Monday, October 06, 2014

Classics of the Liturgical Movement: Canon Simon's Commentary on the Rule

Canon G. A. Simon was a priest oblate of St. Wandrille Abbey. That's as much information as one can readily find about him. I have never seen a photo of him. But his magnificent commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict contains countless passages of rich spiritual wisdom that retains all of its clarity, penetration, and relevance for those who are striving to learn the imitation of Christ from St. Benedict and his monastic legacy. In particular, Canon Simon has much to say about liturgical spirituality and the opus Dei, and in this regard embodies the finest flowering of the early (and healthy) liturgical movement that owed so much to the reestablishment of traditional monastic life in the 19th century.

If you are one of those who admire and try to follow the Benedictine teaching on the centrality of the devout worship of God in the sacred liturgy, I definitely recommend Canon Simon's commentary. Here are some choice passages.

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Commentary for Benedictine Oblates on the Rule of Saint Benedict (1947)

pages 162-63:
          There are methods of spirituality which may present a certain danger.  They are those which make of personal perfect — ‘self-improvement’ as Father Faber called it, without approving of it — the first goal of our effort.  Man considers himself first.  His asceticism has the end of reforming him, modeling him, completing him, as an artist does with a statue which he would make a masterpiece.  And in practice God finds Himself relegated to the background.  Asceticism, says Father Faber, is then no more than ‘a systematizing and a glorifying of self-will.’  Regret for sin is nothing more than ‘the bitterness of endless piecemeal failure,’ and perhaps, if the sin has had witnesses, the pique at having let others get an impression other than that which one wished to give them.  Thus the method ends in pride.
          St. Benedict, on the contrary, invites us to look at God.  He wants us to seek God truly: si vere Deum quaerit.  He wants us to follow in Christ’s footsteps, pergamus itinera Christi, and to have our eyes wide open to the ‘deifying light.’  The gaze fixed on God, whom we know to be present, is at the first step of humility and at the base of perfection.  It is because this God who sees us detests sin that we avoid committing it.  It is to make room for God that we renounce our own will.  Obedience is nothing but a complete docility to all the divine desires.  It is for God, to be more united to the Crucified, that we accept humiliation and suffering.  It is for Him that we renounce ourselves.  If our sins trouble us, it is not because they ‘mar the symmetry of our character,’ but because they grieve the Holy Spirit.  Thus is the soul quieted and confident, even in the face of its faults.  And because it is looking on the supreme Beauty, it forgets itself, it immolates itself and it mounts in Love.  It understands that its whole existence should be like a divine praise.  It expands in joy: the joy of knowing its God, the joy of loving Him, the joy of possessing Him already and of counting on the eternal possession of Him.
          The more we study the Holy Rule the more we understand that for St. Benedict life is nothing but a ‘search for God,’ an ardent and joyous search, thanks to which we reach that end from which egoism had turned us away and which is none other than perfect love.

pp. 301-2:
          St. Benedict wants the monk’s whole life to be permeated with the thought of God, and he wants everything in that life to minister to sanctification and progress in charity. . . . There is nothing in the truly Christian life, then, that escapes the supernatural spirit. It is not a life partitioned, in which more or less large rooms are reserved for God. Everything is for God. The daily toil, whatever be its nature, becomes matter for humility, matter for sacrifices, matter for imitation of the Lord Jesus; it becomes a holy thing, it becomes prayer. And in this sense it is true to say: He who works, prays.
          For the sanctification of toil St. Benedict demands a direction of intention. We must offer the toil to God beforehand and ask him to come to our aid.

pg. 323
          St. Benedict teaches us also equanimity and even joy in forced abstinence. Here as elsewhere he forbids absolutely any sadness, ill humor, murmuring. It so often happens that we have not the courage to impose mortifications on ourself. At least we ought to give the Lord a good reception when He Himself chooses for us the matter of our penances. “If a limited or absolute privation should be the case,” says Dom Étienne, “it ought to be considered as a divine permission and to excite in faithful souls a feeling of thanksgiving instead of complaints and murmuring. And not only in this circumstance, but every time it pleases God to impose a privation. That is the meaning of the conclusion of this chapter: ‘Before everything, we desire that murmuring be banished.’”

pp. 338-39:
          Prayer, and liturgical prayer above all, is the source of all interior life and the soul of every apostolate.
          “No ministry, no labors, however fruitful or necessary they be in themselves, will ever replace the preponderance of prayer, the preferential esteem to which it has a right. Let that ministry, that work, that toil infringe on the time reserved before all for the Work of God, and once more will the word of Scripture be realized: ‘You have sowed much and reaped little’ (Aggaeus 1:6); for the Lord will not fail to exercise His right of reprisal. . . . And is it not here that we must look for the principal cause of the meager results sometimes obtained by manifold and sustained efforts, by labors which naturally speaking ought to have produced much more?” (L’Huillier).
          If we want our action to be truly fruitful, therefore, we must give the [Divine] Office the preponderant place in our life. It is through liturgical prayer that the life in God will be maintained in our souls; it is thence that we shall draw the strength and the light necessary in order to attract souls to us and to direct them. Without this basis there is only human activity, that is to say, almost nothing.
          Love of the opus Dei implies regularity in the manner of performing it. Since prayer is what gives our life its orientation and its whole meaning, since it is what should be most dear to us and what is most necessary for us, let us apply ourselves to it as often as our schedule calls for it.

pp. 364-65:
          St. Benedict . . . knows no particular method of prayer. It is quite simply the fruit of the liturgy and of the sacred readings. Our morning prayer, therefore, will feed at once on our readings and on the liturgical prayer we have just completed. Hymns, Psalms, lessons, mysteries, lives of the Saints, orations—we shall find there an inexhaustible source of reflection and contemplation. The Psalms in particular adapt themselves in a surprising way to the liturgical cycle and to our states of soul.
          The mind which has contemplated the mysteries, followed Jesus Christ, Our Lady, and the Saints, found its own needs in the petitions the Church addresses to God, makes a selection as if by instinct in the memories of those readings. All those things enlighten one another mutually. And while we pray and meditate, we are continuing to pray with the Church, to sing with her, to contemplate with her. The Church is our guide and our mistress. And the thoughts and resolutions she herself has prompted and inspired will be found as if brought to life again every time we take up our breviary during the day.
          Prayer is not a little exercise apart, separated from the rest of our life by a sort of partition. On the contrary, it maintains a close contact with the Office and the lectio divina. And thus is realized in the interior life a unity more fruitful than the dispersion in which too many souls live, poorly enlightened on the close connection which ought to make a single whole of the Office, spiritual reading, and prayer.

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