That I may go unto the altar of God

Sursum+cordaThe Friendship of the SaintsOn Saturday last in Wrexham, I spoke of the friendship of the saints, reminding my hearers that the saints are, by far, more devoted to us than we to them. This is, I think, particularly true of Saint Peter Julian Eymard who has been, from the very beginning of this monastery, a special friend to us, and an intercessor. Saint Peter Julian is a modern saint, one of the myriads of holy priests who shone so brightly in 19th century France. None other than Saint Jean–Marie Vianney was his own dear friend.

An Entirely Eucharistic Vocation Saint Peter Julian came to discover his own vocation within a vocation — his particular grace — slowly and painfully. Having entered the Society of Mary, he struggled with a mysterious interior summons to embrace an entirely Eucharistic vocation. The Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar became everything to him. I seem to hear Saint Peter Julian in Psalm 15; in these same verses I hear our own Father Benedict as he prepares for his solemn profession and monastic consecration on Thursday:

The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: it is thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me. The lines are fallen unto me in goodly places: for my inheritance is goodly to me. I will bless the Lord, who hath given me understanding: moreover my reins also have corrected me even till night. I set the Lord always in my sight: for he is at my right hand, that I be not moved. (Psalm 15:5–8)

My Inheritance and My Cup The monk, like the sons of the tribe of Levi, is a man without an inheritance, for he freely renounces even that which, by right, he has coming to him. The world judges this a folly. The world says, "Take what you have coming to you". The monk hears another voice, that of the Holy Ghost, whispering, "Renounce even what you have coming to you, for yours is a better inheritance". Saint Peter calls it, "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that can not fade, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4). The pledge of this inheritance is the chalice of the holy mysteries. Thus does the psalmist say, "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup" (Psalm 15:5), and Saint Thomas calls the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar the pledge of future glory. Et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur (Antiphon, O sacrum convivium).

Hard and Arduous Things Dear Dom Benedict, Our Lord could have called you to another monastery, to one better established, to one with more numerous brethren, with more beautiful buildings, with more functional conveniences. Our Lord could have called you to a more secure monastic life. He could have spared you the hardship of moving from one continent to another, and from your home country to a foreign place. He could have so arranged things that you would have what every man, at some level, wants: stability, comfort, security, and the means to spend the greater number of one's days in pleasant company, free from hardship and trouble.

The Mystery of a Call Our Lord called you instead to a monastery that has struggled to survive; to a community marked by uncertainties, insecurity, and weakness. With all of this, however, Our Lord called you to a monastery marked, in a special way, by the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist: the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field. Were you predisposed to this particular expression of Benedictine life? Had Divine Providence prepared you for it? You were I think, from your youth, predisposed by nature, and prepared by grace, for what God, today, is calling you to live.

Nature, Grace, and Providence By nature, you are man with a deep capacity for friendship. There is in you a space hollowed out, an emptiness that only the friendship of One Perfect Friend can fill, a yearning of the heart that only the friendship of a Divine Heart can satisfy. The Most Holy Eucharist is, among a hundred thousand other glorious things, the sacrament of the Divine Friendship of Christ. The Maurists seem to have grasped this, and they sought to express it in the capitulum given in their breviary for Vespers of the Most Blessed Sacrament:

Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Apocalypse 3:20)

My Portion Forever As you know well, in Middle Eastern culture, the supper hour is sacred. It is a moment of inviolable intimacy. To sup with an other is to offer him the supreme sign of friendship. You, dear Father Benedict, have been chosen to live in the Friendship of Christ, and this Divine Friendship is signified, and communicated, and sealed in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. God chose you for this monastery, and chose this monastery for you, because He wanted to give you in the Most Holy Eucharist the Divine Friendship for which He created you, the mystery of that Real Presence apart from which you will always suffer a cruel absence. Yours it is to pray, with Saint Peter Julian Eymard, those verses of Psalm 72 that have, I think, become to you both dear and familiar:

I am alway by thee; for thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and after that receive me with glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of thee. My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. (Psalm 72:23–26)

A Ceaseless Return to the Altar You were also, I am convinced, prepared by grace for the life to which you will vow yourself on Thursday. God gifted you with a unique and special sensitivity to His Word, to His Mysteries, and to the entire "complexus of sacred signs" that give sensible expression to what "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). Your life thus far has been a very long — and also very short — approach to the altar. Your life in years to come will be a ceaseless return to the altar. You were, as I said, on the occasion of your First Solemn Mass, "to the altar born". This means, of course, that you were created for the Most Holy Eucharist, that you are sustained in life for the Most Holy Eucharist, and that your life's one fulfilment is present and palpitating under the humble appearances of bread and wine. In this, you are not unlike Saint Peter Julian Eymard; and, in this, you can be certain of his companionship.

O send out thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me, and bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy dwelling; And that I may go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness. (Psalm 42:3–4)