sometimes create a situation and even be aided and abetted by the victim, in which we make it almost impossible for that person to change. And that is of course the most unbrotherly thing of all to do. For it's precisely to change that we're all here. Indeed, it is precisely that that those of us who've taken our vows have vowed to do. We've actually promised God to continue our conversion until our dying day. And that must mean change. And this is why we must also pause on the brink of the love in chapter 72 on the good zeal that monks ought to have. Not the bitter


zeal of the Pharisee, but the good zeal of the Samaritan who becomes the neighbor to the man who's been wounded on the road. Notice that, of course, people often don't notice it. They think of the man who's been wounded as the neighbor, but on the contrary. What our Lord asked, which one showed he was neighbor? And the answer is the one who showed mercy. Presumably because the one who shows mercy is he who also needs it. In a monastery, everyone is wounded, and if they don't know it they're greatly deceived. Naturally, if we really pray, God will not leave us in illusion forever, nor will they believe with our brothers. And what we learn in our life with them, if we'd be honest and open, will certainly, gradually begin to change, a bit anyway. Sometimes their very kindness when we are at our most impossible will open our eyes. We'll suddenly see ourselves as we actually are, for a time.


And as I've said earlier, of course, what is extraordinary, I think, to those of us who've been used to living in any degree of silence, even relative silence, with others, we discover in the way that people in the modern world often have lost completely the sense of how much one does know about the people one is with, even if they don't talk at all. But in a brief flight through the communitarian aspects of the Holy Rule, the question may still remain open in some minds, how far does it envisage the direct mutual help of each other, apart from what is necessarily implied in the case of those who are appointed to function as the officials and delegates, delegated representatives of the community from the abbot downwards. Evidently, I'm not going to try to argue this at any length, but simply point out that it does seem to be correct exegesis of the rule to say that it is concerned with the restraint of speech, as opposed to its almost total absence.


And I take it that what the first assertions were concerned with, like other monks in observant monasteries, was that as chapter 48 says, brethren should not associate with one another in appropriate times, evidently implying that there are appropriate times to do it. Just as the idea of making rather fewer jokes during Lent in chapter 50 presumably implies that these are more acceptable than other times, as a way of relieving tension when there's nothing necessarily unwholesome about them. There is, of course, even the strange thing I wonder whether this is ever done anywhere, in the chapter about getting up for vigilance, encouraging those who find it difficult to get up. It's there in the rule anyway. Certainly the idea that we should prefer nothing to Christ in the chapter on obedience and chapter 72, and see Christ in the sick, the guest, the abbot, is not the only aspect of this common


life in the school of the Lord's service which the Holy Rule establishes. On this matter, St. Bernard is very firm in a passage from the sermons on different subjects, number 33, and don't come to me, says Bernard, and say I desire to live here for him, but not for you. For he, Christ our Lord, not only lived for everyone, but died for everyone. How can you live for him without caring for those who to such lengths were loved by him? How can you live for him without fulfilling his law and keeping his commandment? What law, you ask? What commandment? This is my commandment, he says, that you love one another as I have loved you. And the apostle in his turn exhorts us, bear one another's burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. And don't go away and think that the good done for your neighbor depends upon you in such a way that you can dispense yourself from it, if you


like. No. You are his debtor by the promise to which the goat binds you. You are held to it by the special engagement of your profession. It certainly looks, if you look at this passage, please do look at it, those of you who can, sometime. It certainly looks as though Bernard is thinking both of the baptismal profession, because it's clearly central to Christian faith, and also the monastic profession in this setting. So it's very strong, you see, very strong, very clear. Bernard here goes on to say, it is he, the head and the body, together, Christ, who will receive the blessing of the Lord, the mercy of our Savior. Yes, it is he who will receive the prize. The head and the body together that make up one Christ. But it is a generation, for everyone has his part in the power of that maturity which is realized in the fullness of Christ. So there, if you like, we have the common life seen theologically


within the common life of the church as such. And that surely is the way we ought to see it. The rule of Benedict and Bernard together are very clear and very strong in this point. But as you'll appreciate, I've got us into rather deep waters. And perhaps for today, we'll just have to let them go over our head with a quiet mind. Last year, I was asked, at very short notice, to give another monastic treaty to California, and I went to say what I've long believed, that it is in the fourth degree of humility of chapter seven of the Holy Rule that the really vital life of the community is born. You will at least remember its wonderful words and its telling quotations from Holy Scripture. It is the step in which meeting in obedience with difficulties and contradictions and even injustice, the monk should, with a quiet


