+ Deus propitius esto mihi peccatori. “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
These words, uttered in the Temple by a miserable publican who would not dare to come close or even to raise his eyes upwards towards God, but who could only beat his breast with eyes downcast, resound through the centuries. So too do those of the Pharisee, who worships himself and who demands that Almighty God does the same.
To be sure, there are the Pharisees of our own times whose altars are their mirrors and whose ideological power-plays in the life of the Church—most clearly in respect of the Church’s ancient liturgical rites, but in many other vital areas as well—seek their own self-aggrandisement rather than the glory of Almighty God. In their self-exaltation such would-be princes and their acolytes “have had their reward” as Our Lord says elsewhere. (cf. Mt 6:2)
Whilst not ceasing to pray for the repentance and conversion of these men, and conscious of the duty to work assiduously for the reparation of the damage their actions cause to the salvation of souls, let us return to the miserable publican. He, in his sin, has the grace of humility. Pride has not devoured his sense of shame. The publican has not put Almighty God into a cage and sought to teach Him to worship His creatures’ every thought and deed. Rather, the publican has come to the Temple—the unique place where Almighty God may be most directly encountered on this earth—with few but utterly poignant words: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
As St Augustine taught at matins this morning, whilst the publican’s conscience oppressed him, hope in God’s mercy raised him up. Having a conscience and hope in God’s mercy: this is what saved the publican. We would to well to ponder this.
Conscience is my ability to know what is right or what is wrong in a particular situation. It enables me to make a practical moral judgement in the face the circumstances that confront me daily. For conscience to function properly it must be formed and informed, it must know God’s Truth faithfully taught by the Magisterium of His One True Church in the circumstances of our particular times. In extraordinary circumstances, such as when medical emergencies occur, I am duty bound to inform my conscience in view of the important decisions that must be made. If my conscience is not formed thus, it is erroneous. It will not guide me along the right path in ordinary or extraordinary circumstances. As an eminent compatriot of mine once blithely put it: “A badly formed conscience is about as much use as a clock that is not set to the right time.”
Our miserable publican had no difficulty with his conscience. He did not dismiss his sins by saying “everybody does that”, nor did he justify his immoral actions because they were part of some great ideological programme. No. He knew what is right and what is wrong. He called sin, sin. And he knew that he had truly sinned. Hence, he could utter those humble words of hope: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
If the Revelation of Almighty God in history, first to the Chosen People and then in the Incarnation of His Only Begotten Son, is about anything at all, it is about the reality and availability of God’s mercy—a fact we reaffirm every time we make the sign of the cross: the sign of our salvation in Jesus Christ Who is Hope Itself. Through His Sacrifice on the Cross God’s mercy is made available to we sinners: through the Sacraments of the One True Church that He founded we have direct and guaranteed access to it. Baptism into Christ’s Church washes away all sin and when necessary our humble use of the Sacrament of Confession restores our Baptismal purity. Our sins may well be worse than those of a miserable publican, but we may—indeed for the sake of the salvation of our souls, we must—find hope in God’s mercy. St John Chrysostom has some pertinent advice: “Let no one put forward the poor excuse: I dare not [confess my sins], I am ashamed…That kind of fear is from the devil [who] wishes to close approaches to God.” Fear and despair have no place in the Church of Christ: the supernatural virtue of hope and the reality of God’s mercy must reign.
As we stand before this Altar this morning, even if we be a long way from it with eyes cast down because of our sins, let us take courage from the Collect of this Holy Mass—indeed, let us pray it repeatedly in the week to come with renewed hope in the mercy of Almighty God: “O God, Who manifests Your almighty power most chiefly in sparing [us] and showing mercy: multiply upon us Your mercy: that as we hasten towards Your promises, You may make us partakers of the heavenly treasures.” Amen. +
+ ‘Grown men don’t cry,’ or so the adage goes. And yet the Sacred Liturgy of this Holy Mass places us before Our Lord, who, as He makes His entry into Jerusalem to the acclaim of the people, at the sight of the Holy City weeps. His tears are not shallow: they flow from the depths of His love for all that Jerusalem had been promised of old; for all that Jerusalem could and should be in the merciful design of Almighty God for His Chosen People.
