REFLECTIONS ON LAY CISTERCIAN SPIRITUAL JOURNEY: The Call

The following comments are my own reflections from the document on Lay Cistercian Journey discussed at a Gathering Day of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery on October 1, 2017. It is part of our on-going Junior Professed Formation Program. Each month, our Lay Cistercian Advisor, Brother Cassian, OSCO, presents various approaches to 20th Century Cistercian Spirituality for Lay Cistercians based on the documents of International Lay Cistercians. What follows is the Lourdes document on Lay Cistercian Spiritual Journey.  Look it up for yourself  on:

http://www.cistercianfamily.org/documents/Spiritual%20Journey%20FINAL%2020June2014.pdf Over the next two to three weeks, each day, I will be commenting on one part of this document as it affects me as an aspiring Lay Cistercian, struggling to move from self to God. The text is bolded for your ease of reading. My reflection follows.

1) The Beginning: the call Christ calls us to a contemplative way of life lived in the light of the Cistercian charism, and into a relationship with a particular monastery. The principal aspects of the call can be summarized as follows:
a) Awareness or deepening of an inner life
b) Desire for a prayer-centered life
c) Recognition of the intervention of the Holy Spirit
d) Awakening of reciprocity with God
The awareness of the existence of an interior life takes a particular form: the discovery of our capacitas Dei (our capacity to be transformed into the likeness of God).
This call to the Cistercian way of life requires discernment. It is lived out in community with others who have received the same call to the Lay Cistercian journey.
2) The Response: Seeking to embody capacitas Dei
This encounter with the Cistercian spirituality embodied in a particular monastic community, leads us to seek to integrate the Cistercian values into our daily lives.
3) The central place of community, lay and monastic, as a means of spiritual growth
Our response to the call of Christ leads us into a Lay Cistercian community where we are mutually enriched in a relationship with each other and with the monastic community. The monastic community recognizes the presence of Cistercian values in the lay group and authorizes it to be called a “Lay Cistercian Community.”
Walking with others brings richness, as the sharing and communion experienced are sources of support and joy. Community also creates constraints, requiring patience and listening, and could cause suffering. We recognize that community is an essential and indispensable element of our journey, a necessary means of spiritual growth. We must learn to love those who are called to the same community, sharing with each other with honesty and humility. Thus, we learn to see Christ in one another and to love as Christ has loved us.

This spirituality is not disembodied. It strives to meet the challenges of stability in spite of geographical distances and the difficulty of maintaining the spirit of community outside group meetings.
The difficulties are never considered only as obstacles but are also a means of spiritual growth, which is made possible by grace and community support.
4) Formation/Transformation: its importance for spiritual growth
Formation within the Lay Cistercian community is a lifelong journey into the richness of the Cistercian charism. Formation must be both personal and communal.
It includes the following:
a) The practice of Lectio Divina and prayer
b) The Rule of Saint Benedict
c) Knowledge of the treasure of Cistercian literature
d) The Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours)
e) Self-knowledge
f) The importance of the Eucharist and other sacraments
g) Spiritual accompaniment
The practice of both exterior and interior silence and listening is emphasized in living the Cistercian charism. The annual retreat is a means of reinforcing community and relationship with God.
5) Life in Christ
The Lay Cistercian’s road is one particular way of living the universal journey of human beings into God. The presence of Christ is the heart of our journey: “He is the way, the truth, the life.” It is necessarily a journey accompanied by others. It is the quest for the encounter with Christ who transcends us and abides in us. Our greatest hope is that the gift of discovering Christ in one another will be the path of holiness and joy for us. Our journey is inspired and nourished by the sisters and brothers in the Cistercian family; for this, we will be eternally grateful.
After reflecting on our identity (Huerta 2008) and working on our formation (Dubuque 2011), we as Lay Cistercians sought to go to the heart and source of these two realities. We discovered an encounter with a Presence: Jesus Christ, the source, and summit of our journey. Jesus calls us through our brothers and sisters to be witnesses of the Gospel in the world, enlightened and supported by the Cistercian tradition as it is embodied in the nuns and monks who accompany us.
May Mary, Queen of Citeaux and model of obedience, show us the way to our full transformation into the
image of her Son.”