mind, hold fast to patience and enduring neither tire nor run away. He is the one who learns from the psalmist to let his heart take courage and wait for the Lord. A phrase, I'm afraid, lamentably weakened in R.B. 1980. I eventually discovered that I was not quite alone in suspecting the powerful influence on the common life that growth in the spirit of Benedict's great chapter seven has. Indeed no one protested against the special significance I attached to the fourth step in establishing in the heart the kind of experience which opens us to the truth of the neighbor, both in his suffering and in his just claims on us, even when they take somewhat unjust forms. For the first two steps appear to be concerned with remembering who God is and who we are, and the third with our renunciation of our power over ourselves.


It's not really until the fourth that we are faced with accepting the consequences of this renunciation in full humanness. It's surely this that begins to open our heart to our neighbor and to God. It's here too that the heart grows either sweet in the establishment of the life of love or bitter in rebellion. Some of you will remember that the external countersign of humility in Bernard is the man who is noisy and boasty. I do not know how to describe how one recognizes the man whose hearts are softened by the experience of which the fourth degree of humility speaks. But I think some of us discover that particularly in our early days, but really all through our life, we need to find examples of hope around us in the monastery. No one can set out to be such an example, but when one sees one, they're unmistakable. I found one forty years ago.


We very seldom spoken very much, and we only exchanged one short letter once a year. It was a simple brother whom I saw waiting upon the Lord in a quite unostentatious way. By the mercy of God, he still is, and still does wait, I believe, though we are now very far apart. Now one knows that the ranks of those who keep in touch in this mysterious way goes around the world. It's part of what we mean by the communion of saints, of course. But let's try to return a little bit to that in the morning. And then in the meanwhile, we give you thanks, Heavenly Father, for all those whether living or departed, who have sustained us in faith and hope by their prayer and example. Reward them with your presence and grant us with them the glory of your eternal vision. Through Christ our Lord. Even those of you who've never been


asked to talk about the deeper things affecting our lives in the monastery will be aware from your own thoughts and reflections how difficult it can be to talk about the very simplest things which sooner or later almost hit one on the nose. I should be surprised if some of you who are making a first adventure into reading either the Fathers of the Church or earlier monastic writers will not soon have noticed how often they tell us quite wonderful things, but don't always tell us directly the kind of things we should very much like to know. I do not think this is just because we often ask quite different questions from those it would have occurred to them to ask. I believe it's also in some ways because they do not find it necessary to make explicit certain things which were clearly either before their eyes or part of


their habitual awareness but which are no longer part of ours. Certainly my own earlier reading in writers of this kind slowly but surely made me aware how seriously we in modern times have lost touch with a view of what it is to be human, which was, we might almost say, a common property of the undivided Church in which I include the early Cistercian writers because the schism between East and West took a very long time to establish itself psychologically and theologically. But not really until the time of the Reformation, or a little bit before it, to speak in very rough terms, that both in Catholicism and later in Protestantism, a very negative attitude towards the body and the passions had established itself as typically Christian.


The causes of this in the West are often attributed, in my view, sometimes with considerable injustice, in St. Augustine, the first great introspective Christian writer. The causes are, I think, a good deal subtler than that, and this is not exactly the place or time to discuss them. But we have to be aware of the effects if we are to recover a living sense of our true Christian inheritance. It was when I was first asked to teach ascetic theology to young theologians, many years before the recent Council, that I realized it was part of my duty to register this situation in some way. I can still remember the feeling of surprise among senior members of the staff when I first gave a talk on the Christian attitude to the body. And one of them was saying to me, I thought we had to forget about all that. No, this is something that


St. Bernard and his generation of monks never did. Which is not, of course, to say that they found it necessary to talk about it very much. Though there's nothing St. Bernard so often repeats as his belief, which is also the belief of the creeds, of course, that the saints will not be complete without their bodies. Bernard also makes it clear that this is not because the vision of God is not satisfying to the saints, but because they know that what God intends for them is their salvation as a whole. It is what we believe it's already the special privilege of Our Lady to enjoy. And it's something which it is quite right for us all to look forward to, even now. May God forgive us if we do not want what He wants for us, however difficult or problematic we may sometimes find our embodied condition to be. Do not imagine in the beginning like that