And yet, in St Matthew’s Gospel Our Lord finds it necessary to cry out in grief: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Mt 23:37) And in the Holy Gospel of this Mass He weeps, lamenting: “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!” Our Lord’s tears flow all the more deeply still as He foretells the brutal destruction of the Holy City, literally and theologically, “because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Grown men do cry, it seems, in the face of such terrible realities—quite appropriately; instructively even. For if the tears of Our Blessed Lord do nothing else, they manifest the reality of His profound piety in respect of the Covenant between God and His People, and His deep love for the very City that is its incarnation. Our Lord also wept at the death of Lazarus, prompting those around to observe: “See how He loved him.” (cf. Jn. 11:35-36) The incarnate Son of God cries. He cries because He loves. He cries to manifest the profundity of love that is Almighty God. He cries so that we too may be moved to tears and convert our ways to His.
The very human reality of tears upon Our Lord’s face serves to remind us of something utterly crucial: that the Catholic faith is not fundamentally a creed to which to assent or a code of morals with which to comply. Rather, it is a personal relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ Whose love for us is infinite and Who sheds tears over us when we damage or destroy that relationship by our sins. To be sure, creeds and moral precepts follow from this relationship and from His definitive revelation of God in history, and they are integral to that relationship. But Christianity is first and foremost the reality that, by the grace of Baptism, we are inserted into a relationship of such unthinkable intimacy with God that He holds tears to be indeed worth the shedding.
We would do well to take some time to contemplate this reality. It is more than instructive—it is revelatory. Creeds can be studied, but when I come to see in them the face of Christ who loves me, the Truth they contain begins to live in me. Moral norms can be known to be right, but when I begin to understand the anguish that disregarding them will cause in He who gave Himself in loving sacrifice upon the Cross for me, they cease to be impositions and become the foundations of life lived to its fullness in Christ.
Prayer, too, is transformed by this reality. St Benedict instructs his sons to pray “not in a loud voice, but with tears and fervour of heart.” (Rule, ch. 52) Certainly, he also instructs his monks to sing the entire psalter each week—but that too should be done with tears, as it were. Prayer is nothing other than daring to continue to look upon the face of Christ weeping out of profound love for us, and of therein receiving the grace of responding appropriately.
In contemplating this reality in her Sacred Liturgy this morning the Church proclaims with the words of Our Lord: “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!” In the context of the Gospel passage from which this was taken, these words referred to the impending destruction of the Holy City. In this liturgical context they call us to know, indeed, to find those things that make for peace with Almighty God in the particular circumstances of our different vocations, and to live according to them. For without them, destruction impends for us also. We must remember the stark reality that Our Lord’s love and tears for the Holy City did not save it from the consequences of rejecting Him. Similarly, Baptism does not take us prisoner or remove our free will. We may reject His love if we wish, but that has clear consequences.
Stark as these realities are, the love of Our Blessed Lord is as merciful as to say that “even today” it is not too late. Even today it is not too late to seek out that which, in love, He calls me to do—be that my conversion from sin and vice; be that to give myself totally to Him in the monastic or religious life; be that to commit myself to the fruitful living of the vocation of Christian marriage; be that to test a vocation to the priesthood; or be that simply to draw new strength in the living of my actual vocation through the contemplation of the weeping face of Christ.
Iam hora est! The time is at hand to act so that Our Lord has no further reason to weep in respect of ourselves. +
+ If there is one thing that the Pandemic of recent times has demonstrated very clearly it is that the world of today operates from the assumption that the human body must be protected at all costs from any discomfort or suffering—even when this requires the curtailing of peoples’ liberties and even their God-given rights.
