THE ASCENSION OF JESUS. THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW!

The ascension which we celebrate on May 12 this year, calculates as forty days after Easter and concludes the visible permanence of God amongst men.  It is a prelude to Pentecost and marks the beginning of the Church’s history.  This episode in history is described by the Gospels of S. Mark and S. Luke and in the Acts of the  Apostles.  Until 1977 in Italy it was also a public holiday.

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The Ascension, by Dosso Dossi, 16th century.

The ascension which we celebrate on May 12 this year, calculates as forty days after Easter and concludes the visible permanence of God amongst men.  It is a prelude to Pentecost and marks the beginning of the Church’s history.  This episode in history is described by the Gospels of S. Mark and S. Luke and in the Acts of the  Apostles.  Until 1977 in Italy it was also a public holiday.

With the solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus to Heaven ends the earthly life of Jesus who with his body, in the presence of the apostles, physically unites himself to the Father, and not to reappear on Earth until his Second Coming παρουσία Parusìa (arrival, coming, presence) for the Final judgement. This festival is very old and is attested as early as the fourth century. For the Catholic Church the Ascension is normally calculated as 40 days after Easter, that is, the Thursday of the sixth week of Easter time, that is, the one following the sixth Sunday of Easter.  In the  Symbolum Apostolicum the Apostles’ Creed we hear it mentioned by these words: “On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead..”

In the Orthodox Church the Ascension is one of the 12 great feasts.  The date of the celebration is established from the date of Easter in the Orthodox calendar.  It is known both with the Greek word ἀνάληψις Análēpsis (to ascend) and with ἐπισωζομένη Episozomene (salvation). The latter term emphasises that Jesus ascending to heaven completed the work of redemption. The Acts, which explicitly mention the Mount of Olives, are clearer still, since after the ascension the disciples “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount that is called Olivet, which is nigh Jerusalem, within a sabbath day’s journey.” (Acts 1:12) Tradition has consecrated this place as the Mount of Ascension.

WHAT IS THE BIBLICAL DEFINITION OF THE WORD ASCENSION?

According to a spontaneous and universal conception, recognised by the Bible, God  lives in a higher place and man to meet him must rise, rise. The idea of ​​rapprochement with God is spontaneously given by the mountain and in Exodus 19.; Moses is transmitted the prohibition to ascend to Mount Sinai, which implied above all this approach to the Lord; “And Moses said to the Lord: The people cannot come up to mount Sinai: for thou did charge, and command, saying: Set limits about the mount, and sanctify it. “And the Lord said to him: Go, get thee down: and thou shalt come up, thou and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people pass the limits, nor come up to the Lord, lest he kill them”. The command of Yahweh does not refer so much to a local ascent, but to a spiritual approach; one must first purify oneself and gather oneself in order to be able to hear his voice. Not only does God dwell in high places, but he has chosen the high places to establish his dwelling there; also to go to his shrines it is necessary to ‘go up’. So along the whole of the Bible, the references to “going up” are many and continuous and when Jerusalem takes the place of the ancient shrines, the crowds of pilgrims ‘ascend the holy mountain’; “Ascending” to Jerusalem meant going to Yahweh, and the term, beholden by a real geographical position, was used both by popular symbology for those who entered the promised land, as for those who ‘ascended’ to the holy city. In the New Testament, Jesus himself “ascends” to Jerusalem with his parents, when he meets with the doctors in the Temple and still “rises” to the holy city, as a prelude to “elevation” on the cross and to the glorious Ascension.

WHICH TEXTS TALK ABOUT THIS EVENT?

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The Ascension Ædicule

The Books of the New Testament contain sporadic references to the mystery of the Ascension; the Gospels of Matthew and John do not speak of it and both end with the account of apparitions after the Resurrection.  Mark ends by saying: “And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19); Luke speaks instead of it: “And he led them out as far as Bethania: and lifting up his hands, he blessed them.  And it came to pass, whilst he blessed them, he departed from them, and was carried up to heaven.”(Luke 24:50-51). Still Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, ascribed to him as an author from the earliest times, to the initial chapter (Acts 1:11), places the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, on the 40th day after Easter and adds: “And when he had said these things, while they looked on, he was raised up: and a cloud received him out of their sight.  And while they were beholding him going up to heaven, behold two men stood by them in white garments.  Who also said: Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven.”  (Acts 1:9-11). The other authors hint only occasionally to the fact or presuppose it, the same s. Paul, although he knows the relationship between the Resurrection and the glorification, does not pose the problem of how Jesus entered the celestial world and was transfigured; in fact in the various letters he does not mention the passage from the terrestrial to the celestial phase. But they reiterate the enthronement of Christ to the right hand of the Father, where he will remain until the end of the centuries, cloaked in power and glory; “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“. (Colossians 3:1-3)

WHAT ARE THE HISTORIC SOURCES?

Luke, the third evangelist, in the Acts of the Apostles specifies that Jesus after his passion, showed himself to the eleven remaining apostles, with many trials, appearing to them for forty days and speaking of the Kingdom of God; it must be said that the number of ‘forty days’ is full of symbolism, which often occurs in the events of the wandering Jewish people, but also with Jesus, who fasted in the desert for 40 days.  St. Paul in the same ‘Acts’ (Acts 13:31) states that the Lord “Who was seen for many days, by them who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who to this present are his witnesses to the people”, without specifying the number, so it must be a reliable hypothesis, that it is a symbolic number.  The Ascension according to Luke, occurred on the Mount of Olives, when Jesus with the Apostles to whom he had appeared, went towards Bethany, after having repeated his promises and invoked upon them protection and divine assistance, and rising towards the heaven as described above (Acts, 1-11). Mount Oliveto, from which Jesus ascended to Heaven, was embellished by St. Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine the Great with a beautiful basilica towards the end of the fourth century, Church of Eleona, sites of Christ’s birth and ascension, respectively; the rich matron and pilgrim Poemenia built another large basilica, rich in mosaics and precious marbles, on the type of the Pantheon in Rome, in the precise place of the Ascension marked in the center by a small roundabout. Then in the alternating instability that saw Muslims and Christians, Arabs and Crusaders over the centuries, the basilicas were unfortunately destroyed; in 1920-27 by vote of the Catholic world, the remnants of the excavations are used to construct a most grandiose temple, and dedicated to the Sacred Heart, while the round aedicule church of Poemenia became a small octagonal mosque from the 16th century onwards.

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ASCENSION?

Saint John in the fourth Gospel, places the triumph of Christ in his completeness in the Resurrection, after all the other evangelists had given little importance to the Ascension, confirm that the true ascension, that is the transfiguration and the passage of Jesus into the world of glory, happened on Easter morning, an event that escaped every experience and out of human control. Correcting an ample pervasive mentality, the Gospel texts seeks to place the ascension and enthronement of Jesus on the right of the Father, on the very day of His death, He then returned from Heaven to manifest Himself to His own and completes His instruction for a period of ‘forty‘ days.  Therefore the Ascension narratives by Luke, Mark and the Acts of the Apostles does not in fact refer to the Saviour’s first entry into glory, but rather to His last apparition and departure which concludes His visible manifestations upon earth.  Consequently, the intent of the accounts of the Ascension is not to describe a real return to the Father, but to make known some of the characteristics of the last manifestation of Jesus, a manifestation of farewell, necessary? yes! because He must return to the Father to complete the Redemption of all: “But I told you not these things from the beginning, because I was with you. And now I go to him that sent me, and none of you asketh me: Whither goest thou?  But because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow hath filled your heart.  But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16: 5-7). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 659) gives Ascension this definition: “But during the forty days when he eats and drinks familiarly with his disciples and teaches them about the kingdom, his glory remains veiled under the appearance of ordinary humanity, “Jesus’ final apparition ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven, where he is seated from that time forward at God’s right hand. He is the Lord, who now reigns with his humanity in the eternal glory of the Son of God and ceaselessly intercedes in our favor with the Father. He sends us his Spirit and gives us the hope of reaching him one day, having prepared a place for us “

ITS A HOLIDAY ALSO FROM A SECULAR POINT OF VIEW?

