Letter to a Soon-to-be Novice

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San Giovanni Battista ed i confratelli dell arte dei caldereri, seconda metà del Xv sec.jpg
Second Sunday of Advent

My dear son,

Listening to the Liturgy

You have often heard me say that the sacred liturgy is, first of all, God's word addressed to us. Through the liturgy, Our Lord Jesus Christ addresses His Bride and Body, the Church, and, through the liturgy He speaks to each of us individually. If we incline the ear of our hearts to Him, we will hear His voice and His words will become for us seeds of holiness sown in our souls, promising a harvest of good fruits.

Putting on Christ

Tomorrow evening, after First Vespers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, you will be clothed in the monastic habit that symbolizes your firm resolve to put on Christ and to walk in newness of life. You will be enrolled officially in the school of the Lord's service to learn the Rule of our blessed father Saint Benedict, and to put it into practice day by day.

Introit

It almost seems as if today's Mass was prepared just for you, in view of this next step in your monastic journey. You belong to the "people of Sion" addressed in the Introit. The Introit contains a wonderful promise, a promise that you must claim for yourself today: "The Lord shall make the glory of His voice to be heard, in the joy of your heart." Is this not why our father Saint Benedict begins his Holy Rule by saying, "Hearken, my son, to the precepts of the master and incline the ear of thy heart" (RB Pro)?

Collect

In the Collect, we ask the Father to "stir up our hearts to prepare the ways of His only-begotten Son, that through His advent, we may attain to serve the Father with purified minds." In this context, "to serve" -- servire -- means to worship, or to offer the sacrifice of praise. Today, this prayer is for you! Ask the Father to stir up your heart to prepare the ways of His Son, the Bridegroom of your soul -- your Redeemer, your Healer, and your King -- that by the grace of His advent, that is, His coming to you in Word and in Sacrament, you may be numbered among the "adorers in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23) whom the Father desires.

Epistle

The Epistle invites you to be steadfast and patient in the practice of lectio divina. "What things soever were written, were written for our learning: that through patience and the consolation of the Scriptures, we might have hope" (Rom 15:4). The novitiate will be a time of trial calling you to a humble patience, a patience that rests upo your trust in God's merciful love. At the same time, you will have the consolation of the Scriptures hour after hour, day after day, and week after week. Learn to seek and to find your consolation in the Word of God. If you do that, you will always have hope.

Saint Paul also says, "Now the God of patience and comfort grant you to be of one mind one towards another, according to Jesus Christ; that with one mind and with one mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 15:5-6). We will be of one mind because we are learners in the same school, the "school of the Lord's service," and because the Rule of Saint Benedict will be the principal object of your study and reflection all throughout the year that lies ahead of you. A man who allows himself to be changed and shaped by the Rule of Saint Benedict becomes a human doxology, a man fully alive whose entire being expresses the praise of God's glory, through Christ Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.

The Epistle ends with a wish that is, in effect, a prayer: "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing: that you may abound in hope, and in the power of the Holy Ghost" (Rom 15:13). If anything is to characterize your noviceship, let it be this: "hope, and the power of the Holy Ghost."

Gradual and Alleluia

The Gradual contains this promise: "Out of Sion, the loveliness of His beauty, God shall come manifestly." The loveliness of the beauty of God that comes forth from Sion is, first of all the Immaculate Virgin Mary. She is the radiant image of the loveliness of the beauty of God. Contemplating Mary, we see already what God desires for the Church, the Bride of Christ, and for each soul. The humiliating struggles of the novice, his application to study, to prayer, to obedience, and to silence are the very things that allow the loveliness of the beauty of God to emerge in his soul. There is no more effective way to cooperate with this than by fixing your gaze upon Mary, the tota pulchra, the all-lovely, and by consecrating yourself to her. With Mary, you will learn to sing at every stage of your monastic pilgrimage: "I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord" (Ps 121:1).

Gospel

In the Gospel, Our Lord calls Saint John the Baptist the "angel sent before His Face to prepare His way before Him." In a way analogous to the mission of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mission of Saint John the Baptist will continue until the end of time. Wherever Christ is about to be manifested, John is present. He is charged with readying souls for the advent of the King. He does this by interceding for us from His place in heaven, and by obtaining for us the grace to gaze upon the Lamb of God, and to follow him. Saint John the Baptist is the patron of every novitiate.

Offertory

In the Offertory Antiphon, you will ask Our Lord to show you His mercy. He does this by turning toward you His Eucharistic Face. One who gazes upon the Face of Our Lord with the eyes of faith receives His mercy and experiences His salvation. There is healing in the radiance of His Face.

Secret

The Secret Prayer will remind you (and me too) that we have no merits to plead for us. We have nothing that might allow us to bargain with God. We have only our poverty, and when we go before Him it is with empty hands. God, however, finds empty hands irresistible. You can be confident of receiving His grace so long as your remain poor and humble and empty-handed before Him.

Communion Antiphon and Postcommunion

The Communion Antiphon invites you to arise and to stand in readiness for the joy that comes to you from God. "Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high, and behold the joy that cometh to thee from thy God" (Bar 5:4; 4:36). This is Our Lord's promise: "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man shall take from you" (Jn 16:22). So long as you keep your gaze fixed on the Face of Our Lord, you will be able "to appraise rightly the things of earth and love those of heaven" (Postcommunion). Thus joy will have the last word. I want you to be a joyful novice, and for this reason, I exhort you to look, not at yourself, but at the Face of Our Lord and at the beauty of His Immaculate Mother, the Cause of Our Joy.

He Who Comes

Today and tomorrow you will have ample opportunity to behold the joy that comes to you from God. Be anxious about nothing. Be steadfast in hope. You will not be disappointed because He who comes is faithful.

In lumine vultus Iesu,
Father Prior

1 Comments

Father (Father Prior, even!):

God bless you and the novices! Every post from the Cenacle makes my heart swell with joy for you all.

One day, maybe, I shall get to make a little pelerinage to visit you all!

Best wishes,
Mark

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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