MY REFLECTIONS:

“1) The Beginning: the call Christ calls us into a contemplative way of life lived in the light of the Cistercian charism, and into a relationship with a particular monastery. The principal aspects of the call can be summarized as follows:
a) Awareness or deepening of an inner life
b) Desire for a prayer-centered life
c) Recognition of the intervention of the Holy Spirit
d) Awakening of reciprocity with God
The awareness of the existence of an interior life takes a particular form: the discovery of our capacitas Dei (our capacity to be transformed into the likeness of God).
This call to the Cistercian way of life requires discernment. It is lived out in community with others who have received the same call to the Lay Cistercian journey.”

Brother Cassian, OCSO, began our session by gently suggesting that how we decided to be a Lay Cistercian was a call. In my own case, I wanted a deeper awareness of the inner life of the spirit. Since I was twenty-two years old, I can always remember wanting to be a Cistercian priest. That was not to be, but the call still remained. When I got the opportunity to apply for membership as a Lay Cistercian, some fifty years later, I recognized this call from Christ once again and applied for membership, not knowing if I would be accepted by the community of monks or laity. A call means someone else is saying something which you either hear or do not hear. God calls all of us to various ministries and service to others and we hear it and do something or not.  All I had going for me was the desire to move from self to God by using the practices of Cistercian spirituality. As stated in the Spiritual Journey of Lay Cistercians, a result of the call has been the discovery of the capacitas dei (how full I can be of Jesus). I am reminded of Our Blessed Mother and how her capacitas dei would fill her up to the meniscus of her cup of humanity. One more drop of God could not possibly fill her cup of humanity without running over. We think about that, when we say, “Hail, Mary! Full of Grace!”  Mary is not God, but we honor her and ask her help in our own struggle to fill out cups with more of God and less of us. It is a lifetime struggle. Sin empties the cup while grace fills it up. It is for good reason that Mary is the patron of both Lay Cistercian and monastic nuns and monks. She is what we hope to become, and will be, at the end of the ages.

My journey for enlightenment entails trying to practice those tools for Good Works stated by St. Benedict in his Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict. I need consistency and persistency in my life to counter the daily effects of original sin.  It takes discernment, not only up to the time that you know your calling is for this way of loving Christ but also after you have been a novice or a Junior Professed. That discernment is ongoing and a part of the process of sanctification.

Finally, Lay Cistercians do not live in a vacuum. They are part of a faith community that all focus on moving from self to Christ using Cistercian practices and the tool for Good Works of St. Benedict (Chapter 4).  Lay Cistercians see the living Christ by seeing Christ lived out in each member of the community of faith. It is for this reason that a requirement to be a Lay Cistercian is to attend the monthly Gathering Day at the monastery. For me, that is a five-hour drive from Tallahassee to Conyers, Georgia. If I look at the drive as a chore, I would probably not be a Lay Cistercian. I would say it is too far to drive. If I look at it as someone who finds a deeper meaning to life by joining others who center themselves on Christ is their daily routines of life, it is not too far to drive. I offer up this challenge in reparation for my sins and hope of God’s grace in my seeking God. The default for humans is not what the world offers but what God has in store for those who love him. To put it another way,  both Heaven and Heaven on earth are God’s playgrounds, and these are His rules, not our own.

In our session, one of our members stated how Christ as the center of all our longings and searching is the difference between just doing meditation or “being spiritual” and Lectio Divina, a significant difference. Jesus, God Himself, not only tells us what we must do to be fully human but actually, shows us. (See Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s Rule).

Read the following from the Confessions of St. Augustine, Chapter 1. about the call.

1. Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Your power, and of Your wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of Your creation, desires to praise You, man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that You resist the proud, — yet man, this part of Your creation, desires to praise You.You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You. (emphasis mine) Lord, teach me to know and understand which of these should be first, to call on You, or to praise You; and likewise to knowYou, or to call upon You. But who is there that calls upon You without knowing You? For he that knows You not may call upon You as other than You are. Or perhaps we call on You that we may know You.

LEARNING POINTS

  1.  God calls people to be Lay Cistercians, he certainly called me. The call was for three or four years before I discerned what God was trying to tell me.  I knew that because God is persistent and consistent in his call.
  2. A call is about your heart sitting next to the heart of Christ, and you listen with your whole self.
  3. A call demands a response. Doing nothing is no response.
  4. Don’t put God on voicemail.

 

More on #2 to come.

 

That in all things, may God be glorified.  –St. Benedict

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