I've forgotten what I promised we should pick up again from some of our rather incomplete thoughts of yesterday. I should like to return unto our development of a sense of the truth about ourselves where it begins to link us with the understanding and love of our neighbour with the help of the attractive little second sermon of St. Bernard for the dedication of the monastic church. But I should be reluctant to take from it some of the ideas and thoughts that may be helpful to us without noticing how it begins. For it is a strong affirmation by Bernard of the positive aspect of our vocation starting with the body. All six sermons which have come to us for this occasion have what Bernard calls a domestic note about them. In this second one he starts by recalling how King David in a story everyone remembers


from the second book of Samuel begins to think whether he should not do something about building a temple for the God who has been with him and made him king since he himself now dwells in such a fine house. Turning aside from any direct comment on this story, Bernard reminds himself and his monks that they too dwell in fine houses. You, O soul, dwell in a tall house made for you by God. I am speaking of this body of ours which is so structured, fitted, and ordered that you live in it splendidly and delightfully. Forgive me, if I read anything like that I always have a terrible distraction. Perhaps it's only little men who have it but I know on days when I'm feeling rather low and tired tall men appear to be several feet taller. I don't know whether the opposite thing happens to tall men. I've never dared to ask


one, but it may. We're back to Bernard. God has also made a lofty, more appropriate and lovely house for the body. Do you not think it unfitting that he should make you a house while you delay to build him a temple? This of course is another distraction which, as far as I can see from looking at your library is one you don't need to be told about. But I take it that it is right that we should, as monks should feel especially responsible for the conservation of the world that God has given us to live in. This is of course what Bernard is talking about. In our own days, a sense of psychology is waking even among people who are not Christians and don't feel quite the same sense of responsibility perhaps for the world as we ought to feel.


It's always worrying if one sees religious houses where these things are not cared for and nature is simply exploited without putting back into it what it needs. But such a thought should of course lead us back to a proper sense of the dignity of our own calling. For, says Bernard, referring to the church building, this visible temple was made for us and our dwelling. Yet the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands. What temple shall we build for Him who says and truly says I fill heaven and earth? I should be very distressed and worried if I did not hear Him say of someone that I and the Father will come to Him and make our dwelling with Him.


And thus I know where a house is to be prepared for Him for nothing can embrace Him except His image. The soul is capable of this because it is certainly created to His image. Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion your God shall dwell in you. Say with Mary, behold the handmaid of the Lord be it done to me according to your word. Say after the words of the blessed Elizabeth whence is this to me that the majesty of my Lord should come to me. How great is the glory of souls the Lord of everything who needs nothing should command a temple to be made for Him with them. And so brothers with total longing and worthy thanksgiving let us devote ourselves to building


a temple for Him in ourselves with the first concern that He should live in such of us and each of us and there in all of us also at once. It's a very splendid and tight little statement I think of fundamental spiritual doctrine in a very few sentences. I've omitted very little of it. This as I've said is chiefly looking at the ideal starting with a proper appreciation of the dignity of being human and of God's intentions for us. Bernard does not fail to mention even here what I suppose we nowadays might call the shadow side of it all. The internal warfare and dangerous discord that may sometimes be found in us before our reason


our will and our memory have been rectified. All of which I venture to say comes out most clearly in our relation with our neighbour. This is why as Bernard says speaking properly and primarily of the internal accusations of our conscience our Lord says in the gospel make friends with your accuser quickly while you are on the way in case your accuser should hand you over to the judge and the judge deliver you to the torturer. We must look a little closer to all this from another passage of Bernard I think but first perhaps in rather more modern terms we might also say that one of the reasons why we so much need each other in the monastery is not only as we were thinking yesterday evening because of our need to find there examples of hope which will help us


to persevere in temptation and difficulty but also to find there the occasion for our maturing in ways which we can only normally do in contact with others and a contact of a kind which we cannot too easily escape. Modern psychological findings have certainly strongly confirmed the ancient monastic conviction that solitude can be perilous for those who have not found their spiritual equilibrium in the commerce of the common life. I suppose if we permitted ourselves to use the convenient language of modern psychology we might say the most natural way for us to grow in a sense of the truth about ourselves and others is in the singularly humbling process of discovering that other people are both better and worse than they can often appear to be