The elevation of bodily health and human comfort as the supreme goods that are to be worshipped above all else—indeed before which everything else must be sacrificed—is a logical consequence of a prosperity and secular consumerism in which “I” and my desires are at the centre of everything I do and where the ultimate purpose of life is my success in gaining as much pleasure, influence and wealth as is possible. It is unthinkable, indeed intolerable, that a mere virus could threaten this. Death eventually may be inevitable, but it must be put off at all costs lest I fail to enjoy my due quotient of all that the world has to offer me.
The brutal reality of this secular consumerism—from which the Church, particularly during the Pandemic, has not always been immune—leaves no place for the spiritual, for the supernatural. Each day it devours what it can in its sensual pursuit of happiness, rendering the most intimate and sacred of human relations a mere commodity and regarding even human life itself as something disposable when inconvenient or uncomfortable, only to wake the following day with an ever-greater need for self-gratification. It sets out again in pursuit of the alluring mirage that betokens some form of temporary escape from the stark reality that death shall come one day, and that this world and its pleasures—indeed that “I”—shall thence be at an end.
Amidst this frenetic pursuit of palliative pleasure the one true Church of Christ today, as yesterday when Ceasars, Napoleons, Hitlers and other despots rushed to erect their monuments, proclaims the truth that, in the words of St Paul in the Epistle of this Holy Mass, “We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.”
“If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” Whatever our vocation, whatever our activities, whatever pleasures we seek (legitimate or illegitimate) we would do more than well to ponder this truth.
In doing so we may be tempted to fall into the trap of thinking that “the flesh” refers exclusively to sexual sins. Whilst they are most certainly significant, we must not forget that there are seven deadly sins: pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth. All of these worldly and bodily temptations are precisely what their traditional name implies: they are deadly. If we live according to them we shall die.
However, if “by the Spirit” we “put to death the deeds of the body” we shall live, St Paul assures us. To this end St Benedict lists amongst his tools of good works “Not to fulfil the desires of the flesh,” (Rule, ch. 4) and teaches that humility involves both “checking…the desires of the flesh” and knowing that in respect of them, “God is always present to us, since the prophet says to the Lord: All my desire is before thee.” (Rule, ch. 7)
Thus chastened, the catechetical tradition of the Church teaches us to open our hearts and souls to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit—wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord—so that His Fruits may grow in us: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1830-32)
“This is all well and good and true,” one might say, “but it’s practically impossible in the world of today.” “Besides, sin has taken root in my life and has grown into vice. It’s too late. I’m too far gone” we utter in despair. Our loving mother, the Church, knows her children only too well—indeed she looks upon us whom the lures of the flesh have long-since ensnared with the determination of supernatural hope.
For whilst sin is sin and leads to eternal death, the Church exists to announce to we sinners that thanks to the Sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross our sins can be forgiven through Baptism into His Church and through perseverance in the life of grace—sustained, repaired and restored as necessary by means of the Sacraments He instituted for that very purpose. The Church exists to give us a glimpse and foretaste of life in Christ in the beauty of her Sacred Liturgy which, if it is to be true to its nature and purpose, must give glory to God, not man.
Indeed, knowing our plight, our loving mother, the Church, has prayed for centuries in the words of the collect of this Mass: “Bestow on us, we pray, o Lord, a spirit of always pondering on what is right and of hastening to carry it out, and, since without You we cannot exist, may we be enabled to live according to Your will.” As we continue the necessary battle to conquer the flesh and to live by the Spirit, let this prayer be ours, no matter how hard the fight may be: for if we are truly open to it, Our Lord Himself shall provide the grace we so desperately need. +
+ “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.”
