3 Jan. 4 May. 3 Sept. And the Lord, seeking His own workman in the multitude of the people to whom He thus crieth out, saith again: “Who is the man that will have life, and desireth to see good days. And if thou, hearing Him, answer, “I am he,” God saith to thee: “If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, “Behold, I am here.” What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.
Who Is the Man? Today's passage from The Prologue of the Holy Rule has about it something of Our Lord's parable of the householder in search of workers for his vineyard:
The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. (Matthew 20:1)
Christ is the new Adam, the Worker sent by the Father to restore, by the labour of His Passion and Death, the garden lost to the old Adam by reason of his sin. Christ takes up the work that, in the beginning, God entrusted to Adam: "And the Lord God took man, and put him into the paradise of pleasure, to dress it, and to keep it" (Genesis 2:15).
Not only is Christ the Worker sent out by the Father, ad opus suum exiens, "Going out to do His work" (Saint Thomas, Hymn for Lauds of Corpus Christi, Verbum Supernum Prodiens); He is also the very Vine itself:
I am the true vine; and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now you are clean by reason of the word, which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you. In this is my Father glorified; that you bring forth very much fruit, and become my disciples. (John 15:1–8)
Monasticism and Mission Just as Christ was sent out by the Father, so too does He, in turn, choose workers to send out in His Name: "As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world" (John 17:18). One may object that monks are not sent into the world, but called out of the world. The particular modality by which the monk lives out his mission into the world is by leaving the world, by going to a place apart, and by living, hidden, in the heart of the Church. "You are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).
A Universal Vocation Christ addresses his appeal to everyone. The monastic vocation is, in a certain sense, universal. Paul Evodokimov wrote a splendid book, The Ages of the Spiritual Life, on this very thing: the universal character of monastic spirituality. There is no one to whom Christ does not say, in the words of The Prologue, “Who is the man that will have life, and desireth to see good days?" Christ offers to everyman life in abundance and happiness. One who craves a life worth living, one who yearns for abiding happiness, has only to respond to Christ's call by saying, "I am he".
To the man who says, "I am he", Christ responds with an immediate plan of action and, at the same time, gives the grace for it to be carried out:
If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it.
Tongue and lips disclose what a man holds in mind and heart.
The things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart, and those things defile a man. For from the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. (Matthew 15:18–19)
One's response is a decision to break with evil and with guile, that is to say, with every compromise with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Monastic conversion is, at once, a turning from and a turning toward. The monk, living in the logic of his baptismal vows, turns away from evil and turns towards good. He lives facing Christ. This is what Saint Benedict means when he says, seek peace and pursue it. To seek peace is to seek the Face of Christ. "My heart hath said to thee: My face hath sought thee: thy face, O Lord, will I still seek" (Psalm 26:8). To pursue peace is to run in the steps of the Bridegroom, drawn on by the sweetness of the fragrance that is unmistakably His: "Draw me: we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments" (Canticle 1:3).
A Call Addressed to Sinners There are some, tainted by a residual Donatism, who would require that candidates to the monastic state present a spotless record, forgetting that Our Lord says, "They that are in health need not a physician, but they that are ill. Go then and learn what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice. For I am not come to call the just, but sinners" (Matthew 9:12–13). Thus, does Saint Thomas write:
In order to show that the perfection of the counsels is useful both to the innocent and to sinners, our Lord called not only the innocent youth but also the sinner Matthew. Yet Matthew obeyed His call, and the youth obeyed not, because sinners are converted to the religious life more easily than those who presume on their innocency. (Summa, IIa, IIae, q. 189)
To those who respond to His invitation, Christ answers:
And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, “Behold, I am here.”
The Most Holy Eucharist For us, at Silverstream Priory, these words have a Eucharistic resonance. They are, as it were, spoken from the tabernacle where Christ abides. Though Christ be hidden beneath the veil of the sacred species, and enclosed in the tabernacle, His eyes are upon us and His ears are open to our prayers. At every hour of the day and night, Our Lord speaks from the tabernacle, saying, "Behold, I am here".
What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.
Cast Thyself Upon Him This entire passage of The Prologue is, in effect, articulated around two words: the response of man to the divine invitation, Ego, — I am he — and the response of God to man's response, Ecce adsum — Behold, I am here. To the man who still, even after hearing Christ assure him of His loving–kindness, I recommend these words of Saint Augustine as quoted by Saint Thomas:
Cast thyself upon Him; fear not, He will not withdraw Himself that thou shouldst fall. Cast thyself fearlessly upon Him: He will receive and will heal thee. (Summa, IIa, IIae, q. 189)