and so are we. And the appearances in this educative process are largely the creation of our inner need either to see our ideal in others and try to force them to conform to it, what the psychology is called projection even when it's not appropriate or to think that others are the chief cause of difficulties when it's really certainly ourselves who are mainly responsible. The loves and hates that arise in the common life need and deserve our careful attention for they have much to teach us even when by the mercy of God we free ourselves from their tyranny. I think as I say I should like to look a little closer at this with the help of another text of Bernard but before we leave the one which we've been thinking I should like to note something very shrewd that Bernard says in the final


paragraph of that second sermon for the dedication of churches. Having spoken of our need to see things clearly not to have our reason deceived to be cured of any perversity in our will and the impurities in our memory Bernard continues when each one becomes like this within himself we also need to be connected with each other and glued together with that mutual love which is the bond of perfection for he goes on it's not possible to have perfect knowledge in this life and perhaps it ought not to be for in our heavenly home knowledge is the food of love but here it would be possible for it to harm love for as the book of Proverbs says


who can boast that he has a clean heart this is why it is easy to be deceived about the knowledge or for the one who knows to be troubled there knowledge will be joyful where there is no longer any stain for there the house is more solidly established as it will remain forever here like a warrior's tent it holds together less perfectly that is certainly the house of joy this the house of battle that the house of praise this the house of prayer meanwhile it seems better for us to be under pressure than wiped out and bear the weight of the shield and breastplate than be wounded by the fiery darts of the evil one there's lots of play on latin words here which you can't quite reproduce in english


but anyway to see the sort of thing Bernard is saying and I imagine that those of us who have to do a certain amount of counselling will know also how sometimes some of what we have to know and deal with can be really rather a burden a spiritual burden God does help us about this as we go along with it especially of course if we haven't put ourselves in the way of doing it but just simply respond when it comes then it goes somehow but it is a difficulty as Bernard quite rightly says the extremely mortifying side of all these developments is I think more vividly described in the sixth of Bernard's sermons for the ascension of our Lord which begins with a contrast between the place where our Lord has gone ahead of us and the place where we now are where there is a great deal of wickedness and rather little wisdom


if indeed a little is to be found where souls are in peril where the spirit is afflicted under the sun where there is so much vanity and affliction of spirit let us then my brothers lift our hearts and hands to heaven and he quotes Paul in his letter to the Colossians if you've been raised with Christ seek the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father set your minds on things that are above not on things that are on the earth the ascension if you notice is for the apostle the occasion of bringing two things to our attention in what he wants us to seek and to savour it is not what is low but what is above perhaps the prophet too did not altogether pass over this distinction when he said seek after peace and pursue it


that this should be to seek peace to pursue what is sought to seek what should be savoured to savour what is sought things that are above not things on the earth evidently as long as our hearts are divided and for the time being seem to be to have so many complications in them and do not at all seem to cleave to one another it is central to lift them up piecemeal and as it were one after another that they may be gathered in the heavenly Jerusalem there not only individuals but all alike the brethren begin to live in unity no longer divided in themselves or between each other I remember an old Russian teacher of mine


an extraordinary man I knew when I was in my twenties talking about this to me in terms which I am sure he didn't know were like Berners but they are very like what Berners is saying the curious folds and pleats as it were in the heart before it begins to be opened out to the vision of God and how complex all this is and obviously this is really a kind of imaginative picture of the maturing stage of monastic life where those who profess themselves to the life have after grace and the mercy of the Lord to depend upon each other for that fidelity to continual growth in love which necessarily creates the climate of the monastery how much we need to develop a strong sense of responsibility to others about the way we live even in matters which seem to be totally hidden it's quite extraordinary


that how important it is the kind of thoughts we have because thoughts always affect the whole atmosphere in which we live and whether we deal with them properly thoughts and certain habits of mind very vital for the life of all of us we are responsible to each other in what we meddle with sometimes of course it may be shown to us how very brave even the less obviously striking of our brethren are in this connection I cannot fail to relate an experience which has impressed itself upon my memory from my early years in religious life I can't really very clearly remember any longer whether we were novices or seemed to profess but for some reason a group of us were walking together


