Holy Father Benedict

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Monks down through the ages have called Saint Benedict their father: Holy Father Benedict.  There is in this custom a sweetness and comfort that comes from affirming, beyond any doubt, that we are children of Benedict, the vir Dei, the man of God.  We are related to Saint Benedict as to a father who acknowledges us as sons and desires, more than anything else, that we should follow Christ “to glory” (RB Pro:7).  Saint Benedict’s fatherhood over us is a gift of the Holy Ghost, a gift not only for a limited space, a single lifetime, and a small number of disciples, but one that, in the Communion of the Saints, is for all places, all times, and all the men and women called, in one way or another, to follow the Holy Rule.  Such relationships are entirely possible in the Mystical Body of Christ.  The saints, all the saints, are close to us, attentive to our needs, full of compassion for our weaknesses, and ever ready to help us. Saint Benedict enjoins his monks to “love their Abbot with sincere and humble charity” (RB 72:9).  This very admonition invites us to love Saint Benedict himself sincerely and humbly.  Nothing is more profitable to a son of Saint Benedict than to cultivate a filial relationship with him.  When we call Saint Benedict our Holy Father, we are not giving mere lip service to a formula of conventional piety; we are expressing a mysterious and abiding reality.  Saint Benedict cares for each of us with the solicitude of a spiritual father.  Even in heaven, he “bears in mind what he is and what he is called” (RB 2:30-31).  From his place in glory, ”he adapts and fits himself to all, so that not only will he not lose any of the flock entrusted to him, but he will rejoice as his good flock increases” (RB 2:32).

When we look to our Father Saint Benedict, what do we see?  We see a man “learned in the divine law, a chaste man, temperate and merciful, one who always prefers mercy to judgment because he himself has obtained mercy, one who, while hating sin, loves us in our weaknesses” (cf. RB 64:9-11).  Saint Benedict will not do less for us from heaven than he did for his disciples while on earth.  The fatherhood of Saint Benedict is effectively extended to all who, having enrolled in his “school of the Lord’s service” (RB Pro:45) place themselves under his protection.

Those who do not seek the compassionate intercession of Holy Father Benedict deprive themselves of a particular comfort and help that, in God’s mysterious plan, is held in reserve for his spiritual offspring.  Even today, Saint Benedict “shows his concern for us, and makes speed to employ his skill and energy, lest he lose one of the sheep entrusted to him” (RB 27:5).  Saint Benedict has not forgotten in heaven what he taught on earth: that an abbot undertakes “the care of sick souls, not a despotic rule over healthy ones” (RB 27:6).  He continues in heaven to search “for the sheep gone astray” (RB 27:8), and he has such pity for its weakness that he is ready to carry it back to the flock on his own shoulders.

It is, I think, as important for us to read and re-read Saint Gregory’s Life of our holy father Saint Benedict as it is for us to read and re-read his Rule.  It is a story that we need to hear together again and again.  Holy Father Benedict’s Life sheds light on the Rule, and the Rule helps us better understand his Life.

Saint Gregory shows us a young man, blessed by grace and by name, disillusioned by the empty pursuits he saw all around him, and moved by the Holy Ghost to seek the habit of monastic conversion.  The young Benedict goes to live alone in the savage beauty of Subiaco, far from the turmoil of Rome.  Saint Benedict of the Sacro Speco, the sacred grotto of Subiaco, is the model of all who, by choice or circumstances, live alone.  His solitude was by no means absolute; he welcomed the rustic shepherds of the locality and, by his teaching, restored their human dignity.  Saint Gregory says that many, having known Benedict, passed from a life that was beastly to the life of grace.  Offering a spiritual hospitality, the solitary Benedict refreshed all who sought him out with nourishment drawn from his heart.

Saint Benedict was tempted in his solitude.  He was no stranger to struggles of the mind, heart, and flesh.  This makes him close to us.  The devil seeks, by means of temptations, to throw us into the pit of bitterness, dejection, despair.  God, for his part, permits temptation, because temptation makes the saints compassionate, humble, and wise.  The seeds of Holy Father Benedict’s humility, compassion, and wisdom were planted in the temptations he endured at Subiaco.