The first testimony of the Feast of the Ascension is given by the historian of the origins of the Church, the bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius (265-340); the feast falling on the Thursday following the fifth Sunday after Easter, is a movable feast and in some Catholic nations it is a Holy day of obligation, recognised in some secular calendars.  In Italy, in agreement with the Italian State, which required a reform of the holidays, eliminating some festive

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Sposalizio del Mare Venice, Italy.

bridges, the Italian Episcopal Conference fixed the liturgical and secular service, on the Sunday following the canons to 40 days after Easter.  In the Ambrosian Rite, however, it is celebrated on Thursdays.  On Ascension Day there are many popular Italian festivals in which many ancient traditions are re-enacted, linked to therapeutic values, which would be conferred by a divine blessing to the waters.  In Venice there was a great fair, accompanied by the “Sposalizio del Mare“, the Marriage of the Sea, a ceremony in which the Doge aboard

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H.E Gregorios, Archbishop of Thyateira & Great Britain,  Blessing of the Sea

the “Bucintoro“, threw a gold ring in the waters of the Venetian lagoon, to symbolise the Venetians dominion over the sea; some 8 miles away from St. Mary’s Hermitage in a town called Margate (UK) the Greek Orthodox Church and Greek and Cypriot Community of the Archangel Michael re-enact the blessing of the sea waters every year, in Florence the “Festa del grillo” is celebrated. (This link opens a Youtube video of the Festa del Grillo).

HOW THE ASCENSION HAS BEEN DEPICTED IN THE ARTS?

The story of the Scriptures and the liturgical celebration of this mystery can be found in miniatures of famous codices, among them the Syrian Gospels of Rabula in the

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Ascension. The Rabbula Gospel – Biblioteca Mediciae Laurenziana.  Florence

Biblioteca Laurenziana of Florence, and in mosaics and ivories from the 5th century.  The theme of the Ascension, adapted well to the vertical rhythm of the tympanum, above the gates of the Romanesque and Gothic churches; an example is the gable of the northern door of the cathedral of Chartres (12th century). But the representation reached remarkable artistic value with Giotto (1266-1337) who portrayed the Ascension in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. We also remember a fresco by Buffalmacco (13th century) in the Camposanto of Pisa; a terracotta by Luca Della Robbia (1400-1482) in the National Museum of Florence; a fresco by Maestro Melozzo da Forlì († 1494) now in the Palazzo del Quirinale in Rome; a Tempera on panel by Mantegna (1431-1506) in Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi; the Sansepolcro Altarpiece by Perugino († 1523) now in the Museum of Lyon; the famous fresco

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Norther door Tympanum cathedral of Chartres

by Correggio († 1534) in the dome of the Church of S. Giovanni in Parma called the Vision of St John Evangelist on Patmos, Ascension of Christ among Apostles; the fresco by Tintoretto (d. 1594) in the Scuola di S. Rocco in Venice. In a treasure chest of the Duomo of Monza, Christ ascends into heaven,

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Treasure Chest depicting the Ascension of Christ. Cathedral of Monza

according to a typical oriental iconography, seated on the throne; in other representations He ascends to Heaven among a crowd of Angels, in front of the ecstatic looks of the Apostles and of the Virgin.

INTERIOR PEACE — WALK OF SANCTITY

To understand how fundamental it is for the development of Christian life to strive to acquire and preserve peace of heart, the first thing we must be convinced of is that all the good we can do comes from God and from him alone. “for without me you can do nothing”[1], said Jesus.  He did not say: “You cannot do great things”, but “You cannot do anything”.  It is essential for us to be convinced of this truth.  We will often need failures, humiliations and trials – permitted by God – because…

By Father Jacques Philippe translated from Italian to English by Ven. Fr. Dom. Ugo-Maria

1. WITHOUT ME YOU CAN NOT DO ANYTHING

To understand how fundamental it is for the development of Christian life to strive to acquire and preserve peace of heart, the first thing we must be convinced of is that all the good we can do comes from God and from him alone. “for without me you can do nothing”[1], said Jesus.  He did not say: “You cannot do great things”, but “You cannot do anything”.  It is essential for us to be convinced of this truth.  We will often need failures, humiliations and trials – permitted by God – because this truth cannot be grasped by our intelligence only, but become experiences for our whole being.  God, if he could, would spare us all these tests, but they are necessary to make us discover our innate impossibility to do good alone.  According to the testimony from the saints, it is indispensable to acquire the knowledge of our limits, because it is the suitable ground in which all the great things that the Lord will do in us with the power of his grace will flourish.  This is why St. Theresa of the Child Jesus said that the greatest thing the Lord had done in her soul was to have shown her, was how small and powerless she really was.  If we earnestly study the words in the Gospel of John, quoted above, then we begin to understand that the fundamental problem of our spiritual life becomes this: How to let Jesus act in us? How can we allow God’s grace to work freely in our lives?

We must not therefore force ourselves to do things according to our plans and our competencies, but we must try to find out what the dispositions of our soul allows us to act in us.   You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain.[2]  So to the question: “What can we do to allow God’s grace to act freely in our lives?”  There is no single answer, for a recipe that suits everyone.  To answer fully, we should write a treatise on spiritual life in which we speak of prayer, of the sacraments, of purification of the heart, of docility to the Holy Spirit and of all the ways through which God’s grace comes to flood within us.  We do not really intend to do it, we simply want to treat one aspect of spiritual life, today too often forgotten.  It is about this essential truth: to allow God’s grace to act and produce within us – of course with our cooperation – all these “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God hath prepared that we should walk in them”[3], it is extremely important that we strive to acquire and preserve inner peace, peace of heart.

For a better understanding, we will use an image (not to be taken too literally, like all comparisons). Consider the surface of a lake on which the sun shines: if this is calm and tranquil, the sun will reflect it almost perfectly and the more perfect the lake calmer it will be.  Otherwise, the image of the sun would not be able to perfectly reflected upon it.  The same thing happens with our soul, towards God: the more calm it is, the more God is reflected in it, his image improves in us and his grace acts through us.  If instead our soul is agitated and troubled, the action of grace becomes considerably more difficult to perform.  All the good we can do is a reflection of the higher Good that is God.  The more our soul is calm and surrendered, the more this Good is communicated to us and through us, to others.  “The Lord will give strength to his people: the Lord will bless his people with peace.”[4]

Our God is the God of peace.  He speaks and does not work unless in peace, not in disruption and disconcertment.  Let us therefore recall the experience of the prophet Elijah on Mount Horeb: “the Lord is not in the wind, the Lord is not in the earthquake.  The Lord is not in the fire, and after the fire a whistling of a gentle air.”[5]

We often get agitated, we worry about trying to solve everything by ourselves, while it would be much more effective to remain calm, under the gaze of God, letting him act and work in us with his wisdom and his power, which is immeasurably far superior to ours.  “For thus saith the Lord God the Holy One of Israel: If you return and be quiet, you shall be saved: in silence and in hope shall your strength be. And you would not.”[6]

Of course, ours does not want to be, an invitation to laziness and inactivity; but an exhortation not to act, moved by a spirit of restlessness and excessive haste, but under the mild and peaceful impulse of the Spirit of God.  St. Vincent de Paul, the least suspect of laziness, said: “The good that God works by himself, almost without anyone noticing it.  We must be more passive than active; so that God alone will do, through you, what all men together could not do without him.”

