The life of Saint Rafael Arnaiz Baron is both fascinating and touching – born into an affluent and deeply devout family in the Castilian city of Burgos in 1911, he developed a keen spiritual sense from a very early age, and by the time he was nineteen (after visiting a Trappist community near Avila) he was considering monastic life. Three years later, in 1934, after finishing his architectural studies, he entered the Abbey there, but soon after developed a severe case of diabetes. He was declared to be too unwell to participate, and returned home on several occasions, before being drafted by the Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War (where he was declared unfit for duty).
Because of his perpetually ill state, he was finally readmitted to Trappist life as a ‘conventual oblate’ – i.e.; following the rule but not being fully part of the community – and was never able to fully profess his vows. During this period of continual illness, war, and the restrictions on his calling, he nonetheless remained utterly at peace, displaying a profound joy that was noted by the Trappist brothers and which was shown to have an even greater depth when his writings were discovered after his death in 1938. It is with this background in mind that the following piece from his writings should be read.
A beautiful meditation on the difference between the Peace of Christ and the peace that the world offers, it is a perfect preparation for this year’s Pentecost, where we celebrate the many gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to His Church – peace and joy amongst them. This passage reveals what power the Spirit can have to convert the human heart and change its field of vision, revealing the Cross to be a steadfast anchor in a world of trial and change, and Our Lord as a source of unsurpassable joy in our sometimes sorrowful journey through life:
‘“Lord God, I see that I have great need of patience: for my wishes are often contradicted as long as I live. However I arrange to be at peace, my life cannot escape from war and grief. True, my son. But I do not wish you to be looking for a peace that is free from trials or immune to contradictions. Think rather that you have found peace when you have been well tested in plenty of trials, and proved in many adversities” (Imitation of Christ 3,12)…
…How mistaken at times are those of us who are looking for the real peace of God… What we are seeking is often not the peace of God but of the world… When the world talks of peace, that is how it thinks of it. When the world looks for peace, that is how it imagines it – silence, quietude, love without tears, much hidden selfishness. Man seeks that peace in order to rest, to avoid suffering; he looks for the human peace that is experienced through the senses, that peace which the world depicts in a sunny cloister with cypresses and birds, a peace without temptations and the Cross…
…Today I bless from the depths of my soul that God who loves me so much… He loves me with all my miseries, sins, my tears and my joys; He loves me in that peace of which A Kempis speaks [in the Imitation of Christ]… How great God is! My peace of soul is the peace of one who expects nothing, no one; all that the soul hopes for in the world is to live united to his will, and the hope is a calm one, attended by peace in spite of the fact that the inability to see God yet is a grief, that tears are sometimes shed in taking the way of the Cross, and in seeing that we still have self-will, and in spite of the fact that with so many miseries, defects and sins, there is no respite from the burden of sorrow… Everything is strife and sorrow, but in the midst of it is Jesus nailed to a Cross, encouraging the soul to persevere; in the midst of the battle which we wage in the world is Jesus who with serene countenance tells us that “he who follows him does not walk in darkness” (Jn 8,12).’
from Spiritual Writings, 20/01/1937, courtesy of Daily Gospel.