On the Monastic Cell and Solitude.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Monastic Cell and Solitude.
Think of our Lord, either as dwelling alone in the seclusion of the tabernacle, or spending whole nights, as was His wont when on earth, in prayer alone upon Mount Olivet. Hear how He invites you to seek such solitude, saying: “When thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret.” (St. Matt. vi. 6.) See my soul, how in accordance with this injunction solitude ought to be very dear to you, how as a Priest you ought to love a life of seclusion far from the world, and how the Religious ought to regard his cell as a beloved friend. The world, we well know, does not relish a retired life, and calls the monastic cell a prison.
1st. Consider this name of prison which the world gives to the quiet, lonely cell; it is no inappropriate name; your cell is a prison, but much in the same way as Noe’s ark was a prison. He was not at liberty to move about as he pleased, but he was free, and secure against the deluge and its destructive billows. If the world were not deluged, you would indeed need no prison, no ark of safety, but now it is the means of your salvation; therefore you ought to rejoice in having a prison which will prevent your being cast into the everlasting dungeon of hell. How much better to wear the light fetters God lays on you, than to forge for yourself chains that to all eternity will not be removed. Living in the world, the body is free, but the soul is subject to the bondage of sin; here in your cell, in your solitude the body suffers a certain restraint, but the soul is free, free to soar aloft and hold converse with God. O happy prison! How fortunate is the soul that dwells in solitude! “The soul that lives in solitude,” we read in the revelations of Marie Lataste, “has her eye continually fixed upon herself; she is ever on the watch to observe whether her life is a constant progress towards God. Her eye is also fixed upon her enemies, lest they gain the advantage over her. Solitude is for the soul an eminence, whence the whole surrounding country is dominated. Moreover, the soul that lives in solitude has her eye fixed upon God; God speaks to her, and because she is alone she hears His voice the more readily, she is prepared to receive the graces He has in store for her.” If my soul, you consider these three advantages of a life of seclusion, your prison will be your dearest dwelling-place, and you will exclaim with David: “This is my rest for ever and ever, here will I dwell.” (Ps. cxxxi. 14.)
2d. The world calls the life of seclusion, the life of the cloister, a dreary banishment. It is truly a banishment, but one fraught with abundant blessings. It is a banishment from the miserable, deceptive joys and pleasures of the world, from the business of the world and the strife of the world. It is banishment from a barren desert into a fertile oasis, where the sparkling waters of grace spring up, where the tree of life casts a grateful shade. It is only the body that is lonely, the soul holds sweet, sacred intercourse with God and the saints. Hence all the saints delighted in solitude; it was their joy; in it they found courage and fortitude for life’s conflicts, solace in sorrow, assistance in their work, and a blissful peace which is sought in vain midst the turmoil of the world. Happy banishment, here below most sweet and welcome, here after the means of preserving me from eternal exile! My soul, shut your door, conformably to the counsel of the author of the Imitation: “Shut thy door upon thee, and call to thee Jesus thy beloved. Stay with Him in thy cell, for nowhere else wilt thou find so great peace.” (B. i. ch. 20.)
3d. The world calls the life of solitude a burial, the cell a grave. Would that it were really a grave, a peaceful grave. In the grave our passions are laid to rest, the storms of life are stilled, strife and discord are at an end. The fire of concupiscence no longer consumes the body, nothing disquiets the soul, for while the body reposes in the grave, the soul lives with God. Let your cell be a grave to you, a grave in which your body rests while your soul is rapt in the contemplation of God and His infinite beauty. Let your cell be a grave, where, heedless of the noise of the busy world and all its tumult you can await the day of judgment and the resurrection of all men. Let your cell be to you a grave, where you may abide as one dead, dead to the world, dead to the attractions of the world, dead to your own will, able to repeat as your own the Apostle’s words: “The world is crucified to me and I to the world.” (Gal. vi. 14.) And however the world chooses to sneer at your life, a life hidden with Christ, whatever the dark colors in which Satan may portray your solitary life as a Priest, do you only follow the more closely than heretofore the excellent counsel we read in the Imitation of Christ: “Enter into thy chamber and shut out the tumult of the world. Thou wilt find in thy cell what thou wilt often lose abroad. Thy cell, if thou continue in it, grows sweet; but if thou keep not to it it becomes wearisome. If in the beginning of thy conversion thou didst well inhabit and keep thy cell, it would be to thee ever after a dear friend and most welcome solace.” (B. i. ch. 20.)
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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