This warning, repeated to each of us personally by the Church in her Sacred Liturgy this morning, is disturbing. Ravenous wolves are more than sufficiently dangerous even without a disguise, and rightly does one take measures to protect oneself and those in one’s care from the possibility of their attack. But to find that ravenous wolves have bypassed such protections—to find that they have walked through an open gate in the light of day, as it were—disguised as sheep, cannot but give rise to serious alarm if not even panic. The danger of imminent uncontrolled slaughter is real.
Of course, wolves do not frequent fancy-dress hire shops (thankfully). Our Lord is using a strikingly powerful image to teach. But the lesson He teaches thereby is as important as the metaphor is vivid: not all is always as it seems, and false prophets are a reality against which we must be on guard.
A century ago Blessed Ildephonse Schuster observed that this Gospel:
“Teaches us supernatural prudence in discerning the ways in which God works. In order to judge a person’s disposition, the surest way is to consider his actions. Pious and devout words cost but little, and Satan himself can quote holy Scripture with no lack of unction. What is of real consequence is that we conquer ourselves so that we may accomplish the holy will of God.”
This is of the utmost importance. In times when communications media make it very easy to point out the splinter in our neighbours’ eyes around the world, we must first attend to the logs in our own. (cf. Mt. 7:3) The conversion of my own life comes first.
We must still be on our guard against false prophets. Speaking probably of the twentieth century modernist crisis—the damage of which, like nuclear fallout, pollutes the life of the Church still—Blessed Schuster continues:
“In these days especially, when as the Apostle foresaw, a false gnosis opposes self-styled magistros prurientes auribus [cf. 2 Tim 4:3] to the traditional Catholic doctrine, the judgement we form is of very great importance to enable us at once to distinguish the false teachers from the true. For this purpose we must, above all, bear in mind in what the spiritual life really consists—that it is not merely a joyous stroll through this world, but a disciplined advance towards eternity. It is therefore not a matter of ease or pleasure, but of arduous labour.
Furthermore, it is necessary to ascertain what claim to authority he possesses who sets himself up as a teacher of truth to others. In order to fill such a ministry worthily, one must first practice in one’s own life that which one desires to teach to others by word of mouth, so that good example may prove to be the most efficacious sermon… Fine theories are not enough and whether it be for one’s own sanctification or for that of others, not merely good works, but superlatively good works are requisite.” (The Sacramentary, III p. 110)
“A disciplined advance towards eternity” bringing forth “superlatively good works”—these are no small demands. And yet, in our time, with its own particular crisis in the Church wherein we may not only encounter wolves in sheep’s clothing, but also disguised as shepherds, this is our task. As monks, here in this “school of the Lord’s service,” (Rule, Prologue) we must be exemplars of this disciplined advance and, as the Lord permits, bring forth such good works as we are able—above all the most beautiful and worthy celebration of the Work of God of which we are capable.
So too, in this time of crisis we must—each of us according to our means—offer what support and protection we can to those under attack: particularly to the sheep whose shepherds would starve them of the nourishment of the Holy Mass and sacraments and other rites celebrated according to the ancient tradition of the Church. Wolves disguised as shepherds know only how well to hide their disingenuous dispersal of the flock under talk of so-called “unity”, “inclusivity”, “diversity”, etc., which brings forth the poisoned fruits of division, exclusion and rigid uniformity.
As we give thanks to Almighty God this morning to be able to offer this Holy Mass in the usus antiquior, let us pray earnestly for those faithful sheep whom we know here in France, in England, in the United States and elsewhere, whose appointed shepherds seek to forbid them this right. May Almighty God protect His Church from the wolves, no matter what their disguise—from all their works, and from all their empty promises! May He grant each one of us the grace of perseverance and of such resistance as is truly necessary that His sheep may continue their disciplined advance towards eternity in peace, unmolested by the insidious wolves that prowl about today. (cf. 1. Pet. 5:8) +
+ In the very beautiful rite of the clothing of a new novice (which it was our joy to celebrate one week ago) the postulant’s worldly clothes are removed from him with the words “May the Lord strip off from you the old man and his acts,” before, during the singing of the Veni Creator Spiritus, he is clothed with the scapular with the words: “May the Lord put on you the new man, who was created according to God, in justice and holiness of life.” These rituals go to the heart of the monastic vocation—the leaving behind of the world and its ways, and all that its has done to us, and the coming to life of the new man according to the providential plan of Almighty God.