2. INNER PEACE AND APOSTOLIC FRUITFULNESS.

This search for inner peace may seem to some, very selfish: why make this the main objective, while in the world there is so much suffering and so much misery?  To this observation we must first of all respond that the peace in question is that of the Gospel.  It has nothing to do with a sort of impassivity, of the death of sensibility, of cold indifference closed in upon itself, as with certain attitudes in yoga or certain statues of Buddha might suggest to us.  On the contrary, as we shall see later, the peace we are talking about is the essential consequence of the heart of a true openness to the suffering of one’s neighbour and of genuine compassion.  Since only this peace of heart is there for us, it increases our sensitivity to others and makes us available to others.

In addition we will say that only the man who enjoys this inner peace can effectively help a brother. Can you, in fact, give peace to others if you do not first possess it?  Can there be peace in families, in society, among the people, if there is no peace in their hearts to begin with?

“Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved,” said St. Seraphim of Sarov,[7] a great and holy eighteenth-century Russian saint.  To acquire this inner peace, he made an effort to live in ceaseless prayer.  After sixteen years of monastic life and twenty-five of eremitic life, he was attacked by a gang of thieves, he never resisted, they beat him mercilessly with the handle of his own ax, leaving him for dead; leaving Seraphim with a hunched back for the rest of his life.  He spent 5 months recovering and then Seraphim spent 1,000 successive nights on a rock in continuous prayer with his arms raised to the sky, a Herculean feat of asceticism, especially considering the pain from his injuries.  He then remained another sixteen years as a recluse in a cell.  He had begun to radiate in a visible way what had been done within his soul, after only forty-eight years of contemplative life.  But with what fruits! He became immensely sought-after due to his powers of healing and gift of prophecy.  His ability to answer his guests’ questions before they could ask. Thousands of pilgrims went to him and left, comforted, freed from doubts and anxieties, enlightened as to their vocation, healed in body and soul.

The exhortation of Saint Seraphim does nothing but bear witness to his personal experience, identical to that of many other saints.  The attainment and perpetuation of inner peace, impossible without prayer, should be considered a priority, especially for those who claim to want to do good to others.  Otherwise, we would often talk to those who are in difficulty with our own anxieties only.

3. PEACE AND SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE

It is now necessary to dwell on yet another truth, which is no less important: Christian life is a struggle, a war without respite.  Saint Paul invites us, in his letter to the Ephesians, to cover ourselves in the armour of God to fight “Finally, brethren, be strengthened in the Lord, and in the might of his power.  Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil.  For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.  Therefore take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace: In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one.  And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God).”[8]  He describes the components in detail, all the pieces of armour that we must wear and why.

Every Christian must be convinced that his spiritual life cannot under any circumstances be reduced to a quiet flow of days without history, but has to be in a place of constant struggle (against evil, temptations, discouragement), sometimes it can be painful and which will end only at our death.  This inescapable struggle must be interpreted as an extremely positive actuality.  Since we “make war that we may live in peace,”[9] [10]   there can be no victory without a struggle.  This conflict is precisely the locus of our purification and spiritual growth, with this approach we learn to know ourselves, our weaknesses and God in his infinite mercy.  It is, ultimately, the way chosen by God for our metamorphoses and our glorification.

Notwithstanding the spiritual battle of the Christian, although sometimes tough, it is never the despairing war of those who fight in solitude, blindly, without any certitude regarding the outcome of the confrontation.  It is the struggle of those who fight with absolute certainty, that victory is already assured, because the Lord has risen: “And one of the ancients said to me: Weep not; behold the lion of the tribe of Judah,[11] the root of David, hath prevailed….”[12]  Thus, let us not fight alone with our strength, but with the Lord who tells us: “My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me,”[13] our main weapon is not our habitual firmness of character nor our human abilities, but our faith, this total adhesion to Christ, that permits us, even at our worst moments, to abandon with blind faith to the one who will not abandon. “I can do all these things in him who strengtheneth me.”[14]  And again: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?”[15]

The Christian therefore battles with energy, called to resist “For you have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”[16]  But he does so with a calm heart and his struggle is all the more effective the more his heart dwells in peace.  Since it is this inner peace that allows him to fight not with his own strength – which would be less – but with that of God.

4.  PEACE: THE COMMON GOAL OF SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE.

We have already said that the believer in all of his battles, whatever the violence, will endeavour to preserve peace of heart to let the God of the host fight in him.  Aptly, he must be cognisant of the fact that: inner peace is not only a condition of spiritual struggle, it is – very often – the end.  It is quite frequent that the spiritual battle consists precisely of this: defending interior peace from our enemies who’s impetus is to steal it away.

If truth be told, one of the usual strategies used by the devil to drive back soul from God and thus, delaying the spiritual process, is to try to make you lose your inner peace, this is what Lorenzo Scupoli,[17] one of the greatest spiritual masters of the sixteenth century says on the subject: “The devil does his utmost to banish peace from one’s heart, because he knows that God abides in peace and it is in peace that He accomplishes great things.”  It will be very useful to remember this because often, in the daily conduct of our Christian life, it happens that we are wrong to fight – if we can say so – that we misguide our efforts. We fight on a terrain where the devil drags us subtly and on which he can win, instead of fighting on the real battlefield where, with God’s grace, we are always sure to win.  This is one of the great secrets of spiritual struggle: not to fight, to discern, despite the cunning of the adversary, against what we must really fight and where to direct our efforts.

It is wrong to believe that in order to restore victory in the spiritual struggle, it is necessary to overcome all our faults, never succumb to temptation, to have no more weaknesses or shortcomings.  On this terrain we will inevitably be defeated!  Which one of us can claim they have never fallen?  This is most certainly not what God requires from us, “For he knoweth our frame. He remembereth that we are dust.”[18]  On the contrary, the real spiritual struggle, more than pursuing an invincibility and an absolute infallibility that is out of our reach, consists mainly in learning not to get upset when we happen to be miserable and to know how to take advantage of our falls so as to rise higher.  Which is always possible, provided you do not lose heart and keep calm.

One could therefore rightly profess this principle: the first objective of the spiritual struggle, to which our efforts must be inclined, is not to always obtain a victory (over our temptations, over our weaknesses, etc.), it is rather, to learn to safeguard one’s own heart in peace under all circumstances, even on the instance of a defeat.  Only by doing so can we reach the other goal which is the gradual eradication of all our imperfections.

We must therefore aim for this complete victory over our faults and desire it, but remaining aware that our own forces are not enough, and not expect to obtain it immediately.  Moreover, only the grace of God who will give us the victory, his action will be all the more powerful and swift if we keep our soul in peace and abandon ourselves with trust into the hands of the Father.