The second period of Saint Benedict’s life is characterized by his foundations at Subiaco.  These monasteries were outposts of the Kingdom of God in the wilderness.  Their very existence threatened the kingdom of darkness.  Miracles illustrating the all-powerful grace of Christ, and disasters revealing the rage of the enemy, abounded.  Through it all, Saint Benedict, “full of the Spirit of all the just” (Life VIII), remained peaceful, confident in the mercy of God, and unshakeable in prayer.  It was at Subiaco that he began to wield masterfully the tools of the spiritual craft that he passed on to us in Chapter IV of the Rule:  “Not to give way to anger.  Not to abandon charity.  To rest one’s hope in God.  To fall often to prayer.  To love chastity.  Not to cherish bitterness,  And never to despair of God’s mercy” (RB 4: 22, 26, 41, 56, 64, 66, 74).  Listening carefully to circumstances, and seeing the will of God in events, Saint Benedict recognised that the hour had come for him to depart from Subiaco.  He obeyed a call to uproot himself and his monks.  He moved on.

While requiring stability of his monks, Holy Father Benedict was remarkably supple, ever ready to follow the providential leadings of the Holy Ghost.  This is one of the paradoxes of Benedictine life: the vow of stability interfacing with that of conversatio morum.  By the one, we commit ourselves to persevere in a given context, to put down roots, and endure in spiritual combat; by the other, we commit ourselves to change, always to begin afresh, and to heed the promptings of the Holy Ghost.  These are not conflicting vows, but complementary ones.  Stability without conversion is a kind of spiritual fossilization.  Change without stability is superficial and sterile.  Saint Benedict can help us, will help us, to integrate stability into change, change into stability, always in obedience to the Holy Ghost speaking to us through the wisdom of the Rule and in the counsel of the Abbot.

The third period of Saint Benedict’s life took place on the heights of Monte Cassino.  There, he reached a fullness of maturity in Christ that was revealed when, lifted out of himself, he saw the entire world gathered into a single ray of light before his eyes (cf. Life XXXV).  This signifies, of course, that Saint Benedict had come to see all things as God sees them; he had passed into the light of God while yet in the shadows of this world.  Saint Benedict died standing, surrounded by his disciples, with his hand raised to heaven in the gesture of the “Suscipe,” becoming in that hour an icon of the Crucified Jesus in the mystery of his Passover to the Father.  Benedictine life is, in the end, a mysterious and life-long configuration to the obedient, humble, and silent Christ, a ceaseless passage out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of time into eternity.  “Yearn for eternal life,” he says, “with all possible spiritual desire” (RB 4:46).

Our Holy Father Benedict is present to us today in the Divine Office and in this Holy Mass.  He is attentive to each of us in the struggles and questions that invite us to turn, again and again, from the darkness to live facing the “deifying Light” (RB Pro:9).  And should this be too difficult, it is enough that we should have the desire of the Light.  Every good work begins in holy desire and in humble prayer to God, a prayer of few words and of “repentance with tears” (RB 20:4).  He who inspires the desire for continual conversion is alone capable of bringing that desire to completion. It is enough to bring our desire to God in prayer and to leave it with Him.

Seek the prayer of Holy Father Benedict today.  Claim his fatherhood over you.  Ask him to intervene in all the “hard and repugnant things” (RB 63:8)  by which we go to God.  Saint Gregory says at the end of his Life of Saint Benedict that “even today, when the faith of the faithful asks for it, he works miracles” (Life XXXVIII).  I believe that: he works miracles.  And I am confident that Holy Father Benedict will not forsake us in our needs.  Let us then offer the Holy Sacrifice in his company, rejoicing that we have been given so humble, so compassionate, so wise a father in God, and desiring nothing so much as to pass over with him, already here and now, into the everlasting Opus Dei of heaven where the praise of all the saints is perfect and without end.

Learning How to Die

Death on Maundy ThursdayWe celebrate today the feast of the Transitus of Our Blessed Father Saint Benedict. Blessed Schuster, in his Saint Benedict and His Times,  identifies Maundy Thursday as the day of Saint Benedict's death. Following the description given by Pope Saint Gregory the Great in the Second Book of the Dialogues, he explains that Saint Benedict would, in fact, have died at the close of the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, after having received the Body and Blood of Christ. The fact that Saint Gregory specifically recounts that Saint Benedict received both the Body and Blood of Christ in viaticum, would indicate that this final Holy Communion took place during Mass, because the Blood of Christ was not reserved and, apart from Holy Mass, would not have been available.

