+SOME REFLECTIONS ON OUR RELATIONSHIP TO CHRIST Chapter 14 Oct.’18
When Fr Eugene Hensell was with us this last time and spoke to us about Christ being a Messenger of Divine Wisdom, he mentioned Dom Columba Marmion as also one who communicated this Wisdom within our Benedictine tradition. Having had a respect for Marmion in my own early monastic formation I thought to pick him up again and share some of his reflections with you this morning.
We have most all of Marmion’s writings in our library and I found a small one that was unfamiliar and have spent some time going through it. It is called SPONSA VERBI: The Virgin Consecrated to Christ. The book was quick to renew my appreciation of Marmion and to provide what I feel to be, worthwhile material to share with you this AM. Most of you are familiar with Marmion from your own reading so no need to give you background other than to say he is an outstanding Benedictine writer from the early part of the last century, dying Jan. 30th in 1923.
His book, SPONSA VERBI or Spouse of the Word draws heavily on the writings of our own St Bernard, especially his conferences on the Canticle of Canticles. It is not easy for us as a male community to speak of ourselves as Spouses of Christ but if one is familiar with the vocabulary of St Bernard, the relationship of the soul to Christ cannot be better expressed if one is going to captivate its true depth. For Dom Marmion:
“The greatest gift made by God to the human creature is that of his supernatural adoption by grace into Jesus Christ the Word incarnate. The sovereign Being, infinite in all perfections who neither depends on or has need of anyone outside Himself, allows His immeasurable love so to flow over and permeate His creatures that they are elevated thereby to a participation of His life and Felicity. This gift exceeds the demands, surpasses the powers of nature, makes man the child of his Heavenly Father, the brother of Christ, the temple of the Holy Ghost.”
What Marmion reminds us from the very start is how this is all about the movement of grace in our lives, its ability to transform our inner selves so that we begin to share intimately in the very life of God. There are levels or participation in this life or stages of growth before one reaches this sort of communion. We may start off as simple servants, following divine commands as well as we know them. Then we can become the friends of God, experience something that is a mutual caring. From there we can experience ourselves as children of God, “their life is one of honor, obedience and love give to their Father.”
This stage can develop into something more intimate where one’s relationship to God is like that to a Husband where there are no secrets and the soul “shares with him the greatest intimacy of love.” At this point there cannot be a more intimate union. Monks, by reason of their way of life are drawn more and more into this deeper communion with the Divine life. In fact, I believe this is what draws most of us to the monastery, a sense that communion with the Lord is the only thing that will truly satisfy our deepest longing.
Marmion sees this notion of intimacy with the Lord as grounded in the Gospels. He writes:
“It is in the Gospels that the idea is expressed in all its plenitude; there is its real source; there it stands most clearly revealed. The Incarnate Word, unchangeable Truth, does He not give Himself to the spouse in person in front of whom come the virgins destined to form His court? Is it not from His lips that the most prodigious invitation ever fell that could touch the human heart? ‘All things are ready: come ye to the marriage.’”
Then there are those chapters in John’s gospel, namely 13-17 that speak so intimately of the relationship Jesus wants to have with his disciples, an intimacy that He Himself shares with the Father. A little further on Marmion quotes from one of St. Bernard’s sermons on the Canticle of Canticles:
“When you shall see a soul leave all things to adhere to the Word with all her strength, live by Him, all herself to be guided by Him, conceive what she should bring forth by Him; a soul, in short, who can say: for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain, then you can indubitably recognize her for a spouse of the Word.”
Marmion saw clearly that in seeking this communion with the Lord it demands a willingness to leave all things in order to adhere to the Word with all her strength. It is a matter of entering into that unfathomable love of God for us involved in the self-emptying of the eternal Word in taking on our human flesh. It seems to me that this is why the whole mystery of the Incarnation was so dear to the early Cistercians, the way it so effectively manifests the love of God for us. Marmion shows, (and with this I will close) the excellence of our religious state and asks:
“Will not the contemplation of your high dignity inflame your hearts with a generous love for Him, who without your merit has predestined it for you? I shall essay [write], in the first place, to show you how the sacred Humanity of Jesus is espoused to the Word; for it is there that we shall find the best model of the intimate union that the soul contracts with Christ… May the Immaculate Virgin, from whose fruitful virginity was born the King of Kings, aid us in our task.”