Letter to a Novice Oblate (VIII)

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My very dear Novice Oblate,

This is only my second letter to you from Ireland. I am sure that you understand that it has been difficult for me to "put fingers to keyboard" and write you from what is, essentially, an ongoing construction site here in Stamullen. This time I am writing from Silverstream Priory, the name given here in Ireland to our monastery, which remains, of course, under the patronage of Our Lady of the Cenacle.

Ascension Thursday announces that it is time for us to enter the Upper Room, the Cenacle, with the Apostles and with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in order to persevere with them in prayer, and to wait for the Promised Gift from on high: the Consoler, the Advocate, the Comforter.

On the Advent of the Holy Spirit

Consider, for a moment, this image of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. She is also Our Lady of the Cenacle; her hand are raised in ceaseless prayer and in readiness for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. You will notice two things. (1) The Infant Christ within His Most Pure Mother represents the nascent Church, the Church enclosed within the Immaculate and Maternal Heart of Mary during the days of retreat in the Cenacle. (2) The holy oblations depicted in this icon remind us that the Church, already in the Cenacle, was nourished and sustained by the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist.

Enclosed in One Place

Beginning this evening with Second Vespers of the Ascension of the Lord, the Church prays intensely, urgently, insistently for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Obedient to the command of Our Lord, "not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father" (Ac 1:4), we remain quiet and still, enclosed in one place. We have entered upon a kind of Advent of the Holy Spirit.

Concrete Gestures

This Advent of the Holy Spirit renews us in the desire for silence and separation from the world. The Mother of Jesus and the Apostles sequestered themselves in the Cenacle. They withdrew to a place apart. Each of us is called, according to his state in life, to separation from the world. It is up to each one of you to discover how, given your family life and other obligations, you can withdraw during these nine days from the business and noise that threatens to drown out the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost who would prepare you for His coming.

No two of you will do this in exactly the same way. During these days preceding Pentecost, one must, in some way, find concrete gestures to make the retreat of the Cenacle real. It is useless to speak in vague and idealistic terms of silence and separation from the world, if our actions and choices belie our pious discourse. For one it will be a resolute "no" to the television, to videos, and to an inordinate use of the internet. For another it will be abstinence from reading those things in newspapers and magazines that excite curiosity and leave troubling impressions on the soul. For yet another it will be a more generous application to that costly outward silence that is the price of inward silence. Mothers at home with children may want to invite the little ones to a few moments of silence each day, and introduce them to prayer for the coming of the Holy Ghost by praying with them.

O Rex Gloriae

We are in the Advent of the Holy Spirit, the Advent of the Cenacle. It is no mere coincidence that the second mode melody of the Ascension Magnificat Antiphon, O Rex Gloriae is the very one used for the Great O Antiphons of Advent. The same climate of irrepressible and joyful expectation pervades the Church. "O King of glory, Thou Lord of Sabaoth, who on this day didst ascend with exceeding triumph far above all heavens: we pray Thee leave us not comfortless, but send on us the Promise of the Father, the Spirit of Truth, alleluia" (Magnificat Antiphon, Second Vespers of the Ascension).

The Springtime Advent

Last December, during our winter Advent, we cried out for the coming of Christ, the first Paraclete, the Advocate who is to us Wisdom, Adonai, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring from on high, King of Nations, and Emmanuel. "I will pray the Father," He said, "and He will give you another Paraclete to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; you know Him for he dwells with you, and will be in you" (Jn 14:16 17). In this springtime Advent of the Holy Spirit, made bold by the prayer of the risen and ascended Christ on our behalf, we cry out for the other Paraclete, the Comforter sent by the Father to plead our cause.

Veni!

Cry out for the coming of the Father of the Poor, the Giver of Gifts, the Light of hearts, the best of all Consolers, the soul's sweet Guest and gentle refreshment (cf., Pentecost Sequence, Veni, Sancte Spiritus). The Veni Creator repeated every evening at Vespers from Ascension to Pentecost, swells with intensity as the Fiftieth Day, The Pentecost fulfilled, approaches. The whole prayer of the Church during this Advent of the Holy Spirit is, as it were, condensed in a single aspiration rising "out of the depths" (Ps 129:1), Veni!

In the Midst of Chaos

The struggle to find and preserve silence, amidst the invasive noise that threatens the soul's ability to listen, is a much of a challenge for us monks as it is for you, Oblates living in the world. Our little monastery -- Silverstream Priory -- is, at the moment, a construction site. Call it creative chaos. People come and go all day. Guests arrive, and must be welcomed as Christ Himself. (In Ireland that means the ever-ready cup of tea.) Everywhere I turn, I see dust and dirt, things unsorted, boxes yet to be emptied, and unfinished projects. There is the constant pressure of precarious finances and the urgency of finding funds. It would be easy, in the midst of all of this, to give in to a ceaseless mental buzz that foments anxiety and robs the soul of peace. Instead, I am trying, calmly and joyfully, to live in the present moment, and to give that present moment its value of silence, and of attention to The One Thing Necessary.

The Work of the Holy Ghost

During these days of preparation for Pentecost, I would invite you to recite (or sing!) and meditate each day the so-called Golden Sequence, the Veni Sancte Spiritus that precedes the Gospel in the Mass of Pentecost Day. The Holy Spirit comes to help us in our weakness (Rom 8:26). The Advent of the Holy Spirit is our rest in labour; it is coolness in the heat, and solace in our tears. The Holy Spirit comes to wash what is soiled within us, to irrigate what is arid, to heal what is sickly. The Holy Spirit comes to make supple all that is rigid and unbending. The Holy Spirit comes to warm what is cold, and to straighten what is crooked.

When He Comes

True prayer begins when we admit that "we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26), and so, all our prayer during these last days before the Pentecost is to remain enclosed in one place, in the Cenacle of the heart, waiting for the Promise of the Father (Ac 1:4). When the Holy Ghost comes, His power will overshadow us; then, filling the innermost secrets of the soul, he will intercede for us with sighs too deep for words (Rom 8:26). We will have begun -- anew -- to pray as we ought.

The Beginning of All Prayer

During this Advent of the Holy Spirit, make the Veni of the Church your own. Open your hearts to the urgency of the Church's prayer for the descent of the Holy Ghost. It is always urgent to pray for the coming of the Holy Ghost. Prayer for the advent of the Holy Spirit --invocation of the Holy Spirit, or epiclesis-- is always pressing, for the Advent of the Holy Spirit is the beginning of all prayer, and apart from the Holy Spirit, "we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26).

The Descent of Fire

If, during the coming nine days, we remain enclosed in the Cenacle with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, and the apostles, if we persevere in the humble prayer of waiting and of beseeching, we will not be disappointed in our hope. When we go to Holy Mass, it is for this: for the Advent of the Holy Spirit over humble gifts of bread and wine, and over ourselves. The consuming Fire descends invisibly over the altar. Holy Mass is the action of the Holy Ghost making us the Body of Christ, the Body in which the whole Mystery of the Head is renewed. Eucharistic adoration intensifies and prolongs the action of the Holy Ghost that is concentrated in the Mass.

Our Lady of the Cenacle

Of one thing I am certain: if I turn to Our Lady of the Cenacle and take refuge in her Maternal Heart, she will share with me the secret of a silence that loves, that listens, that adores, and that praises even in the midst of a hundred different things competing for my attention, my time, and my energy. I would invite you to do the same. Recourse to Our Lady is not complicated: it can be a glance, a movement of the heart, an aspiration in her direction. There is, I think, no better preparation for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost that will be renewed in the Church and in our souls on Pentecost.

In lumine vultus Iesu,
Father Prior

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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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