Live the Way You Want to Die Death is not improvised. One dies as one has lived. The Eucharistic death of Saint Benedict was the seal placed upon a long Eucharistic life. (Blessed Schuster says that Saint Benedict would have been about eighty years old at the time of his death.) One will die as one has lived. In Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict enjoins his monk to "keep death daily before his eyes"; this means, in effect, that a monk is to live each day in the very dispositions in which he wants to be found at the hour of his death.

To die loving, I must love always. To die praying, I must pray always. To die forgiving, I must forgive always. To die in a state of adoration, I must live in a state of adoration. To die gratefully, I must live in gratitude. To die peacefully, I must live in peace. To die humbly, I must live humbly. To die united to Jesus in His Passion, I must live united to Jesus in His Passion. To die facing the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, I must live facing the Eucharistic Face of Jesus.

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With Desire Have I Desired Did not Saint Benedict hear the words of Christ addressed to him: "With desire have I desired to eat this Pasch with thee"? Would not Christ have said to him, "I give Myself in viaticum to you, so that you may give yourself in death to me"?

Death Before the Altar While physically at Monte Cassino, mystically Saint Benedict died in the Cenacle: it was Maundy Thursday, Holy Mass had been celebrated, and he was standing before the altar, sustained, in his weakness, by two of his sons supporting his uplifted arms. Christ had said to Saint Benedict, "Suscipe me: This is My Body." Saint Benedict assumed the very posture of his monastic profession, and said in response, "Suscipe me: Let it be done unto me according to Thy word." He died offering himself to the love of Christ; he died loving Christ who first loved him; he died adoring Christ, whose face he had recognized hidden beneath the veil of the Sacred Host before It was placed on his tongue. Might Saint Benedict not have prayed in words similar to those attributed to the virgin martyr Saint Agnes: "Behold, I come unto Thee whom I have loved, whom I have sought, whom I have ever desired"?

Death, A Moment of Adoration For me it is clear: I want to die adoring Jesus Christ, therefore I must live adoring Him. Death can be another moment of perpetual adoration: the moment when the veil falls and one finds oneself face-to-face with Jesus Christ. Death can be the moment when, at last, a man sees the One whom he has desired; when he enters into possession of the One in whom he hoped; when is united forever, where sin is no longer possible, to the One whom he loved on earth, while falling and seeking to rise again and again.

School of Living and of Dying I want my death, like that of Saint Benedict, to be a moment of recognition, a moment of adoration and of love. What might a son of Saint Benedict say in the hour of his death? "Behold, I come to Him who has so often come to me, lo, all these years, veiled in the appearances of bread and wine. Behold, He receives me into eternity, whom I have so often received in time." Benedictine life is a preparation for death. It is a school of living that, happily, becomes a school of dying. Today's feast of the Transitus of our Father Saint Benedict makes me profoundly grateful to be enrolled in such a school.

Death daily before our eyes

016_001March 21 The Transitus of Our Holy Father Saint Benedict

The same year in which he departed out of this life, he foretold the day of his most holy death to some of his disciples who conversed with him, and to others who were far off; giving strict charge to those who were present to keep in silence what they had heard, and declaring to the absent by what sign they should know when his soul departed out of his body. Six days before his departure he caused his grave to be opened, and immediately after he fell into a fever, by the violence whereof his strength began to wax faint, and the infirmity daily increasing, the sixth day he caused his disciples to carry him into the Oratory, where he did arm himself for his going forth by receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord; then, supporting his weak limbs by the hands of his disciples, he stood up, his hands lifted towards Heaven, and with words of prayer at last breathed forth his soul. (Saint Gregory the Great, Second Book of the Dialogues, Chapter XXXVII)

Transitus Today (21 March) we celebrate the feast of the Transitus of our Holy Father Saint Benedict. Transitus means passing over, passage, or change. In the Christian tradition the word refers to the mystery of death. You all know the beautiful line from the Preface for the Dead that sings: The life of those who are faithful to you, O Lord, is but changed, not ended; and when their earthly dwelling-place decays, an everlasting mansion stands prepared for them in heaven. A change, not an end: such is the Christian perspective of death.