5. THE REASONS AS TO WHY WE LOSE PEACE ARE ALWAYS WICKED REASONS

One of the dominant aspects of spiritual struggle is the struggle on the level of thoughts. Often it consists in opposing thoughts that come from our spirit, or from the mentality that surrounds us, or from the enemy that disturb us, frighten us or discourage us, thoughts that can comfort us and restore peace in us.  In anticipation of this struggle, “Blessed is the man that hath filled the desire with them; he shall not be confounded when he shall speak to his enemies in the gate”[19] the weapons, which are good thoughts, namely those solid convictions based on faith, which nourish the intelligence and strengthen the heart at the moment of trial.  Among these weapons in the hero’s hand, one of the statements that must remain close at hand is that, all the reasons that make us stray from peace, are always bad reasons.

This conviction certainly cannot be based on human considerations, but it is a certainty of faith, founded on the word of God.  It does not hinge on global the reasons; Jesus told us quite clearly: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.”[20]  If we seek peace as the world gives it, that is, if we expect a peace according to the criteria of life that make the inner state depend on the good performance of external things, the absence of contradictions, the realisation of all our desires, etc. ., surely we will never be at peace, or our peace will be extremely fragile and short-lived.

For us believers, the essential reason for which we can always remain in peace does not come from the world: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from hence,”[21] says Jesus; It comes from our trust in the promise of the Lord.  When He proclaims to give us peace, to leave us peace, this is the divine word and has the same creative force as that which began the cycle of the earth to rise from nothing; it is the same power as the one that calmed the tempest or healed the sick, the same that resurrected the dead.  Because Jesus said – twice! – that he gives us His peace and we believe we have His peace and that it is never withdrawn:  “For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.”[22]  We are the ones who do not know how to accept and preserve them, because very often, we lack faith.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world.”[23]  In Jesus we can always continue in peace, because he has conquered the world, he has conquered every evil and sin, because he has risen from the dead.  With his death he triumphed over death, he repealed the sentence and conviction that oppressed us and thereby expressing God’s benevolence toward us.  ”What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who is against us?”[24] … “Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ?”[25]

From this unshakeable foundation of faith, we will examine further on, some situations in which we often happen to lose more or less peace of heart, trying to overcome the light of the Gospel teaching.  But first we need to understand what it is, on our part, the fundamental condition for being able to receive the peace promised by Jesus.

6. GOODWILL, A NECESSARY CONDITION FOR PEACE

The inner peace we are dealing with depends fundamentally on our attitude towards God. Inner peace is a gift of God, the man who opposes him, who more or less consciously avoiding or evading his appeals or his needs, cannot enjoy true peace.  Despite that, let us note that: when someone is close to God, loves him and wants to serve him, he will be open to receive the gift of peace; the ordinary strategy, put in place by the devil, will consist in trying to make him lose this peace of heart, while God, on the contrary, comes to his help and renders it to him.  The factors of this covenant are reversed for a person whose heart is far from God and who lives in evil and in indifference: the devil will try to reassure them, to keep them in a false peace; while alternatively the Lord, who’s impulse is to give salvation and convert him, it will disturb and agitate his conscience to try to lead him to repentance.  The peace of a man cannot be absolute and permanent, if he is far from God, if his deepest will is not entirely directed towards him:  “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[26]

A necessary condition for inner peace is therefore what we could call goodwill.  It could also be called purity of heart.  It is the constant and stable state of mind of man decided to love God more than anything else, sincerely desirous of placing all circumstances of God ’s will to his.   It may happen – will definitely happen – that in life all the days his behaviour is not in keeping with this purpose.  Many imperfections will add up in the realisation of this desire, but he will suffer, they may ask the Lord for forgiveness and try to correct themselves.  After any loss, we will strive to return to say yes to God in everything, without exception.

Observe what ‘goodwill’ is.  It is not perfect, since it may well coexist with reluctance, imperfections, with mistakes, but it is a way towards it, why is this normal heart available (based on virtues such as faith, hope, charity), which empowers it with the grace of God and will lead us gradually, toward perfection.

This goodwill, this habitual determination to always say yes to God in both large and small things, is a “conditio sine qua non”[27] of inner peace.  Until we have acquired this determination, a certain uneasiness and a certain sadness will continue to remain in us: the restlessness of not loving God as much as he invites us to love him, the sadness of not having yet given him everything.  Because the man who has given his will to God, is secure in the belief that he has already given him everything.  As long as our heart has not found its harmony, we cannot be truly at peace.  It will not be unified in the moment when all our desires will be subordinated to the desire of loving God, to please him and to do his will.  This implies, of course, the determination to detach us from everything that would be contrary to God.

7. GOODWILL, AN ADEQUATE CONDITION FOR PEACE

We can also proclaim that this goodwill is enough to keep one’s heart in peace, even if, despite this, we still have many imperfections and shortcomings: “gloria in altissimis Deo et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis”.[28] In fact, what does God ask us, if not this goodwill?  What more could he expect, he who is a good and compassionate Father, when he sees that his son wants to love him above all things, suffers from not loving him enough and is willing (even if he considers himself unable to do so with his own strength) to break away from everything that would be against it?  Is it not for God to intervene personally so as to bring fruition to these desires which man, left to his own competences, is not able to perceive?

To support of what has just been said – goodwill is enough to make us pleasing to God and therefore to be at peace – here is an episode of the life of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus, told by her sister Celina: “In a situation in which Sister Teresa had shown me all my faults, I was sad and a little disoriented.”  Here I am so far from virtue – I thought – I really wished to possess it, I would love to be sweet, patient, humble, charitable… Ah, I will never succeed. “However, in the evening, during prayer, I read that to St. Geltrude, who had expressed the same desire, our Lord had replied:”  In all things and above all, have goodwill; this single provision will give your soul the splendour and special merit of all the virtues.  Anyone who has good will, sincere desire to work for my glory, give me thanks, share in my sufferings, love me and serve me as much as creatures together, will undoubtedly receive rewards worthy of my generosity and his desire will sometimes be more beneficial than not for others, their good works. “Very happy for this good word – continues Sister Celina – all to my advantage, I informed our dear little teacher (Teresa) that the dose increased and added: “You read what is written in the life of Father Surin? He performed an exorcism; the demons said to him: “We manage to overwhelm everything, it is not that this bitch of good will to which we can never resist!”  Well, unless you have virtue, at least you have a dog that will save you from all dangers; console yourself, it will take you to heaven! Ah, what is a soul that does not wish to possess virtue! It is the most common route! But how many little are the souls agree to fall and to be weak, who are happy to see each other on the ground and that others will seize the act!”[29]  As evidenced by this text, the concept that Teresa had attained perfection is not perhaps  what we would automatically think.  

Let us see how the believer of goodwill can, in the light of faith, overcome all the circumstances in which he tried to lose this peace.


Nota Bene:  This translation was made for some of the Novices of the Hermits of Saint Bruno and was not intended for external use.  In referencing this article the Ven. Fr. Dom. Ugo-Maria ESB (csr) in translation, he used the Douay-Rheims 1899 version of the Bible in all instances but one when the Biblia Sacra Vulgata was used.  Dom. Ugo-Maria was not sure which version of the Bible Father Jacques Philippe had used and therefore a slight discrepancy appeared in this articles version of Romans 11:29 (Please see reference no. 22 below).  Furthermore, Dom. Ugo-Maria has expanded on some of the referencing which was not present in the original Italian text to enable the reader of the English translation, to have more clarity.  Dom. Ugo-Maria is not a linguist (although his native tongue is Italian and German, his tertiary education was completed in England.   He therefore apologises for any inaccuracies in translation as they are not intentional.