in a procession in silence and when we reached our destination I turned round and glanced up at the neighbour behind me who was as white as a sheet I immediately said you look so ill can I fetch you a glass of water my first thought was that he was simply going to fall flat on the ground in a dead faint but my second thought was a little more alarming I suddenly realised he was trembling and white with rage I've often wondered since whether I had quite unknowingly done something that annoyed him knowing how trying I can be especially in things I don't see and do the thing I've chiefly remembered from the incident which we fortunately both passed off without trouble is that some people


one has to bear it in mind some people can be literally possessed by passion in the moment when it hits them in a way that is almost physical and for some people to be patient as this man in fact was in the way he dealt with the situation is nothing short of a triumph of virtue and grace it's something we just need to bear in mind if we don't know about this by experience of ourselves some of us perhaps are not so violent inside as others are and we ought to be very careful about judging them when they evidently are because sometimes it is as I say a kind of body thing which they can't do anything about they can learn to be virtuous about it when they know what it is but it requires great virtue to do so as I say we have to cultivate


a sense of this I think for each other although we quite rightly ought to be able to expect quite a lot of each other provided that at least we ourselves do something to respond to their expectations of us I deliberately tell this story before mentioning the two lists of types of people which Bernard gives in this sermon for the ascension of which we've been thinking summing up the overall situation he says of course you can see in almost every religious group men full of consolation overflowing with joy always cheerful and happy fervent in spirit and so on on the other hand you can find men lacking in courage and lax fading under their burden whose diminished happiness is the sorrow of faint heartedness does not the life of these people seem to be on


the brink of hell yes indeed such people do exist almost everywhere and when their failures are at the very least half voluntary they need to be exhorted as Bernard exhorts everyone at this point to throw aside their tibidity but then quite rightly he goes a step deeper behind the mystery of outward appearances which after all can sometimes be very deceptive for where does this great diversity of souls, this difference of enthusiasm this unlikeness of ways of living grace come from what is the origin of so great a lack of spiritual grace in some people where in others it abounds the giver of grace is neither miserly nor poverty stricken where there is lack of empty vessels the flow of oil ceases this is of course a reference to the miracle


of the prophet Elisha of which we read in the second book of Kings where the prophet multiplies for the sake of a widow widow woman's need the only valuable thing she has in the house a big jar of excellent oil which goes on flowing as long as the woman is able to find containers into which to pour it it's an image which I notice that Bernard is rather fond of it comes more than once in his preaching he uses this story as an image of the spiritual value of emptiness he is of course referring to something that becomes a theme among the great spiritual writers who are concerned with the soul's development the development of a certain kind of emptiness of self in the soul Saint Gertrude I remember in one of her passages uses a similar image


of wanting to be like a goblet or a chalice on the table of the Lord which according to his wishes is there to be either full or empty this kind of desire necessarily comes only to those whom the experience of life teaches what an obstacle egotism is even in spiritual matters it comes necessarily only slowly by this partly by the experience of ourselves really just honestly noticing what happens to us in different circumstances and also learning about others and seeing perhaps by little glimpses what they in their turn have to struggle with and then very slowly it becomes easier to let go of all those things with which one identifies oneself and becomes freer to be empty of the service


of the Lord some of the reason as Bernard rightly says that God can't always fill us is that we aren't empty enough however this may come to us whether in the pursuit of ideals which are too much our own thing or in the continuous humiliation of weakness and failure it's a great blessing of God to be allowed to come to this sense of emptiness if only we can accept it and not try to fill it with alternative forms of egotism with new plans for spiritual conquest or horrendous excuses for not having any plans at all for then God can and will in his own good time fill us with his abundance and so bring the true self to birth in us which he intends from all eternity


when we cease to take pity on ourselves we should be ready for God to take pity on us at a deeper level and in fuller ways than we've ever known before but perhaps we must defer thinking any further about this until this evening it's enough to say for the moment we prepare our hearts for that lasting fidelity which will carry us through our lives by learning what the fourth step of humility points us all to the need to take courage and wait for the Lord Heavenly Father in your mercy we give you thanks for all that you've given to us all that you've made of us even the things you've permitted to be obstacles in our lives we may triumph over them by your grace and your mercy grant us the grace to look always towards you and take courage and wait for that


fullness which you will give us when we're ready for it through Christ our Lord