Change Every change in our life here below, even the smallest, most insignificant changes are, in some way, a preparation for death. This is perhaps one of the reasons why we are so resistant to change, even to little changes. Every change, every detachment, every relocation, is a portent of death. We respond to change -- not always consciously -- with fear, because we fear death. In the Christian perspective, change is the price of life.

Saint Joseph There is a striking connection between the feast of the Transitus of Saint Benedict and the Solemnity of Saint Joseph that we celebrated yesterday. In Saint Joseph we saw a man called to changes that uprooted his life, changes that obliged him to obey Angels and to journey by night; changes that involved insecurity and risk, changes that called him to the triumph of faith over fear. One need only think of the anxiety and uncertainty provoked by the flight into Egypt.

Uprootings In celebrating our father Saint Benedict, we see a man marked, as was Saint Joseph, by a succession of uprootings and changes: from the life of a student in Rome to that of a solitary in the Sacro Speco at Subiaco; from solitude to life in community; and from his dear monastery of Subiaco to Monte Cassino. At Monte Cassino came the final change, the final pass-over, the transitus. Our blessed father Saint Benedict prepared all his life for death by a radical openness to change in obedience to the Holy Ghost.

Detachment In the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict enjoins us to "keep death daily before our eyes" (RB 4:47). The measure of our preparedness for death is the measure of our openness to change or, if you prefer, our degree of detachment. Detachment is secured through obedience. For Saint Benedict obedience to tradition is the highest form of wisdom, and this because tradition -- often incarnated in anachronistic signs and inherited customs and counter-cultural daily practices -- distills for us the wisdom of the Cross. "The word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18).

The Cross The Cross shines forth as the sign of the change accepted by Christ when, "having received the vinegar, he said, 'It is achieved'; bowed his head, and gave up his spirit" (Jn 19:30). The Cross is the place of the Transitus, the Pass-over of Christ into which all our little daily uprootings, changes, detachments, relocations, and pass-overs are assumed, and by which they are transformed.

Vow of Stability The Benedictine vow of stability is, paradoxically, in function of change. Its end is not so much to keep us in one geographical place as it is to facilitate our perseverance in passing over, in the transitus that moves us out of what is old into what is new, out of darkness into light, out of death into life. The vow called "conversion of manners" is a commitment to continuous change at the level where change is most difficult, the level of the heart.

Change of Heart It is a fearful thing to vow oneself to conversion, to a relentless change of heart. It means greeting each new day with a willingness to pass over, to cross a new threshhold, to leave things behind and to go forward, like Abraham, into the unknown land prepared for us by God.

Abraham In the light of this feast of Saint Benedict, consider the example of Abraham to whom God said, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Gen 12:1). A blessing of immense proportions follows: "I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you may be a blessing" (Gen 12:2). The play on words with the name of Benedict, Benedictus meaning "blessed" is less obvious in English than in Latin, but it is there nonetheless. Change, made in obedience and faith, opens us to blessings beyond anything we can ask or imagine.

Priestly Prayer of Christ In the priestly prayer of Our Lord, we hear, I think, the prayer that rose from the heart of our blessed Father Saint Benedict at the hour of his passing: "I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4). Saint Gregory describes his death: "On the sixth day, he had himself carried to the oratory by his disciples, and there he received the Body and Blood of the Lord to make ready his departure. Then, resting his weakened members on the arms of his disciples, he stood up, and with his arms raised heavenward, murmured prayers in his last breath".

A Eucharistic Death Saint Gregory's description of Saint Benedict's death is wholly Eucharistic. Look closely. It takes place in the Oratory before the altar, like a monastic profession. Saint Benedict receives the Body and Blood of the Lord. This is his viaticum, nourishment for the last journey, sustenance for the pass-over. He stands before the altar with his hands raised toward heaven, in the gesture of the Suscipe: "Receive me, come for me, lift me up, take me to Thyself, Father!" This is also the gesture of the priest making the holy oblation at the altar. It evokes the arms spread wide of the Crucified Lord. Saint Gregory wants us to understand that, in death, Holy Father Benedict is utterly conformed to the crucified Jesus, and to Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Yes to Life Through Death For us, every participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a "Yes" to the Transitus of Christ -- through the Cross to Resurrection -- and a "Yes" to the transitus that awaits each of us at the hour of our death willed by God. In the meantime, the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ strengthen us for all the little changes, relocations, and costly detachments by which the Holy Spirit brings about our conversion, and our configuration to Christ Jesus, from day to day.