Reference:-


1.  John 15:5.  

2.  John 15:16.  

3.  Ephesians 2:10.

4.  Psalms 28:10.

5.  1 Kings 19:11-12.

6.  Isaiah 30:15.

7.  Saint Seraphim of Sarov (Серафим Саровский) (30 July [O.S. 19 July] 1754 (or 1759) – 14 January [O.S. 2 January] 1833), born Prokhor Moshnin (Прохор Мошнин), is one of the most renowned Russian saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

8.  Ephesians 6: 10-17.

9.  Aristotle.  Nicomachean Ethics, Book X, 1177b.4

10.  Translated from the letters of Saint Catherine of Siena; III to the provost of Casole and to Giacomo of Mancio from the said place, she states “e della grande guerra fece la grandissima pace” and the great war made great peace.

11.  The Tribe of Judah (שֵׁבֶטיְהוּדָה, Shevet Yehudah, “Praise”) was one of the twelve Tribes of Israel.

12.  Revelations 5:5.

13.  2 Corinthians 12:9.

14.  Philippians 4:13.

15.  Psalms 26:1.

16.  Hebrews 12:4.

17.  Lorenzo Scupoli (Laurentius Scupulus), c. 1530 – 28 November 1610, author of “Il combattimento spirituale” (The Spiritual Combat), one of the classical works on Catholic spirituality.

18.  Psalms 102:14.

19.  Psalms 126:5.

20.  John 14:27.

21.  John 18:36.

22. Translators explanation of Romans 11:29; N.B. “are without repentance”; that is, they are immutable and unalterable; God never revokes them, or calls them in again, or takes them away from the persons to whom he has made such a previous donation. The Scriptures in Hebrew state “that the holy blessed God, after שנתןהמתנה, “that he hath given a gift”, לאיקחנההמקבל, “never takes it away from the receiver”; and this is the “Gemara”, or doctrine of the Rabbins דמיהביהבימשקללאשקלי, “that giving they give, but taking away they do not take away”; the gloss upon it is,בתרדיהבי, “after it is given.”

23.  John 16:33.

24.  Romans 8:31.

25.  Romans 8:35.

26.  St. Augustine’s Confessions (Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5)

27.  An indispensable and essential action, condition, or ingredient.  Originally a Latin legal term for “[a condition] without which it could not be”, or “but for…” or “without which [there is] nothing”.  Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press.  September 2005.

28.  Lucas 2:14 Biblia Sacra Vulgata; Translation: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.”

29. Consigli e ricordi” It was composed by Celina, sister of Saint Therese de Lisieux, drawing on her personal diary – partly written when the saint was still alive -, at her own depositions prepared for the Canonical Processes and some memories.  Ideal completion of the “Story of a Soul”, is a collection of anecdotes that portrays Saint Teresa de Lisieux (1873-1897), just twenty years old, in her commitment as a novice teacher, a commitment that will follow until her death.

Sia Lodato Gesù Cristo – Sempre Sia Lodato

Sia Lodato Gesù Cristo – Sempre Sia Lodato

Dal sorgere del sole al suo tramonto sia lodato il nome del Signore

Deus Tecum cari fratelli e sorelle,

Con questa acclamazione di fede, fino agli anni Cinquanta del secolo scorso, i cristiani erano esortati a salutare il sacerdote lungo la strada. Non si tratta di un’acclamazione liturgica. I predicatori erano soliti pronunciare questo saluto prima e dopo ogni loro intervento in qualsiasi circostanza. Era e resta ancora un’acclamazione per evidenziare che le nostre parole non devono servire alla nostra gloria ma a quella del Signore.

Di recente ho letto un blog dal titolo “Sia lodato Gesu Cristo – Perche?” dove lo scrittore propone che, poiché la chiesa cattolica non è l’unico esponente delle virtù … Basta dire in questo mondo secolarizzato che non ha tempo per la preghiera. “Devo scappare. scusa “rispondono quando ci rivolgiamo al tema della religione. Poi abbiamo i cosiddetti “sacramentali soli cattolici” che si vedono solamente durante i battesimi, la prima comunione, la cresima, i matrimoni e i funerali. Non educano i loro bambini che hanno battezzato nella fede cattolica “voglio che mio figlio si decida quando è più grande” dice “e se volesse diventare un buddista quando sarà più grande?”. La scarpa si adatta anche ad alcuni dei miei confratelli del clero e dell’episcopato. Un sacerdote collega nel Devon una volta mi ha chiesto perché sei diventato un prete te? Questo mi ha sorpreso e naturalmente ho risposto che “ben pregavo per la guida del nostro Signore e con l’aiuto dello spirito santo mi dirigevo verso il sacerdozio”. “Wow! voi italiani e i latini siete davvero dentro per quella roba” ha dichiarato “appena dopo il college mio padre voleva mandarmi nell’esercito a meno che non andassi all’università. Così sono andato a Oxford, ho scelto il tema più multidisciplinare, che all’epoca era teologia. quando mi sono laureato, mio ​​zio vescovo, mi ha offerto un lavoro e mi ha ordinato. allora eccoci qua”. Questo è dove Io ho esclamato “WOW”. Poi ho avuto un vescovo diocesano in Irlanda che non credeva nemmeno in Dio. Ma questo è un intero altro blog.

quindi qui siamo al punto cruciale della questione. la chiesa stessa sta diventando secolarizzata. Ma di nuovo questo è un argomento che forse affronteremo possibilmente nel futuro.

La mia campagna se possiamo chiamarla così, è che lodiamo il nostro Signore e Salvatore almeno una volta al giorno, non mi aspetterei di sfidare un laico a seguire il nostro esempio di “Sette volte al giorno io ti lodo, per le sentenze della tua giustizia.” [Salmo 119:164].

Ma vorrei con il vostro aiuto lanciare una sfida quaresimale per dire “Sia lodato Gesù Cristo – Semper sia Lodato” ad almeno un estraneo ogni giorno durante la quaresima. Che bel modo di salutare qualcuno se non nel nome del nostro Salvatore. Non pensi?

Che il Signore vi benedica e vi mantenga sempre.

in Gesù e Maria

dom. ugo maria

Jesus The Word of God made Flesh: Envelop and Mirror the Word.

Over the next few days we will encounter the Word of God in many ways, I would like you to hear the voice of the Word, to encounter its face, to be at ease with the Word and to proceed forward with that Word in your heart.  One of the abhorrent aspects of our modern world is that we fail to open our ears and hearts to God’s Word.  We are ensnared in a world where we only trust that which we can touch or see.  We are deceived into thinking that our salvation as a people, as a society is completely in our own hands and as a consequence there is no room for God and the Word He speaks.

To read whole document please click below

Jesus The Word of God made Flesh — Envelop and Mirror the Word.

CENOBITIC BEGINNINGS: THE PACHOMIAN MONASTIC EXPERIENCE

Taken from the study notes prepared for the Novices by the Ven. Fr. Dom Ugo Ginex ESB in March 1989 and edited by Brother Pablo di San Martin.

God be Praised.

