To Truly Seek God

by a Benedictine monk

“Hearken, my son, to the precepts of the master and incline the ear of thy heart; freely accept and faithfully fulfill the instructions of a loving father...” (Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict)

The Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict is a type of summary of the entire Rule. His very first words of the Prologue invite the potential candidate to the monastic life to “hearken” and to “incline the ear of his heart.” St. Benedict asks the future monk to listen to a very quiet invitation that can only be heard by the ear of the heart. The heart is that inner chamber where Our Lord in the Gospel of St. Matthew invites the soul to enter and pray to the Father in secret. Prayer is not just speaking to God, but especially listening to God. He speaks to the soul only when the soul learns to be quiet. When the soul peacefully thinks about his existence and the direction he desires to give to his life, God does speak to him in very clear terms. All of the circumstances of his life seem to speak of God and he sees Him truly as a loving father inviting him to the everlasting wedding feast of Eternal Life.

Once St. Benedict has taught the soul to listen to God’s gentle invitation to the religious life, he encourages us to be grateful to the kindness shown to us: “What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of Our Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving mercy, the Lord showeth us the way of life” (Prologue). Human happiness is essentially based on loving and being loved. The most noble object of our love is God Himself. To love God and to be loved by God is the most perfect happiness that man can attain. God Himself shows us this way that leads to life, which is the road that God uses to seek us and the road we use to seek God.

Once the soul finally realizes the greatness of God’s love for him, something painfully strange happens in order to push the soul to grow in its love of God. God has struck the soul with His love and when the soul desires to respond, it seems that God disappears. The soul finally wants to love God with all his heart and God is nowhere to be found. The Canticle of Canticles speaks of the same mystery: “My beloved to me and I to Him...In my bed by night I sought Him whom my soul loveth: I sought Him and I found Him not. I will rise and go about the city: in the streets and in the broad ways I will seek Him whom my soul loveth: I sought Him and I found Him not.”

St. Benedict asks the monk to seek God like the beloved of the Canticle of Canticles: “When anyone newly cometh to be a monk, let him not be granted an easy admittance…if it be seen after four or five days that he bears patiently his harsh treatment and the difficulty of admission and persists in his petition, then let admission be granted to him….Let a senior be assigned to them (the novices) who is skilled in winning souls, that he may watch over them with the utmost care. Let him examine whether the novice truly seeks God, and whether he is zealous for the Work of God, for obedience and for humiliations. Let him be told all the hardships and trials through which we travel to God.”

What holds true for the newly arrived monk is also true for a baptized soul that is truly seeking God. At the beginning of conversion of life, the soul is often consoled and in a certain way carried by God. Then trials come and the soul can become confused and is ready to abandon the spiritual life, thinking that God has rejected him. In all reality, this is one of the most important moments of spiritual growth. We have the honor of loving God like Our Lord did on the cross, that is to say without consolation and with the feeling of being abandoned by all. Our Lord Himself says “...Unless you do penance you shall all perish...” The most beautiful penance we can do is to peacefully accept God’s will in the midst of our suffering. His will is our sanctification, which calls for our purification. God wills our purification even if it is painful for our souls to undergo this cleansing fire.

“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God...” Purity of heart can only come from purification. God’s loving hand purifies us like a burning fire that transforms our souls to become children of God. As purity of heart is obtained, the eyes of the soul can see more clearly. Instead of rejecting God because of the trial, the soul learns to adore God’s will with gratitude for His purifying love. Heaven is where the children of God will see Him face to face, but here below, every soul is called to contemplate Him through faith with a pure heart. The beloved of the Canticle of Canticles, after seeking God so desperately, persevering through the trials that purify the heart, finally finds Him: “...I found Him whom my soul loveth, I held Him and I will not let Him go...”

A vocation is for those that truly seek God. St. Benedict says of those that seek God: “... As we progress in the spiritual life and in faith, our hearts shall be enlarged, and we shall run with unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God’s commandments...” May our hearts be pure and enlarged with charity as we run in this valley of tears which is the way of eternal life.