A Torch Lifted High

Mort de Saint Benoît A Translation and a Commentary In July 2011 I translated this extraordinary page from the writings of Catherine de Bar, Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement (1614-1698), foundress of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. I offer it again for today's feast of the Transitus (Passing) of our Blessed Father Saint Benedict. Mother Mectilde offers us a sublime piece of writing and, at the same time, certain passages are hard to understand without entering into her mind, and into her vast spiritual culture, shaped principally by the liturgy and by the Rule of Saint Benedict. For this reason, I have taken the liberty of offering a commentary (given in blue) where I think some explanation may be necessary or helpful.

On the Spirit of Saint Benedict, by Mother Mectilde de Bar I cannot help but admire ceaselessly the adorable Providence of a God who is infinitely wise and ineffable in His conduct, for having chosen religious of the great Patriarch Saint Benedict to make of them daughters of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and for having destined them not only to render Him continual homages, but also to be the guardians of this sacred deposit that He has entrusted to His Church.

Mother Mectilde ponders and admires God's choice of children of Saint Benedict to become in the Church perpetual adorers and guardians of the adorable mystery of the Eucharist that proclaims the death of the Lord and makes present His Sacrifice from age to age, and this until the consummation of the world. "For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come" (1 Corinthians 11:26).

But I glimpse the reason of the mystery of this choice and of the election that God has made of the children of this great Patriarch, and for this I am not at all astonished; because, although there is something incomprehensible, hidden, and profound in the state [of life] that this glorious Patriarch brought to the earth, and that he inspired in his sons, we see that it has so great a relation to the Divine Eucharist, that I cannot but say that it is the portion and heritage of the religious of Saint Benedict. I should, rather, be astonished that it took the passage of so many centuries before the children of this Blessed Father quickened themselves to enter into possession of the inestimable treasure that the infinite bounty of God held in reserve for them.

A Mystical Affinity with the Most Holy Sacrament Why did God choose Benedictines to enter deeply into the adorable Mystery of Faith and to become, in these latter centuries of the Church, souls entirely dedicated and configured to Christ in the Sacrament of His Love? Mother Mectilde, quoting Psalm 15, identifies the Most Holy Eucharist as the portion and heritage of the children of Saint Benedict. "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup." (Psalm 15:5) She attributes this divine election of the children of Saint Benedict to a mystical affinity with the Most Holy Sacrament that pertains to their very state of life.

If you ask me . . . where I get that which I have just said, I dare assure you that it is a secret which was shown me in the death of our most illustrious Patriarch, who, wanting to witness to to the love he had for the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, could do it no better than by expiring in His Holy Presence, thereby rendering the last breaths of his heart to this adorable Host, and enclosing his sentiments in the sacred ciborium, so as to produce, in time, children of His Order who would, until the end of the world, offer the adorable Host adoration, respect, and the bounden duties of continual love and reparation.

Mother Mectilde alludes to the death of Saint Benedict as recounted by Saint Gregory the Great in the Second Book of The Dialogues:

Six days before he died, he gave orders for his tomb to be opened. Almost immediately he was seized with a violent fever that rapidly wasted his remaining energy. Each day his condition grew worse until finally, on the sixth day, he had his disciples carry him into the chapel where he received the Body and Blood of our Lord to gain strength for his approaching end. Then, supporting his weakened body on the arms of his brethren, he stood with his hands raised to heaven and, as he prayed, breathed his last.

Configured to Jesus in His Death There is in this passage something at once subtle and profound. In writing of the death of Saint Benedict, Mother Mectilde evokes the death of the Crucified Jesus. Both Our Lord and His servant, Saint Benedict, die with uplifted arms. Both die in an exhalation of love that will bring forth fruit, fruit that will remain (cf. John 15:16). Is not the "inclined head" of Jesus, noted in John 19:30, the key to understanding the summit of the Twelve Steps of Humility in Chapter Seven of the Holy Rule? "That is to say that whether he is at the Work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the fields or anywhere else, and whether sitting, walking or standing, he should always have his head bowed" (Rule of Saint Benedict 7:65). Does this not signify the complete configuration of the monk to Jesus in the mystery of His death on the Cross?