Christian monasticism began in the Egyptian deserts. In Lower Egypt a semi – eremitical monasticism flourished while Upper Egypt saw the growth of a more cenobitic form under the leadership of Pachomius. It is my experience that the literature that witnesses to these forms of monastic life deserves our attention today. In this paper I hope to share something I have tasted or glimpsed. It is not the product of a thorough and organised study; I am in no way an expert. But I do believe that their tradition is ours, and to meet them is to know ourselves better.

Taken from the study notes prepared for the Novices by the Ven. Fr. Dom Ugo Ginex ESB in March 1989 and edited by Brother Pablo di San Martin.

God be Praised.

Christian monasticism began in the Egyptian deserts. In Lower Egypt a semi-eremitical monasticism flourished while Upper Egypt saw the growth of a more cenobitic form under the leadership of Pachomius. It is my experience that the literature that witnesses to these forms of monastic life deserves our attention today. In this paper I hope to share something I have tasted or glimpsed. It is not the product of a thorough and organised study; I am in no way an expert.[1] But I do believe that their tradition is ours, and to meet them is to know ourselves better.

The literature of Pachomian monasticism[2] is quite primitive, by our standards of literary sophistication, and in some ways it is similar to the style of the New Testament, particularly the Synoptic Gospels. This is true not only of the literary style which tends to be associative in its construction, but of its purpose as well, which is to invite the next generation into the experience of those who are writing, the experience of being transformed by the Spirit, by the Gospel. The purpose of the writings is not information but formation and transformation. When we go to these records of the past we go to enter into their experience of the Spirit so we can discover and live more consciously our own experience, for there is but one Spirit.

Pachomian monasticism presents us with perhaps the earliest model, of which we have record, of monks coming together, not around the abba for spiritual formation, but together to seek God in community. In this Pachomius gave concrete expression to a form of monastic life which had gradually been evolving, an expression of the evangelical value of community, where the primary relationships of the monks are with one another. These two models, on the one hand, the monks gathered about the spiritual father and on the other, the monks who have come together to form a community,[3] at this early stage in monastic history had this essential difference: the young monks who grouped themselves about the spiritual father came to learn to be monks, so that having been formed by the abba they could leave him to live as monks on their own. This eventually gave rise to a cenobitic form of monasticism, but one in which each monk’s relationship with the spiritual father was primary. Pachomius, however, took the Jerusalem community of Acts 2 and 4 as the model for community. Those who came to him came not for a time, but they gave the whole of their lives and all that they had to seek God in common, and to love and serve one another, as they saw that these are inextricably bound together for those who seek to live the Gospel.[4] The essential aspect of Pachomian life was κοινωνία [koinonia], unity in love. In this especially, Carthusian monasticism can look to Pachomian monasticism, for we, as they, have come together to seek God in community, and to love and serve one another. The opening chapter of the Rule of St. Augustine emphasizes the goal of unity in love.

  1.  Before all else, beloved, love God and then your neighbor, for these are the chief commandments given to us. (cf. Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34)
  2. The following are the precepts we order you living in the monastery to observe.
  3. The main purpose for your having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God, with one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32).[5]

Pachomius’ great charism was to be the center of a community, to teach monks to love and serve one another; but like most of us he learned through trial and error.

The Coptic Lives[6] report that when his first group of followers joined him, he understood that the will of God for him was to serve the others. So he took the burden of all the practical necessities upon himself and freed the others to study the Scriptures. Pachomius, through the whole of his life, was one to be very patient with the newcomer and there are many examples of how he would not demand something of a young monk, even though it was something quite important, until he could see the monk was ready to meet the demand. His patience in this initial venture lasted something like five years. When he saw that his monks were not maturing as monks he, after a night in prayer, drew up three rules: common prayer, common meals and common work. They refused and he expelled them. The second time young monks joined him, he was more conscious of their spiritual formation and made these demands at once.

From the beginning of their lives together, Pachomius consciously set about teaching the monks to love and serve one another, arid established a community wherein each monk had the responsibility of serving the rest in a specific capacity.[7]  The first member of the Pachomian community, however, was always God. This is everywhere in the writings, and on his deathbed the Life has Pachomius say, “I am going to the Lord who has created us and brought us together.”[8]

The Pachomian monks understood well that their lives were part of a continuing history.  This history began when God first spoke to the human race and one of its members responded; since that moment the dialogue has never stopped. Just as the Word of God was the source of Abraham’s life of faith, the Word of God was the source of their own lives and faith. They express this clearly when, in the Prologue to The Life of Pachomius, they locate monastic life within the whole of salvation history. It is a response to the creative Word of God and results from the fervor of the Church, especially of the martyrs.

True is the Word of God, who made all things, the Word that came to our father Abraham, in order to show him his favour, concerning the sacrifice of God’s only son.  The Lord said, “Truly I will bless you and multiply you as the stars of heaven in multitude;” and again “Because in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”  For this Word, speaking after Moses his servant and the other prophets, appeared as man and as Abraham’s seed, and fulfilled the promise of blessing to all the nations, saying to his disciples, “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  And, as the gospel spread throughout the earth by divine assent and with proof of his faithfulness, pagan kings stirred up a great persecution against the Christians everywhere.  Because many martyrs along with Peter, the archbishop of Alexandria, through many and sundry tortures were crowned with a victorious death, the Christian faith gained much ground and was strengthened in every land and every island throughout all the churches.  As a result monasteries started coming into being and places for ascetics who prided themselves in their chastity and the renunciation of their possessions. When monks who were former pagans saw the struggles and the patience of the martyrs, they started a new life.  Of them it was said, “Destitute, afflicted, ill treated, wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”  Thus they found retreats with proper piety and a harder regimen, holding before their eyes day and night not only the crucified Christ, but also the martyrs whom they had seen struggle so much.[9]

The Life also presents Pachomius himself, and therefore the monks who joined him, as part of an ongoing tradition, begun in the Old Testament and continued in the New.

The life of our truly virtuous and most ascetic father Anthony was like that of the great Elijah and Elisha and of John the Baptist.  The most holy archbishop Athanasius gives as much written evidence about him after his death, and at the same time states that the behaviour of our holy father Amoun, the chief abbot of the brothers on Mount Nitria, and of Theodore, his companion, was the same. And we know that, since grace poured from the lips of the Blessed one who blesses all – for he visited the earth, and instead of filling it with grief and sighs, he infused it with an intoxicating spirit – throughout the country from among those who took to monastic life many became admirable fathers, as has already been said, and their names are in the book of the living. In Egypt and in the Thebaid not many had turned to the monastic life up to the time of the persecutions by Diocletian and Maximian, but after that, the bishops led people to God according to the teachings of the apostles and the repentance of the nations yielded a rich harvest. There was a man name Pachomius, born of pagan parents in the Thebaid, who, having received great mercy, became a Christian. He made progress and achieved perfection as a monk. It is necessary to recount his life from childhood on to the glory of God, who calls everyone from everywhere to his wondrous light.[10] 

Because of the primitive style of the Pachomian Literature and its fairly unsystematic development, much of the wisdom it contains is perhaps less accessible to us than it would be if it were arranged in accord with the patterns of our Western logic. Of course, the price of this logic would be the beautiful simplicity that is everywhere in the writings.  When I first read The Life of Pachomius , though I was quite taken with the charm of the work, I wasn’t sure anything relevant or unified would emerge. For this reason I would like to suggest an approach which I believe can be quite helpful in getting closer to the heart of Pachomian monastic life.  If we choose a specific topic, such as common life, ascesis, prayer, leadership, obedience or poverty and read through the Pachomian works in search of what each has to say about, or how it presents or understands whatever is being considered, and do the same for another topic on the above list, very soon we can see how all aspects of their monastic life are complementary and support its single aim solidly and practically.  Also by noticing how the Rules are lived out in incidents related in the Life, we see how the strict or even harsh sounding rules actually were applied in genuinely human and loving ways.[11]  In the remaining section of this paper, in a modified way, I hope to illustrate this method with examples from the Pachomian sources.

