The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert

The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert
The Monastery of St. Paul of Thebes, Red Sea Desert, Egypt (1990)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

ST. BENEDICT OF NURSIA - The Lord's Prayer

In this reading, we will continue our look at an early Desert Father who is most widely revered in the Western Churches, but who is nevertheless a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, too. Although his "desert" was a mountain in Italy, Abba Benedict lived a life of great asceticism and formulated a monastic rule that is widely followed in the Roman Catholic Church. In today's reading, Abba Benedict explains to us the Lord's Prayer and its deeper meanings. Too often in our worship, we mechanically repeat the words of this wonderful prayer without contemplating its deeper meanings; take these words of Abba Benedict to heart the next time you say this prayer:

BEGIN: "Our Father, who art in heaven." Therefore see, brothers, that if we have now found our mother the Church and have dared to call the Lord in heaven our father, it is right that we should leave our earthly father and our mother according to the flesh, lest being subject to both sets of parents we not only offend those who are citizens but, if we do not abandon the parents according to the flesh, we be considered adulterous offspring. For because of the tree of scandal our race descended from paradise to the womb, from the womb to the world, and from the world to the portals of hell. But we have been born anew through baptism and restored by the tree of the cross. The passion of the Lord effects the resurrection of our race and its readiness by grace to paradise whence it had fallen by sin freely willed. When Christ provided for us the refuge of his cross, the Lord destroyed the sting of death which was reigning over us. After restoring us to the grace of adoption by Him, he has moreover not ceased to invite us to the kingdom of heaven. Hence the voice of the Lord says: "If you keep my commandments, I will be your father and you shall be my sons." So it is that we, though unworthy but aware of our baptism, dare in his prayer to call him father. Therefore it behooves us to share in his sufferings so that we may deserve to be made coheirs of his glory.

So when saying, "Our Father, who art in heaven," brothers, let us show that we are sons such as God wants to have, and may the Divinity rightly grant us the title of sons, seeing our will comformable to his own. For he who resembles his father not only in appearance but also in conduct is a true son.

Since we have now deserved to say, "Our Father, who art in heaven," we continue the prayer saying: "Hallowed be thy name." Not that we want his name to be hallowed anew, since it is most holy from eternity to eternity, but rather that he may himself sanctify it in the good deeds of his sons, so that as Father and Lord he may make his dwelling in our souls and send the Holy Spirit to live in us, giving help to our hearts by his regard and ever keeping watch over them by his presence.

Then we say, "Thy kingdom come." See brothers, how we long for the coming of the Lord's kingdom and ourselves ask that his judgment be hastened, and yet we do not have our account in order. We should therefore conduct ourselves at all times in such a way that, when the time comes, our Lord and Father will receive us and, pleased with our daily good deeds in his presence, will separate us from the goats and place us at his right, admitting us into the eternal kingdom. May we, in the judgment to come, find a propitious judge whom in this world we have dared to call father.

Then we say: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." In this statement, brothers, our free will is expressed, and whatever harm the persuasion of the ancient serpent has done us is removed, if we so will, for the will of the Lord heals us. As the apostle says: "You do not always carry out your good intentions." The spirit chooses to have the will of the Lord done in us, so that the soul no longer does what it had been persuaded to do by the concupiscence of corrupt flesh. We therefore pray that the will of the Lord will be done in us. If this His will is always done in us, on the day of judgment there will be no self-will to be condemned after being examined for faults. For the will of the Lord is holy. It knows how to remove fear of judgment. This His will promises that those in whom it is accomplished will judge even angels.

Our Lord and Savior shows us this holy will by giving us the example of its being done in Himself in order to suppress the free will of the flesh in us when He says: "I have come not to do my own will, but to do the will of the One who sent me." And again He says in His holy passion: "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by." This voice of fear in the Lord was that of the flesh He had assumed, and shows us that the acts of life must always be well considered if death to come must be feared. . . .

"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." From this, that he said "in heaven," we can well understand, brothers, that just as the will of the Lord is fulfilled in all holiness by the angels in heaven, so should God's command given through the prophets and the apostles be obeyed by carnal men on earth too, so that, as Holy Scripture says, in both spheres (that is, in heaven and on earth) the Lord may reign also in us according to his good pleasure, and there may be one shepherd and one flock.

So also we can understand in a spiritual sense what he says: "Thy will be done as it is in heaven," that is, that the will of the Father be done in the Lord, His Son, because He cane down from heaven, the Lord Himself saying, "I have come, not to do my own will, but to do the will of the One who sent me." Do you therefore see that if our Savior, the Lord Himself, shows that He came not to do His own will but to fulfill the commands of His Father, how can I, a wicked servant, the least of all rightly do my own will? . . .

Then continuing the prayer we say: "Give us this day our daily bread." Therefore, brothers, when the aforesaid will of the Lord has been daily fulfilled by us, excluding blame, and all the commandments have been observed in the fear of the Lord, the petition that He give food to His workmen is worthily made, for He does not refuse the deserving laborer his wages.

Then we say: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Brothers, praying thus, we should very much fear lest the Lord reply to these words of our prayer: "The judgments you give are the judgments you will get, and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given." And you who ask this, see whether you did to no one what you did not want done to you. Therefore before we hear these words of the Lord, brethren, let us first examine our hearts as to whether we are with justice asking of the Lord what we have not denied to those asking us. We ask that our trespasses be forgiven us. God hears and He wants to forgive us, but only if we first pardon those who ask us to do likewise. . . .

Then we say: "And lead us not into temptation." These words, brothers, are warning enough that we should be on our guard. We must therefore beg the Lord with many sighs, striking our hearts as well as our breasts, never to leave us His servants without His help, lest we be open to the power and access of our enemy the devil, who is constantly prowling around us like a lion, looking for someone of us to eat, and who seeks to poison our hearts with his evil suggestion that he deign, by the protection of his assistance, to surround us with the wall of his grace and by his defence ward off the incursion of temptation in us, so as not to permit the work of his hands to be taken captive and subjected to slavery by the enemy -- provided we do not on our part give our consent to the temptations of this same enemy and do not, so to speak, make ourselves his captives, inclined to desire our enemy rather than flee him.

Then we continue, completing the prayer: "But deliver us from evil." Brothers, most holy, God desires to do this in us before we ask Him, for He is powerful and nothing is difficult for Him, but (he does it) only on condition that we deserve it. He does not want this structure which we are and which He has made with His own hands to collapse. He hastens to free us from the snare, if we do not on our part give consent to the enemy's suggestions, but unceasingly ask the Lord to grant us the assistance of His grace so that we may rightly say: "For with the Lord at our right hand nothing can shake me," and confident in the Lord we say again, "I will fear no evils, for you are with me." Thus may he, who at the beginning of the prayer shows us that we should dare, by His grace, to call the Lord our Father, deign now at the end of the prayer to deliver us from evil. Amen. END

from "The Rule of the Master," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1977), pp. 95 - 101