A New but Organic Development of Benedictine Life Enlightened by a particular grace, Mother Mectilde perceives a secret: it is that Saint Benedict, in his last breath, exhaled a new but organic development in life according to his Rule: an expression of Benedictine life that would surround the august Sacrament of the Altar with adorers, vowed to repair by love the offenses, outrages, coldness, irreverence, and indifference suffered by Love living in the Most Holy Eucharist. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto his own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:10-11).

Whereas some adore Jesus Christ in the various states of His holy life, the religious of Saint Benedict bear the title of those who are dead: this is what the blessed Monsieur de Condren, general of the Oratory, says. And so, cannot I say that their state and condition of being dead honours, by reference and relation, Jesus dead in the Eucharist? The Fathers teach us that He is there as one in the state of death. A child of Saint Benedict, living a life that is death, has he not a bond and a reference to Jesus in the Host?

Hid with Christ in God Here Mother Mectilde alludes, I think, to the impressive rites of Monastic Profession and Consecration with the prostration of the newly professed during the Holy Mysteries, and the use of the black funeral pall; she alludes also to Monsieur de Condren's characterization of the Benedictine grace as being one of death in the Pauline sense of the term. "Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God: Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you also shall appear with Him in glory." (Colossians 3:1-4)

Abandonment to the Father In what sense exactly does Mother Mectilde speak here of Jesus being "dead in the Eucharist"? And in what way is the Benedictine, like Jesus in the Host, in a state of death? The death to which Mother Mectilde refers is that of the Christus Passus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar. In the Most Holy Eucharist, sacrament and sacrifice, Jesus Christ is present in the very act of His self-offering to the Father. The moment of death recorded by Saint John -- "Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated. And bowing his head, he gave up the ghost." (John 19:30) -- remains eternally present to the Father in the sanctuary of heaven, even as it is present sacramentally in the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus is on the altar, in the soul of the communicant, and in the tabernacle as He is heaven: the Hostia perpetua. The Benedictine enters into the death and victimhood of Jesus by allowing Him to renew at every moment in the sanctuary of his soul the grace of His Head bowed in death that signifies complete abandonment to the Father. For Mother Mectilde this goes to the very heart of the Benedictine vocation: obedience (Rule of Saint Benedict 5), silence (Rule of Saint Benedict 6), humility, and the love of God, which being made perfect, casts out fear (Rule of Saint Benedict 7).

If it were permitted me to relate in detail the spirit and dispositions that a Benedictine ought to have, you would see that by the faithful practice of the Holy Rule, she would be altogether like a Host, and would enter into wonderful relations with Jesus in the adorable Eucharist.

Altogether like a Host Mother Mectilde compares the Benedictine monk to the Eucharistic Host at two levels. The first level pertains to the qualities of the Host and the Benedictine virtues: the Host is hidden in the tabernacle, and the monk is hidden in the enclosure of the monastery; the Host is silent, and the monk is silent; the Host has no movement in and of itself, the monk has no movement that is not made by obedience; the Host is abandoned to the will of another, the monk is abandoned to the will of God mediated by his abbot. The Host is, to all appearances, powerless, fragile, and perishable; the monk, too, is powerless, fragile, and perishable. The hiddenness of the Host veils the glory of the Godhead. The silence of the Host befits the ineffability of the Word. The apparent inertia of the Host conceals the love that moves the stars (Dante's amor che muove le stelle). The abandonment of the Host into the hands of the one who picks it up -- be he saint or sinner -- reveals the vulnerability of the Word made flesh, obedient unto death. It is in owning his powerlessness, his fragility, and his perishable flesh, that the monk experiences the power, the strength, and the imperishable life of the risen and ascended Christ. The Monk: A Victim with Christ The second level of comparison the Host pertains to the victimhood of Jesus. The monk offers himself, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to immolation on the altar in the Holy Sacrifice. There, Christ the Priest offers him, together with Himself, to the Father: a single victim (the very meaning of the word Host) of adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and supplication. In the altar, the Host, the Chalice, and the Cross, the monk reads the terms of his own immolation.

