FEBRUARY 23, 2003, 7TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR- CHAPTER

 

ALL THAT HAS BEEN MADE WAS LIFE IN HIM. (John 1: 3, 4)  If you look up this text from the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel,  you will perhaps be frustrated in your attempts to locate it unless you use ‘The New Revised Standard Version’, or  Ben. Witherington’s translation. The Bible of Jerusalem prefers the more traditional text which uses a comma instead of a period and reads: ‘Without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life.’ It does well to make this version available to modern readers for this reading certainly expresses the thought of the author, and is possibly even the original text as it came from his hand. Certainly, this is the reading that St. Augustine found in the manuscript he used in his ‘Tractates on the Gospel of St. John’ (cf. Tractate I.16 BAC 1968, 86) and is considered to be the Patristic version since a number of the Church Fathers accepted it as genuine. Augustine not only made use of it but  insists that this is the correct version. He even warns against accepting the alternate reading that eventually found its way into the Vulgate and, was read at the end of mass in the Roman liturgy until  the changes associated with Vatican II.,  comments on this text as follows.  

ALL THAT HAS BEEN MADE WAS LIFE IN HIM. If everything is made in Him, then all is life. (Do not let anyone lead you astray: put the comma here, ‘All that is made’ and then add ‘in him is life’). What does this mean? The earth is made, but the earth itself which is made is not life; but there is in Wisdom itself spiritually a certain reason by which the earth is made and this is life.’  

Augustine then goes on to develop this point further by comparing God to an architect who designs a building which itself does not live, but the idea of which remains alive in the mind of the artist who conceived it. The structure itself might be totally destroyed, but its idea or ‘ratio’ remains alive in the mind of the architect. This way of conceiving the relation of created things to the Word of God had a vast influence on Catholic thought and spirituality. It continues to be valid and applicable to us today.  We exist as physical beings in this material world, to be sure. Our visible form, however, does not define us totally or even essentially, by any means. No more than the material building in its concrete existence explains and limits itself to its visible form but remains vitally present in the mind of its author and potentially can be conceived in the mind of anyone who contemplates and analyses its form. Moreover, this living form in the mind in so far as it is immaterial is not subject to the destructive forces that are operative on the physical structure itself. It can be translated into words and/or lines on paper and so exist in another material form which can be transmitted to other structures and other minds. 

This feature of created things represents not merely an insight derived from attentive consideration of the nature of all formed matter; it is a point of revealed doctrine. ‘All things were made through him…  ALL THAT HAS BEEN MADE IS LIFE IN HIM.’ Applied to the human person this means that we live more really in the Word of God than in our physical mode of existence, even now. Of course, so long as we are in the flesh and embodied in the physical and social structures of this world we have an existence that is only partially able to express itself in the full reality of our being. St. Bernard felt keenly the weight of the body upon the soul and referred to it as a prison. He quoted a number of times a passage from the Book of Wisdom that expressed well the conflict he experienced as arising from the resistance offered by the body to the soul: ‘For the reasoning of mortals is worthless, and our designs are likely to fail; for a perishable body weight down the soul, and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind.’ Wisdom 9: 14, 15). 

This is, of course, but one part of the matter; the body is also destined for glory and even now is capable of serving the soul provided it is properly trained to respond to its best interests. Bernard address the body in one of his sermons to this effect:  

A noble guest you have, o body!, noble in a great manner and your whole salvation depends on its salvation. Treat with honor such a great guest; you, in all truth, dwell in your proper region, but the soul takes shelter in you as a traveler and exile…. If there is any life in you, any power of sensation, if any beauty, recognize it as a benefit given by this guest…. How much more will it give you when it is reconciled with God? (Sermon 6.2-4 of Advent, Madrid: BAC, 1953, 180, 181).    

Bernard himself followed the monastic discipline with great fidelity and generosity precisely in order to train his body and its habits to respond more readily to the needs and aspirations of the soul. He understood with uncommon clarity of insight the precise relations between the various practices prescribed by the Rule and the traditions of the fathers and the passions and vices to which all are subject. He was adept at describing the process by which failure to discipline oneself led to those defects that weaken the life of a community and its fruitfulness for its members. He, like the earlier great teachers of the contemplative life, had a sensitive appreciation of our need to approach God only with pure hearts. In his many sermons directed to the monks of his community in the first place he frequently takes up this topic and includes himself among those needing to keep careful watch over their behavior and thoughts so as to remain in God’s favor and presence. It is impossible to draw near God and to remain careless in speech whether by gossip or still worse by speaking critically of a brother.  That failing seems to have been as prominent in his time as it is in our own. 

One of the responsibilities that accompanies the change of monastic discipline as regards silence is that of learning to speak and communicate in a manner that is at once helpful, and truthful and at the service of charity. There is now a larger freedom of access to others in speech than was the case until 1969. At the same time, there is a larger responsibility of speaking well, that is to say, in such a way as to support and encourage others in their search for God and in fidelity to their call. This entails taking care to avoid saying things that harm others and also useless speech. Only if we give ourselves over to spiritual reading regularly and to study and meditation on divine things and to prayer will our speech and our other dealings with one another be in conformity with the vocation of a true monk. Bernard maintained that there are only two legitimate reasons for a monk to speak: either to ask for help or to give it when it is asked for or needed. 

Speech is but one of areas that monks have always included in their program of ascetic preparation for the contemplative experience of God. But it is one that is perhaps the most easily and unconsciously abused. St. Benedict himself was sensitive to the need for inculcating a discipline of silence and of talking. ‘Even to the perfect, permission to speak should be given but rarely for ‘In much speaking sin will not be lacking’, he adds, quoting Proverbs (10: 19).

 In the introductory paragraph to the Statute on Temporal Administration there is stated the principle that has always guided the structures of monastic life both spiritual and material. The Order restated it just a few years ago when legislating for the way temporal affairs are to be conducted in the monasteries of our Order. “The organization of the monastery is directed to bringing the monks into close union with Christ… Only if the brothers prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ will they be happy to persevere in a life that is ordinary, obscure and laborious.” (Acts of the 71st General Chapter of Abbots, p. 1*) 

The point made here is that no structure, however efficiently and appropriately conceived will prove adequate unless the individual monk so puts it into practice with the desire to please the Lord that it is made to contribute to his spiritual growth. The same applies to all the observances of our Cistercian tradition. Only faith and love that come from the heart lead to the goal of monastic life which is holiness through intimate union with Christ.  

At the same time, the very reason for the existence of these practices and  structures is that we might so live and act in all our dealings and affairs as to conform to the will of God and become increasingly disposed to seek Him in all we say and do. This program was enunciated already in the sixth century by our Father St. Benedict. He wrote in Chapter 57 of his Rule for Monasteries precisely where he spoke of the spirit that monks should  display in doing business “that in all things God might be glorified.”  So basic was this principle for the followers of Benedict that it became the motto of all Benedictine monks. That is the meaning of the letters one often sees inscribed on books and letters written by Benedictines: U.I.O.G. D.  which are the first letters of the Latin “Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus.”  We do well often to advert to these words and assure that in practice they continue to guide us in our work, in our relations with one another, with our guests and in our monastic practices of prayer, reading and the divine office. For then we shall fulfill the purpose for which this community exists here in the Philippines at this time of world crisis when we guide our thoughts and acts by this noble goal ‘that in all things God may be glorified.”

  Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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