“The conversion is not carried out in an only day. If only the same could be achieved in the course of our life” (Saint Benedicte). Conversion begins with inquisitiveness, it continues with a quest and it forges a transformation. The Bible does not consider conversion as a value itself but it is just an attitude.
There are many paths for conversion according to the different ways to live life itself. It is “a return to God” from a “faraway region”, a beloved image for the classic Cistercian authors that expresses the peculiarity of the Cistercian conversion. Peculiarity is equivalent to radicalness.
Here it is not anything about exaggeration. As the Rule of Saint Benedicte asks to the candidate: “if he or she really seeks God” (RB 58.7). Search understood as a spiritual combat in order that one can reach their own personal liberation in their pursuit of the message of Jesus of Nazareth: “if you want to become perfect, sell everything you have, give it to the poor and then follow me.”
Thus, the Cistercian Community wants to offer a living icon of Lord Jesus to whosoever approaches Him. Thanks to the conversion, the image of God gradually gets restored, deteriorated by the selfishness of sin…request that emerges from the commitment of the Christian faith received in the baptism.
“Love is the compendium of the re-education of man.” (Elredo de Rievaulx)
“The Conversion that results in a radical quest of God is channeled into the fraternal communal living of the Cistercian monk”
The Cistercian life is a “koinonia” itself, expression born during the communal life of the first apostles. It refers to the Cistercian community as a replica of the primitive church that attempts to live “with an only heart and a lone soul” persisting in prayer, in listening to the Word and in the share-out of Bread”. (Hch 2.42)
The fraternal living means that the bonds of the same love and the same vocation have to solidify in all of them at the same time, it means that the inclinations start to be revealed and the shoots of a selfish individualism are cut off.
This leads to an active and particular commitment, it tends to intensify that mutual and free relationship what means love, reciprocal knowledge, forgiveness, acceptance and joint responsibility. In this way, the community shapes every member that takes part in it, in the image and likeness of God our Father.
“The communion of goods expresses the communion of love” (Balduino de Ford).
Throughout the History of Salvation, poverty appears as an economic phenomenon that arises from the problematic ordinariness of life but Lord Jesus neither glorifies it nor sublimes it when it comes to an economic project, not even as a simple ascetic ideal. The real poor man only gives in to the light of the announcement of the Kingdom and the eschatological “day”. (Lc 6.20ss)
The starting point of the Cistercian practice of the poverty emerges from its own doctrinal principles and from the situation where the charisma is born. The exclusive quest of God invites the monk to sink to the infinite abyss of the poverty through the renouncement of possessions and the self-emptying. Thus, through the donation of oneself, the Cistercian does the program of radical quest demanded by his call.
We have to experience our dependence on God, with the same insecurity, putting aside all kind of temporal support. Only then, this deep feeling of faith and trust in our Father will come into us. Poverty results in a sharing and consent with the poor inside and outside the cloister, reducing the scope of the individual needs as the path to be receptive to the only necessary thing.
Sex has often been a taboo obsession, even at the most. Nowadays it has changed somewhat. But it is being paid a high price. This brings to debauchery for many of them and even to being slaves of themselves. We live in a world where the amorous-sexual relationships are exalted. Virginity comes to be the expression of a combination of desires of the “Day of God” that does not accept any commitment or fear of dealing with loneliness. It is therefore the attitude that best defines the life of every monk.
The Cistercian virginity is closed related with love and dedication. Love demands total dedication. The monk, in terms of believer, finds the model in the relationship with the love of Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – which has shown up in Jesus of Nazareth. He was a virgin because his love wanted to be exclusive in his mission and universal in his dedication.
We all agree with the difficulty of practising the evangelical chastity. In a way it is an anti-natural stance. Elredo de Rievaulx used to warn his monks: “No one should come with any illusions, brag or be deceived. One can only be chaste thanks to a pure gift of God”. Virginity is a pure present of God who reveals His power on human limitation, asking us for our own donation in turn. The virtuous love is opened up for real liberty.
“The man who starts living a religious and solitary life…must let oneself be shaped by outside hands as it is the clay by the potter”. (Guillermo de Saint-Thierry)
“If following Jesus means abandonment (Mc 1, 16ss), abandonment implies submission and listening-in in turn, that is to say, obedience according to the Kingdom of God. The remarkable thing about this call is the absence of the most trifling guarantee of support and security. The invitation is legitimate only because it comes from Jesus. His call is absolute. “Follow me. Leví stood up and followed Him” (Mc 2, 14)
With nobody´s help is very difficult to implement the essential discernments in our own life. You cannot see inside your own eyes. To find out about yourself you need another person´s looking. Nobody is a good judge in his or her own cause. The spiritual father, the abbot, is himself the mirror that God gives us to be able to know ourselves. His word may seem to be tough in specific occasions. It needs to be like that so that when we see our sin, the disobedience of our heart, we contemplate our real countenance that we truly hope…Ultimately the Cistercian obedience is a slow learning needed between two fronts: the demand of the Kingdom and the mean criteria and caprices. This liberating path results in service, absolution and shared enjoyment.
Solitude and Presence
“A devoted love trembles even in the calmness of a deep solitude, always caring for the needs of others.” (Adan de Perseigne)
Today, yesterday and forever, the invitation of Lord Jesus is valid. “Come apart, to a lonely place and rest for a while”. (Mc 6,31). But there is a solitude – absence that dehumanizes man what is a sign of absence of others, and even worse, of oneself. Jesus does not invite to this kind of loneliness but solitude-communion that firstly results in a total trust and in an awareness of the presence of God in the human being, in the presence of the person upon him or herself and upon others in the sense of companionship, not just along the daily vicissitudes but the internal peregrination of man. Jesus accepted this solitude of Himself which is a proof (Mt 4, 1-11), prayer and silence (Mc 1, 35, 45)
The language of solitude-presence carries with a whole program of maturity and wisdom, a prudent order of rhythms, activities and places inside the monastery in conjunction with a relative course of communication with society and with the world of the contemporary man.
