April 3, August 3, December 3
Chapter 52: On the Oratory of the Monastery
Let the oratory be what it is called, a place of prayer;
and let nothing else be done there or kept there.
When the Work of God is ended,
let all go out in perfect silence,
and let reverence for God be observed,
so that any sister who may wish to pray privately
will not be hindered by another's misconduct.
And at other times also,
if anyone should want to pray by herself,
let her go in simply and pray,
not in a loud voice but with tears and fervor of heart.
She who does not say her prayers in this way, therefore,
shall not be permitted to remain in the oratory
when the Work of God is ended,
lest another be hindered, as we have said.
Would to God that the oratories of our hearts were as easy to keep
clean as those of our monasteries! Having been sacristan, in my
youth, of the large and lovely Abbey Church at St. Leo, FL, I can
assure you that Benedictines tend to be very good about this part of
the Holy Rule. One usually gets a Church in good condition and it is
not too hard to keep it that way. In fact, doing so was only one of
my several charges at the time!
Ah, but those cardiac oratories! How easily they can get cluttered
and more or less stay that way! God alone knows how many times I have
written books or articles, essays or posts in mid-prayer, how many
times I have "capably and completely" reformed Order or monastery,
Church, liturgy or world! I certainly hope He isn't counting too
closely, and I have a fair certainty that He isn't. One of the Desert
Fathers said that, if God counts distractions in psalmody, no one
could be saved!
The aim is good, beloveds, but about the time I envision my heart
dancing in pure prayer like Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in the
moonlit park, Jerome's Jezebel of a heart petulantly clumps out in a
sleazy mini-skirt, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels. My jaded
streetwalker of a heart is the easy and willing prey of a wide field
of distractions and infidelities! Jerome's Jezebel is a harlot
But, m'dears, and hopefully to lesser degree than my own, ALL of our
hearts have that Jezebel lurking within, dying to be asked to dance,
dancing alone, if need be! No smooth sophistication of a foxtrot to
Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter for us. Nope! Many times, the
best we can do is stumble about disorientedly to a musically barren
gangsta rap, whose harsh dissonance and strident attacks of
percussion all too closely mirror our chaotic world.
Calm down! The Divine Aim of our poor hearts is their Author and
Maker. Better than anyone and FAR better than ourselves, He knows the
limitations of His creations! How often God must be like a tender and
loving and delighted Mother who trys with all Her might to keep from
laughing at a child's graceless attempts at being exquisite grace.
Truly, in many a stumbling child there is GREAT poetry in motion, but
not at all in the way that the child THINKS there is! So it is with
God and ourselves. Relax, therefore, and rejoice! Again I say,
rejoice! The great and merciful God flat out delights in our efforts
and knows from the start that we shall be far more like funny home
videos than the best and most tasteful films ever produced. Funny how
we often lack the humility to see that ourselves! If we seek to gain
it, Satan, who loves to see us despondent and discouraged, will be
trounced but good.
It is our efforts which delight God, not our results. He knows that
the results we seek are far beyond many of us. The more clearly we
come to know that, the more adequate our sense of our own abject
poverty of skills, the greater our peace shall be. And in that peace
we shall find God, the loving parent on Whose long-suffering insteps
we tiptoe and dance, in Whose tender arms we swoon like children
dreaming of a grand ballroom with mirrors!
Oh, yeah, ESPECIALLY the mirrors part!!
Love and prayers and a foxtrot or two!
St. Mary's Monastery Petersham, MA