So too they echo the Epistle of this Holy Mass: “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death,” St Paul teaches us. “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life,” he insists. “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” St Paul exhorts us.
The parallels are all too clear. Indeed, monastic profession has since ancient times been regarded as a “second baptism,” where the monk commits himself to the discipline of living the Christian life with renewed resolve according to the discipline of the monastery in which he makes his profession. Monastic history is full of men and women who have fled the world to leave behind “the old man and his acts” in order to become “the new man, who was created according to God, in justice and holiness of life,” who was in fact thus created through the grace of the sacrament of Holy Baptism.
That is to say, to seek the monastic life is to seek the Christian life that is our baptismal duty: nothing more. To be sure, the organisation of monastic life, particularly according to the Rule of Our Holy Father St Benedict, is a grace and a discipline that many of we weaker creatures need in order to persevere in living the Christian life, but a life of prayer and the adoration of Almighty God, a life of work and a life of persevering in fraternal charity is nothing other than what the dignity of Baptism demands of every Christian—allowing, certainly, that the circumstances and the proportion of prayer and work will differ according to our particular vocation: a monk will be in his choir stall whilst a mother is caring for her children and a father is hard at work providing for them. Nevertheless, we are all duty-bound to be present together at Sunday Mass, to pray each day, and to conform our daily life—be it in the cloister, the home or the workplace—to Christ.
Hence St Paul teaches that each of us must recognise that in Baptism “our old self was crucified with [Christ] so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” and that we “must consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
We know only too well, of course—be we inside or outside the cloister—that our old selves do not want to die and that sin can take root very deeply in us. At times we can feel more alive to sin than we are to God in Christ Jesus! Our wounded human nature, even with the best of motivations, is weak and we fall back into the ways and acts of the old man all too easily. Even as we try our best to grow in virtue, the demon of subtle despair tempts us to believe that progress is impossible. “We shall never improve,” it suggests. “Sin is only human, after all,” it lies to us. “How can I ever escape the clutches of sin and vice in this Godless world?” we cry out in anguish.
“How can one feed these men with bread here in the desert?” the disciples ask Our Lord in the Gospel this morning. The answer to both of these questions is that we cannot. It is impossible for us. But the Lord’s answer is that He can, and that if we cooperate with Him, if we follow His instructions, if we respond daily to His call to conversion of life, all that is desired can be accomplished and much more besides.
Am I parched by sin in the desert of the world? Miraculous refreshment and recreation are available to me—indeed the restoration of my baptismal innocence—in the Sacrament of Penance, at the price of a humble, honest and integral confession. Am I faltering under the burdens of living out my Christian vocation in the world? Nourishment aplenty is freely available in the Sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist worthily received. (The other sacraments included) we can ask for no more, for we need nothing more.
Let us pray, then, in this Holy Mass, for the grace to allow the Lord to strip off from each of us the old man and his acts so that he may put on us the new man, who was created according to God, in justice and holiness of life. He can do this, and He shall, but if only we are willing to listen to His call and to follow His commands. +
Avant de chanter les premières vêpres de la fête de saint Benoît
ce fut notre grande joie de vêtir un nouveau novice - Frère Boniface.
Merci de prier pour sa persévérance.
Before singing first vespers of the feast of Saint Benedict
it was our great joy to cloth a new novice - Brother Boniface.
Please pray for his perseverance.
+ As we process to receive Our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion in this Mass, the Church sings from psalm 26: “Unam petii a Domino, hanc requiram, ut inhabitem in domo Domini omnibus diebus vitae meae.” (One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.)