In the Life , it says of Pachomius, “When he started reading or reciting God’s words by heart, he did not do it in the fashion of many other people, but he strove to comprehend inside himself each and every thing through humility and gentleness and truth, according to the Lord’s word, ‘Learn from me because I am gentle and humble of heart.'”[12]  This paragraph can be taken as a paradigm of the Pachomian approach to the Scriptures and to prayer.

Pachomius and his monks shared the dynamic concept of the Word of God of the ancient Hebrew.  They believed that it effected what it asserted, and they desired to be transformed by this living Word.  The Word of God, they understood, had been planted in their hearts at baptism; when they read the Scriptures, they read to uncover the Word which had been hidden there.[13]  Pachomius’ way, as shown above, is also the way given in the Scriptures. If the Lord said, “Learn from me because I am gentle and humble of heart,” then Pachomius, even in his approach to the Scriptures and to the Lord, will make every effort to be humble and gentle and true.  Lastly, the paragraph refers to reciting the Scriptures.  Meditation for the Pachomian monk was reciting the Scriptures he had memorised.  The incoming novice committed to memory at least the Psalter and the New Testament.[14]  Pachomius taught the unlettered Copts to read precisely so they could read and memorise the Scriptures.[15]

It is hard to separate the Pachomian concept of Scripture from their concept of prayer, for there was little or no difference.  The one was the other.  Meditation on Scripture actually meant reciting memorised passages not just with the lips and mind, “but with attention of the heart as well.  The monks memorised the Scriptures in pericopes which they called “by hearts.”  (This phrase, “by hearts,” eventually became a technical term so that they will describe their night office as consisting of “six by hearts.”)[16]  Prayer to the Pachomian monk was the continual recitation of Scripture.  His way of fulfilling the New Testament mandate, “Pray always,” was very simply to recite or meditate Scripture all day and all night, if possible.

So when the monk was at work or on his way to the assembly or to his cell at night, he was to meditate on some text from Scripture which, because of his memory, he had always at hand.  There are many precepts in the Rules which explain this. Here are some examples:

When he hears the sound of the trumpet summoning him to the assembly he is to leave his cell immediately, meditating on something from scripture to the very door of the assembly hall. (3)

The one who hands out sweets to the brothers should meditate on something from the Scripture as he does so. (37)

When the assembly is dismissed, all leaving for their cells or for the refectory shall meditate on something from Scripture. (28)

(On leaving the monastery for work) . . . they shall not speak together, but each one shall meditate on something from Scripture. (59)

Perhaps the most developed expression of this is found in The Book of Our Father Horsiesi who is exhorting a community which had lost its fervor to return to the way Pachomius had given them:

Let us cultivate the reading and the learning of the Scripture, and let us always be employed in pondering on them, knowing that it is written: From the fruit of his mouth a man will be filled, and the wages of his labour is returned.  These are the things that lead us to eternal life, which our father Pachomius handed down to us and commanded to be meditated upon perpetually in order that what is written may be completed in us:  These will be the words which I give you today into your hearts and into your minds. . . . Consider with how many testimonies the word of the Lord exhorts us to meditate on the sacred scriptures, that by faith, we may possess what we say. . . . Timothy too, while still a boy was learned in sacred letters so that he arrived at faith of the Lord and Saviour by way of them. . . . (51)

The Word of God in the Scriptures is given so that we may uncover the Word God has spoken in our hearts in baptism. Prayer or reciting the words of Sacred Scriptures is the way to the Word in our heart. Likewise, ascesis was seen in its relation to what God has already done in baptism, for all the fruits of the Spirit are given to us in this sacrament.[17].  Ascesis is the cultivation of these fruits; ascesis is a means to uncovering the Word in our hearts.  In his Catechesis Concerning a Spiteful Monk, Pachomius writes:

My son, flee concupiscence.  It beclouds the Spirit and prevents it from getting to know the secrets of God.  It makes you foreign to the language of the Spirit and prevents you from carrying the cross of Christ.  It does not permit the heart to be attentive to honouring God.

It is precisely in the fight against concupiscence, or anything which distracts the attention of the heart from God, that ascesis has its place.  Thus ascesis is always an act of love which has its source in God’s love.

Perhaps here we can examine a few of the Pachomian statements on the asceticism of silence.  In speaking of prayer we already mentioned one (see rule 59 above).  There are others:

Those at work shall speak of nothing secular; they shall either meditate on holy things, or for that matter, keep silence. (60)

As for the bakery: no one may speak during the evening kneading, nor in the morning, those who are busy with the baking or with the boards; but they shall recite together until they have finished.  If they need anything they shall not speak, but shall rap sensibly. (ll6)

While they are sitting at home they are not permitted to engage in secular talk; but if the housemaster has taught something from Scripture they ought, on the other hand, to ruminate on it among themselves, relating what they have heard, or what they can remember. (122)

It is true that not every rule that mentions silence explicitly orients the silence to the Word of God, but most do; it is quite evident that in Pachomian life the ascesis of silence was seen as a main support for meditation on the Scriptures.

The Pachomian understanding of leadership was, in part, that the leader was the one whose responsibility it was to be watchful or vigilant for the spiritual wellbeing of all. Horsiesus addresses the superiors:

All those to whom the care of the brothers has been entrusted will prepare themselves for the coming of the Saviour and his dreadful tribune.  For if to give a report for one’s self is full of danger and fear, how much more painful it will be to answer for the fault of another and to fall into the hands of the living God.

We also have a God given responsibility, the training of the brothers. (10, passim)

Or, looking at it the other way round, Pachomius’ understanding of the superior’s role can also be seen in his advice to the Spiteful Monk:

If you cannot get along alone, join another who is working according to the Gospel of Christ, and you will make progress with him.  Either listen [i.e., to the Word of God], or submit to one who listens, or be strong and be called Elias, or obey the strong and be called Eliseus: for obeying Elias Eliseus received a double portion of Elias’ spirit.

In short the advice is, if you can’t hear the Word of the Lord spoken in the Scripture yourself, go and find a man who can, and then listen to him. The other side of the coin, then, is that one who is a leader has the responsibility of hearing the Word of God for those who have submitted themselves to him.