Nothing is more precious, nothing more delicate and fragile than this silent and lonely balance, always threatened by our own noises, our disorders and insulating fears. But we have a scale at our disposal: silence, prayer and the solitude of presence and communion as a wellspring of joy. Happiness is a sign of life, music and harmony inside the man´s heart, when he senses the transparency of beings and the splendour of the Presence of a benefit that frees us through the silence and the beauty of things. This pleasure in the deepest level of our heart and in the atmosphere of the monastery is one of the unquestionable testimonies about the living God.
“Calm and relieve, quietness and relaxation are result of an immediate poverty, virginity and of a discipleship of Christ along the Kingdom of Heaven” (Ap 6,11).
The monk knows that an external calm arises from the space of silence around him, from a harmony of tasks which intertwined his working day, from an atmosphere of loneliness that brings peace to his heart and to his whole life. He knows that God is our peace and He continues offering it as a gift to those that come closer to Him with their heart tranquil. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (Jn 14, 27).
The monk turns into a craftsman of peace while the blessing of Jesus accompanies him throughout his life: “Blessed are the peacemakers because they will be called children of God” (Mt 5,9).
He is already aware that peace is not reached once at for all. Saint Benedicte warns him at the beginning of his Rules. “Seek peace and run after it”. Because one has to live continuously bringing peace to our whole being, falling into a dynamic of education for peace: from the exclusion of all noise up and external excitement up to a relaxed concentration in the internal activity of the heart on daily matters of life
“Humility is the path to the Truth” (Saint Benedicte).
The true humility is neither a feeling of guilt nor it has to be in the range of narcissistic techniques imposed by a yearning of authenticity as a concern of one´s virtue or as an individual ideal of perfection.
The evangelical humility is reduced to an attitude of learning how to accept oneself and trust God. Humility is to welcome the call of being loved by God as you are. Humility looks at God´s will that builds up the Kingdom among the brethren rather than the divine will which is defined by the prescription of the rule.
Cistercian, poor and humble come to have the same meaning. It is a participation of the humiliation and contempt for Christ always “gentle and humble of heart” (Mt 11,29).
Getting closer to the Cistercian ideal involves an experience of loss of all superficiality, of the appearance that disfigures the deep simplicity of the human being. Humility cleans the eyes of heart, teaches to see the magnificence and splendour of God´s creation with joy.
“Word, retreat and voluntary poverty are the insignia of the monks” (Saint Benedict of Clairvaux).
To love God with all your heart and all your soul, you also need to love Him with all your body. Your body also has the right of the illumination of love. Loving God with all your body is to love Him through fasting, vigils and above all a manual work that releases from so many illusions and keeps the person whole in harmony and humility.
Although it is a religious ideal what congregates monks in one place, not generally at work, they have to earn a living. To meet their own needs and others, they have no other choice but to organise themselves as a human group. They are subject to the rule, “but always living the truth in love” (Ef 4,15).
By that time, the monks from Egypt measured the intensity of the internal life of novices and their progress in patience and in humility by their commitment with work. Nevertheless, work is indeed a delicate value; it requires a constant pastoral care by the Prior of the Monastery (RB 57). The disengagement between wisdom and work is more than palpable in our consumer society. When moderation lacks, work exhausts and stupefies. Hereupon the Cistercian Monastery is a testimony for man today that a wise moderation at work is possible and necessary, with ability to redeem yourself and not to oppress the person.
“I open the divine Scripture, I engrave His words on the wax of my heart and suddenly your grace comes to meet me” (Elredo de Rievaulx)
In the search for God that defines the monk is essential the attitude of listening to His Word. He has talked to us many times and in many different ways. Now, at the last stage, He has done it through His Son”. (Hb 1, 1-2)
The regular reading of the Scripture disclosed is necessary to reach a deep knowledge of Christ. The Word of God is not satisfied with a simple spiritual reading made at the human standard, not even with a study. As an educator of heart, the inspired Word claims an entire exercise of man. The three critical levels of a person are combined: the physical level by means of a basic and slow reading and a visual and auditory practice, the psychic with his or her abilities of attention, affection and intelligence and the spiritual, in terms of application of a capacity for faith and loving welcome to the revealed Mistery.
Lection Divina has always been the best and the simplest method of praying for the monks. The Lord gives us His Word so that we listen to it when we read it and speak to Him with it when we pray.
“There is nothing that comes before the Work of God” (Rule of Saint Benedicte 43,3).
It will be enough with getting closer with your eyes and heart opened to a Cistercian monastery to be certain that the Divine Liturgy is the soul of the monk´s life and the same silent prayer revolves around it. The Eucharistic offering and the singing of the psalms, interspersed with other Biblical readings and ecclesiastic writers, trace the path to take by the monks towards God.
The Eucharist, as the centre and summit of all the monastic life, overflows into praise by means of the “Liturgy of Hours”, guiding thread that enlivens and consecrates the whole monastic day. The service for worship contributes to give a universal sense to the monk life in an essential way. Thus, it turns into the spiritual lung of all the Church and the humankind which only in Christ, and in prayer Christ, deciphers its full meaning.
The two versions of the service for worship, the offering of the Eucharist and the psalm pleading of the hours are the nourishment and the stimulus of the great concern that urges the heart: the coming of the Kingdom of God, the highest aim of all the believers: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” (Ap 22,20).