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Chapter 127

While the bride was praying for an old priest, a friend of hers, who had been a most excellent and virtuous hermit but who had already departed from this life and lay now in an open coffin in the church before being buried, the Virgin Mary appeared to her and said: ”Listen, my daughter, and know that the soul of this hermit and friend of yours would have entered into heaven as soon as his soul had left the body, if he had possessed a perfect desire at his death of coming into the presence and sight of God. As it is, he will now be held in the purgatory of longing, where there is no pain other than the sole longing of coming to God. Know, too, that, before his body enters the earth, his soul will be brought into glory.”

EXPLANATION
”Tell that aged monk: For a long time you remained in the desert and bore fruit that pleased me, turning wild beasts into sheep and lions into lambs. Remain now steadfast in the city whose streets are strewn with the blood of saints, for you shall be heard at the court of judgment and behold your retribution.”
Immediately after hearing this, he fell sick and went to his rest in peace not long after.

This Benedictine monk had asked Lady Bridget to inquire of God how he could be certain about which habit to wear, since he was much troubled concerning the many abuses of the religious habit in the order of St. Benedict. So, when the lady was caught up in the Spirit, the Son of God said to her: ”I told you earlier (in Book 3 Chapters 20 and 22) that my servant Benedict regarded his body as a sack.


He had five garments. The first was a rough shirt with which he tamed the flesh and its disorderly impulses in order that they might not run riot and exceed their bounds. The second garment was a simple cowl, neither elaborate nor full of folds, which was to cover, adorn, and warm the flesh, so as not to scare anyone seeing him. The third was a scapular by which he would be found more prompt and ready for manual labor. The fourth garment was protective covering for the feet so that he might be more agile and humble in walking the path of God. The fifth was the belt of humility, girded with which he would cut down on superfluous items and carry out more expeditiously the customary work enjoined upon him.

Nowadays, however, his monks want luxurious clothes and abhor asperity. They want garments that please others and that excite carnal thoughts. Instead of a cowl, they put on a cape that has so many folds and is so wide and long that they seem more like conceited show-offs than humble religious. Instead of a scapular, they have a small cloth in the back and front, and they cover their heads with a hood after worldly fashion in order to be like people in the world. And yet they are neither like people in the world nor do they work together with God's humble servants. They cover their feet and put on a belt as though they were ready for a wedding, not for running in the stadium of toil.

A monk who wants to be saved must, therefore, observe that my Benedict's rule allows him to have a moderate amount of necessities, useful, not superfluous items, honest and suitable possessions, all of it in humility and not in pride. What does the cowl symbolize if not being more humble than others? What does the cowl's poor hood symbolize if not the rejection of worldly ways? Why are the monks adopting a fashionable hood, unless because they are ashamed of humble ways and so that they can be like people living in the world? What decoration or usefulness is there in a hood with a tail if not mere ostentation and fastidiousness that go against the beautiful rule of their religious order? What more does a plaited cape do than a cowl, except to make a wandering friar seem grander and more stylish to others? However, if a humble and plain cape were worn for some needful and adequate reason, it would not be improper, though a humble cowl would be more suitable so that the religious order in which a monk has made his profession could be recognized from his habit. However, if the monk has a headache or suffers from the cold, he does not sin if he wears a suitable and humble covering beneath the hood of his cowl - not on the outside, for that would be proof of frivolity and vanity.”

The lady answered: ”My Lord, do not be angry with me if I ask something. Do the monks sin when they wear such a habit by permission of their superiors or because of a custom established by their predecessors?” God said to her: ”An exemption is valid if it proceeds from an upright intention. Some grant exemptions out of zeal for justice, others out of false compassion and unwise permissiveness, and others, again, out of their own moral frivolity and obsequiousness. Others feign justice, being empty of divine charity. However, an exemption is pleasing to me if it is not opposed to humility, and the permission is valid only when it prudently allows for necessities but condemns superfluities even in small things.”

The lady asked again: ”Lord, my God, what if some of them do not know what is better or more suitable according to the rule? Do they sin as well?” Christ answered: ”How can a professed member of a religious order not know the rule that is read and heard every day? It is laid down in the rule that a monk should be humble and obedient and wear a habit made from rough rather than softer materials, an exemplary kind of habit and not a pompous one. Who is so obtuse of conscience that he does not understand that he has taken vows of humility and total poverty? The true Benedictine is one who obeys the rule rather than his flesh, who does not want to please anyone but God in his habit or customs, who daily longs to die and prepares himself for his exit from this world, and who is concerned about the account he must render concerning the rule of Benedict.”

The Virgin Mother's answer to the question of her Son's bride who was praying for a certain monk in a position of doubt as to whether it would be more acceptable to God for him to enjoy the sweetness of mental consolation by never leaving his place of hermitage, or to come down from time to time in order to instruct the souls of his neighbors.




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