There is a story by which I hope to tie these elements together.  It is rendered in different translations dating from different periods.  Each edition reflects the viewpoint of its own time, as they altered texts freely in those days to assert what they wanted to say.  Taken together these texts are quite interesting because they show how the aspects of monastic life I have already mentioned, scripture, prayer, ascesis and leadership, serve one another and form a whole.  They also vividly depict evolving concepts of the rule and obedience, and show how it is part of human nature to become alienated in the course of time from its original inspiration.  The original understanding was that obeying the rule was an act of love and that God dwells in the heart of one who loves.  This concept was so pure that it was rapidly lost.[18]

The monks are making bread and chatting as they work, instead of reciting the Scriptures.  Pachomius learns of it and blames Theodore, the monk in charge at the time, severely reprimanding him.  If the monks chat and do not recite the Scriptures, Theodore is responsible and Theodore must do penance.  This is the earliest account.  In the second version, Pachomius still “blames Theodore but asks him why he did not see that the “brothers respect the rule, since the rule is given them for the good of their souls.  The idea of serving the rule usurps the primary place that reciting the Scriptures had held.  In the third account, Pachomius does not “blame Theodore (by the time of this account he has to respect the authority of his assistant) but tells him to teach the brothers that the rule has been given for the good of their souls and they should obey it.[19]  In the latest version, Pachomius asks Theodore whether the brothers realise that when he (Pachomius) gives them a rule, it is God speaking to them through him.  The rule of silence gradually becomes identified with the will of God and its original purpose, to recite the Scriptures, is no longer mentioned.  On paper, at least, their silence has grown empty.

There are many lessons we can draw from this incident and the differing historic interpretations. There is only one, however, that I want to focus on here. It is the understanding and practical insight that is inherent in the earliest account. In it all the elements, the common work, the ascesis of silence, the role of the leader or superior, Theodore, and his responsibility of watchfulness for all, the recitation of the Scriptures, all of these are seen in their relationship to the end of monastic life, the transformation of the monk, by the Word of God, in Christ. In my judgement, it is this evident comprehension of the unity of our life, which they were able to effectively portray and hand down that makes the legacy of Pachomius valid for us today.

Notes

  1. My introduction to Pachomian monasticism came through the tapes of a seminar Father Armand Veilleux, OCSO, gave at Gethsemani Abbey.  The seminar contained three evening lectures to the whole community and six morning lectures given to the seminar participants only.  My notes then will read “tape 1 evening” or “tape 6 morning” according to when the lecture was given.
  2. There are four basic texts in the Pachomian corpus that I refer to.  Unfortunately only one has been published in English to my knowledge.  It is: The life of Pachomius: (vita prima Graeca).  Author:  Apostolos N Athanassakis; Society of Biblical Literature.  Editor:  Missoula, Mont: Published by Scholars Press for the Society of Biblical Literature, ©1975.  There are many extant Lives, from both Coptic and Greek sources.  This first Greek Life or G1, is the only Life available in English.  References to the Coptic Lives in this paper are taken from information that Father Armand Veilleux gives in the seminar and will be noted accordingly. Each paragraph in the Life is numbered and all references to it will be identified in the note or the text by this paragraph number, not the page number.

  3. The other texts of the Pachomian corpus to which I refer, I have seen only in translations that have been made and circulated privately.  There is, however, an edition being prepared by Father Veilleux which I’m currently unable to source, I have though added a link to Father Veilleux’s web page. The texts I cite are:
  4. The Book of Our Father Horsiesi, Sister Mary Charles Walsh, OSB, trans. Horsiesus was a successor to Pachomius after the latter’ s death, and this work is a call to communal conversion during a period of strife and decadence.  Like the Life it is subdivided into numbered sections and my references are to those numbers.

  5. The Rules of St. Pachomius, Dom Amand Boon, ed., Pachomiona latina, Louvain Bureau de la Revue, 1932.  Jerome translated a Greek translation of the Coptic original of the Pachomian Rules into Latin.  The text I use is an English translation of Jerome’s text.  Also extant are fragments of the Coptic Rules. Like the two preceding works each rule is numbered and I cite Jerome’s numeration.

  6. Catechesis Concerning a Spiteful Monk (from Oevres de S. Pachȏme et de ses disciples, Louvain: CSCO l60, Coptic Series No. 24, L. Th. Lefort, translator and editor, 1956).  Written by Pachomius himself, this catechesis was composed not for his own monks but for a monk from outside the community.  The monk was brought to Pachomius because he bore a grudge toward one who “darted a word” at him (tape 6 morning)

  7. 3.  Keating, Thomas, “The Two Streams of Cenobitic Tradition in RSB,” Cistercian Studies XI, 1976:4, pp. 257-68. This article cites the evolution of both forms, complete with appropriate diagrams and mention of Pachomius.

  8. 4.  An example of how much the monks were for one another what the abba was in the semi-eremitical tradition is found in this item from the Rules:  In the morning, in the individual houses, once the prayers have been finished, they shall not return to their own cells, but they shall share among themselves what they have heard the Masters giving out; then they shall go to their cubicles. (19)

  9. 5.  Constitutions of the Nuns of the Sacred Order of Preachers (Polygot Vatican Press, 1930), p. 1.

  10. 6. Tape 2 evening. An altered account of this is in the Life, para. 24-5, 37.

  11. 7. Life, para. 28.

  12. 8. Tape 3 evening.

  13. 9. Para. 1.

  14. 10. Para. 2.

  15. 11. The monks did not eat meat.  Note, however, the following incident from the Life:  There was another brother who was mortally ill and bedridden in a nearby cell.  He requested from the father of the monastery to be fed a small portion of meat — the length of his illness had reduced his body to skin and bones —, and because the meat was not given him, he told one of the brothers, “Support me and take me to our father Pachomius.” When he approached Pachomius, he fell on his face and told him the reason.  Pachomius realised that the man deserved the request, and he sighed.  At meal time Pachomius was served his portion, as were all the other brothers.  He did not eat, but said, “You are respecters of persons.  What has happened to the scripture, ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’?  Do you not see that this man is practically dead?  Why did you not take good care of him at all before he made his request?  And you will say, ‘We neglected him, because that sort of food is not customary among us.  ‘But does the disease not make a difference?  Are not all things pure to those who are pure?  And if you were unable to see without my advice that this would be good, why did you not tell me?” Tears came to his eyes, as he was saying these things. For tears are a mark of sensitivity. And even if tears do not come to a man who is sensitive while something is happening, there is such a thing as inner weeping. When they heard these things they hastened to buy the meat in order to feed the enfeebled man. Then Pachomius himself ate the customary boiled vegetable. (53)

  16. 12.  Para. 9.

  17. 13.  Tape 2 morning.  Horsiesi , para. 49, “… Let us follow the odour of wisdom always hiding her words in our hearts.”

  18. 14.  From the Rules:

  19. No one whosoever shall be in the monastery who . . .does not retain something from Scripture: the minimum is the New Testament and the Psalter. (l40)
    If someone comes to the gate of the monastery wishing to renounce the world and be added to the number of the brothers … he shall remain outside for a few days, at the door, and be taught the Lord’s prayer and as many psalms as he can learn. (49)

  20. 15.  Whoever has come into the monastery uninstructed shall first be taught what he must observe, and when so [in]formed, he has agreed to it all, they shall give him twenty psalms, or two of the Apostle’s epistles, or some other part of scripture.  And if he is illiterate he shall, at the first, third and ninth hours go to the teacher so delegated and stand before him; and shall learn with the greatest of eagerness and gratitude.  Afterwards the fundamentals of syllable, verb, and noun shall be written out for him, and even if unwilling he shall be compelled to read. (139)
  21. No one whosoever shall be in the monastery who does not learn to read. . . . (l40)

  22. 16.  Tape 2 morning.

  23. 17.  Tape 2 evening.
  24. 18.  Father Veilleux makes this statement joining obedience, love and God’s indwelling presence on tape 3, evening.   The bread making incident is related in this connection on the same tape.

19.  Life, para. 89