Libenter excipe

Not too much is the old family motto for the McKinlays.

I like Libenter excipe for my own motto. It’s from the Prologue of the Rule of St Benedict and means “Freely receive”.

M. Basil Pennington writes about it in his book, Listen with your heart: a voice from the monastery (Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Pr., 2007, in discussing the first part of the Prologue (pp. 22-28):

Et inclina aurem cordis tui. “Incline the ear of your heart.” Listen to what? Et admonitionem pii patris libenter excipe et efficaciter comple. “Freely receive and effectively fulfil the admonition of your loving father.” If we could really have this spiritual insight to see that everything that is asked of us, whether it is asked of us through the Scriptures, through the Church, through obedience to the superior or to the brethren, through the experiences of life-whether it be sickness, health, et cetera-is really admonitionem pii patris, “the word of your loving father.” As Saint Paul says, “For those who love God, all things work together for good” (cf. Rom. 8:28).

It is beautiful Latin: libenter excipe et efficaciter comple. “Freely receive and effectively carry out.” It immediately brings to mind that story in the Gospel of the two sons (Mt. 21:29-31). The first one says, “Oh yes! Yes, Father! I’ll go.” The other one says, “Oh, no! No, Father! I can’t go! I’m too busy.” But the one who says yes does not go, and the one who says no, goes. Which are we?
A bit later Pennington says:

I think we know more and more as we get older what the sloth of disobedience is. When we are young, we are energetic. We can do it all. As the years go by, and we get old, we get tired, we get sick, and so on. It is very tempting to use those as excuses and not keep all there with the Lord. It is easy to fall into this sloth of disobedience and let things go . . . it now takes a lot more push to get even ordinary things done. [. . .] Yet, the Lord asks us to be wholehearted in our obedience, whatever that is. To be all there. So it is a labor. He [Benedict] speaks of the labor of obedience. Yes, it is a job to obey, to keep at it right to the end.

That word oboedientiae is a wonderful word. English does not quite capture it easily. Freedom is a part of it, like liberation. Libenter comes from the deep depths of our own being. It is our decision. But it carries with it the connotation of joy, as well. When you do something wholeheartedly-when it really expresses you-that is libenter.

Libenter excipe expresses being fully present in the moment and the place. “Joyfully receive!” Not avoiding God’s voice, we are wide open. There is a longing. “What do you want, Lord? Speak, Lord, your servant wants to hear.” (1 Sam. 3:9). “I’m here and want to hear.” “What do you have to say to me now? What do you want now? What’s the meaning of this?” That, Pennington says, is libenter excipe.

Sure, I take care of my health and try to live a balanced life. I use my mind and I keep my body in good shape. But the bottom line: Yes, Lord! When we can be that-a complete yes, libenter excipe-we freely accept whatever God disposes for us. Then, we are, indeed, filled with joy. We just go forward and do it. We do it as fully and as well as we can with the Lord, and we accept our limitations, too. We have our limitations, and we have to accept them. Yet, there is still a profound joy, because the deepest disposition in our soul and being is yes! libenter excipe.