Psalm 26, which we sing at the beginning of the the second nocturn of Sunday matins each week is full of confidence in the power and protection of Almighty God: “Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea: quem timebo? Dominus protector vitae meae: a quo trepidabo?” (The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?) it sings.
There is much to contemplate in this psalm and we would do well to revisit it and ponder and emulate its faith, whatever our circumstances or particular vocation.
Clearly these words of psalm 26 have a particular import for those called to the monastic life, particularly when read with the words which complete this verse of the psalm: “…ut videam voluptatem Domini, et visitem templum ejus” (…to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His Temple). For what is the monastic life but the daily seeking after the Lord in the beauty of His Temple? Of course, the monastic life includes many things—study, manual and intellectual work, the development and practice of crafts, gardening and farming, administration, appropriate sacramental and pastoral ministry, and even the most menial of household chores. And yet, for the monk, be he the abbot or a lay brother, any and all of these activities have as their source and indeed find their meaning in his perseverance in dwelling in the house of the Lord and in his continual seeking of the beauty of the Lord therein in the traditional hours of the Divine Office, in Holy Mass and in the other sacred rites.
For the monk is (or ought to be) one who constantly keeps before him the beautiful face of Christ who calls him to that daily conversion of life which enables him ever more deeply to drink from the inexhaustable fountain of grace that is the Sacred Liturgy. Thus purified and strengthened he can rightly sing “Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea: quem timebo? Dominus protector vitae meae: a quo trepidabo?” (The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?)
But the psalms are not only for monks, as the use of the first words of psalm 26 by the Church’s Sacred Liturgy as the antiphon for the Communion procession underline. For it is the God-given vocation of all the baptised to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,” eternally. (And it is precisely in the hope of this that a young man seeks entry to the monastery.) And it is in the hope of—indeed in the confident (but not presumptuous) expectation of—this eternal life that we process to the altar to receive its very foretaste (as St Thomas Aquinas taught) in the Sacrament of the Most Blessed Eucharist. For what greater anticipation of eternal life with the Lord is there in this life than the reception of His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in Holy Communion? What greater sustenance is there for each of us as we face the challenge to be faithful to Christ amidst the circumstances and duties that are ours each day?
Yes, some of us are truly privileged indeed to live during this life in the Lord’s Temple and daily to behold His beauty. And indeed, in these increasingly turbulent times in the history of the Church it is our duty and our vocation to ensure that the monastery does not cease to enable the pure waters of His beauty to flow for the benefit of all through its fidelity to the integral celebration of the traditional liturgy of the Church—even if there are some in authority who wish at all costs to brick up their wellspring. And yet, in the face of such persecution this morning’s Epistle teaches us: “Who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…” No, the beauty of the Lord is to be beheld—and upheld!—in His Temple in order that we may behold it for eternity.
Whilst it is our privilege so to do this morning, we must not become complacent: the Gospel of this Holy Mass teaches us that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Even a monk or someone who frequents the most beautiful of liturgical rites may lose all that he or she desires and come to deserve the condemnation of everlasting hell. Our conversion of life must be real so that our worship may be pure and acceptable in the sight of Almighty God.
As we assist once again this morning at the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Christ upon this altar, let us never despair of God’s mercy won for us by His Beloved Son on the Cross—and if necessary let us ask for the grace to seek it out in the Sacrament of Confession—begging Almighty God that our worship may be an offering that is pure and truly acceptable in His sight, for our salvation and the salvation of all. +
Our May, June and July letters to oblates and Associates
- now published on the oblates and associates page of our website -
form a trilogy on living through the ineffable grace of Christ.
We recommend them to you.
Nos lettres de mai, juin et juillet aux oblats et aux associés
- maintenant publiées sur la page des oblats et des associés de notre site Web -
forment une trilogie sur le fait de vivre par la grâce ineffable du Christ.
Nous vous les recommandons.
Thinking of a monastic vocation? Please read:
Am I called to be a monk?