But, leaving aside a multitude of proofs that would confirm you in the truth that I am proposing to you, judge . . . if it was not by a choice all divine that we, religious of Saint Benedict, have become daughters of the Sacrament? And do we not owe this grace to the great Saint Benedict, who merited it for us by his precious death, as we have said? Was not his death the pledge of the love which he bore towards this sacred Mystery . . . the promise that, in the latter centuries, his Order would produce in the Church victims immolated to this august Sacrament, who would not only adore by day and by night, but who would be, insofar as possible, the reparators of His glory profaned by the wicked in the Sacrament of Love?

Saint Benedict's Eucharistic Grace For Mother Mectilde de Bar, it is fitting that, of all the Orders that adorn the Church with their varied charisms, that of adoration and reparation belongs preeminently to the children of Saint Benedict. Mother Mectilde sees in Saint Benedict's wholly Eucharistic death -- which, according to tradition, took place on Maundy Thursday -- an unmistakable sign that his Order was destined, by divine election, to generate adorers and reparators of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and this until the end of time.

Do you not see, my daughters, that Saint Benedict dies standing up, so that we might understand that he exhales, with the effort of love, the sacred Institute that we profess? He conceives it in the Eucharist to be produced more than twelve hundred years later!

The Principle of a Wholly Eucharistic Life Saint Benedict dies standing up. He dies before the altar. His last breath is an exhalation of fruitful love given in exchange for the Holy Viaticum for the final journey. He receives the Bread of Life from the Father and from the Church, and surrenders the breath of life into the hands of the Father that it might become, in future generations, the principle of a wholly Eucharistic life among his sons and daughters in the Church.

Oh, my sisters, how divine is our Institute? For how many centuries was it hidden and buried with Jesus in the Host? For how long was it in the sacred entrails of a God-made-sacrament? He was sanctifying . . . both the Institute and the souls that He wished to call to it. Oh, what admirable things do I see and what consolation they give me!

No, no, my sisters, this was not at all the plan of a human spirit, it was not a human creature that ordered, instituted, and chose this: it is Jesus in the Host who received it from the heart of Saint Benedict; and I can say, my sisters, that it was taken from no other place than the Tabernacle wherein this great saint deposited it at the last instant of his life.

The First Amende HonorableA Quickening of Eucharistic Devotion Mother Mectilde has no time for those who object that Eucharistic adoration is nothing more than a baroque addition to the sobriety of classical Benedictine piety. She sees a quickening of Eucharistic devotion among the children of Saint Benedict as a treasure held in trust until, after the passage of many centuries, it emerged from its obscurity, like a Host brought forth from the tabernacle, to warm and vivify a Benedictine Order grown old and sterile, and cold, and dry.

Oh, what a marvel that God should have entrusted this work to the most unworthy, not of Saint Benedict's children, but to one born out of time! To a soul who had neither the spirit nor the grace to do it! To a poor creature who had nothing remarkable except that she was of all creatures on earth the most criminal, and the one who had most profaned this august Mystery! God chose this sinner to serve as the most common and abject of instruments for so excellent a task, and to confound thereby the human spirit that loses itself when it sees accomplishments of this sort! This was done by a God. Nothing can be said except that one must prostrate oneself very low, and fear that, after having made use of this wicked instrument, He should cast it without recourse into hell.

A Benedictine Not of the Classic Stamp Mother Mectilde is conscious that her status as a properly professed Benedictine was called into question by certain hair-splitting canonists of her own time. She was, after all a member of the Order of the Annonciade before making profession as a Benedictine at the monastery of Rambervillers on 2 July, 1639. Even as a Benedictine, her life was characterized more by uncertainty and wandering from place to place, than by the security and stability enjoyed by Benedictines of a more classic stamp. "Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) Mother Mectilde admits to being, like Saint Paul the Apostle, a child born out of time. She is, nonetheless, a true daughter of Saint Benedict, entrusted with a holy mission that transcended, by far, her natural capacities. She confesses to being the most common and abject of instruments, but cannot deny that she was the object of a divine election. Admitting this, she prostrates herself before the Divine Majesty and, following the counsel of her father Saint Benedict, fears hell. The Mectildian--Benedictine charism is, I would suggest, even more necessary today than in seventeenth century France when it rose up like a torch lifted high to illumine the Eucharistic Face of Christ.