7 September 2019

St Regina

My dear Son,

Once upon a time, in the early centuries of the Christian era, in a small town of Gaul, still under Roman occupation, there was a young girl whose name was Reine, Regina. She was of humble extraction, and yet she truly had the qualities of her name: she was a Queen. Her title of nobility was that she had been betrothed to the King of Heaven to whom she had vowed her virginity.

Regina was a beautiful young girl, and as was only to be expected, she was soon coveted by a number of men. But how could the bride of Christ become the bride of a mortal man? For her refusal, Regina would pay with her blood which was poured out and so sanctified the small town of Alesia, in the very spot where the Gauls had fallen under Roman rule. She conquered the enemy and won the crown of martyrdom, and this was charmingly expressed by a medieval engraving which read: “Here Cesar conquered Gaul; here a Christian virgin conquered Cesar”.

St Regina’s remains were religiously kept for over a millennium by the monks of Flavigny who entrusted themselves to her protection and over whom she watched with maternal sollicitude, sending vocations and providing in many other ways.

Today, on the other side of the world, in this small town of Colebrook, or rather, Jerusalem, as it was originally named, this same St Regina smiles down upon your first step in this monastery which claims her as a secondary patroness and whose relic we are privileged to possess. She has many things to teach us. At first sight, it would seem incongruous that monks who dedicate their lives to celibacy would have such great affection for a young girl who lived so long ago. Apparently, our lives are so different and have nothing in common. That Our Lady and St Joseph would be our patrons makes perfect sense. That St Mary of the Cross, first Australian canonised saint, would be dear to us, is most fitting. But what does St Regina teach us? 

Regina teaches us, first and foremost, to “prefer nothing to the Love of Christ” (Rule ch 4). The acts of her martyrdom have not left us as many details as that of, for example, St Agnes, but we can take inspiration from the latter to gain insight into the way Regina considered her union with Christ. “I love Christ; to Him alone do I commit myself, whose Mother is a Virgin and whose father knoweth not a woman. The instruments of His music sound sweetly in mine ears. When I love Him I am chaste; when I touch Him I am pure; when I possess Him I am a virgin.” 

Regina teaches us monks to love Christ even to the shedding of blood. Nothing can stand in the way of our union with the Lord of the universe. With St Paul she can say: “Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? Or distress? Or famine? Or nakedness? Or danger? Or persecution? Or the sword? (As it is written: For thy sake, we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) But in all these things we overcome, because of Him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8:35-39).

In this way St Regina teaches us endurance in times of trial, those times when we would wish to run away, when our little world seems to collapse and we are up against an apparently insurmountable obstacle. “Be patient”, she says to us. Through patience, we monks are called to take part in the passion of Christ, as our holy Father reminds us at the end of the Prologue.

Today’s oration also gives us a powerful insight into St Regina’s inspiration for us. It reminds us that she triumphed over the threats of the enemy (saeviente), and we ask for the victory over his caresses (blandiente). That is to say, even though we may well be confronted one day with cruel threats because of our fidelity to Christ, more often than not we must wage war against the seductions of a crafty and persuasive enemy. By keeping our eyes fixed on the crucifix and relying on the intercession of the saints, we will avoid such pitfalls.

The history of monasticism is replete with examples of men who waged war with the enemy of our salvation and overcame both the open attacks of the evil spirits and the allurement of subtle temptations. Our holy Father St Benedict is one that comes to mind, as do many of the ancient anchorites such as St Paul the First Hermit and St Anthony the Great. But there are also those who proved themselves valiant in open contest, but were overcome by the pursuit of pleasure. King David faced incredible hardships in leading the people of Israel to an era of peace. He had astounding magnanimity in forgiving his persecutors, but then, caught off his guard at a moment when his men were on the battlefield, he is brought low by the beauty of a woman. But David humbled his heart, did penance, and gave us one of the greatest monuments of his penance in the penitential psalms, especially the Miserere. The inspired words he has bequeathed to us form the substance of our life of praise.

And here I believe we can see a profound link between St Regina and the liturgy. For so many centuries, the remains of the Virgin were kept in the abbey church of Flavigny, and each day and night the sweet melodies of the Divine Office rolled over them like the waves of a divine symphony. She must have found great pleasure in seeing her mortal remains accompanied by the unceasing chant of God’s word. In this way, the monks mingled their praises on earth with those of the holy virgin in Heaven.

Would it be an exaggeration to say that she thus shines out as a model of monastic virtues: love of Christ above all things, fidelity to the praise of God amidst the winds and waves of temptation and trial? If that is so, then St Regina can certainly help along the way of our monastic life. I sincerely believe that she is happy to see that her relics have reached the antipodes and that henceforth, her monks in Burgundy are not the only ones to glory in her protection.

My Son, as you take upon yourself today the livery of our holy Father St Benedict, as you don the white habit of Mary Immaculate on this first Saturday of the month, as the gates of the monastery open to you and you set out to walk in the footsteps of so many holy monks who heard the call: “If you will be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor and come follow me, and you will have a treasure in Heaven”, may the virgin of Alesia guide your every step from the Jerusalem of earth to the Jerusalem of Heaven. “Non commovebitur in aeternum qui habitat in Jerusalem – He shall not be moved forever, who dwells in Jerusalem”.