REFLECTIONS ON THE LAY CISTERCIAN SPIRITUAL JOURNEY:Formation and Transformation

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. This is the fourth segment, one that embodies the effects of moving from self to God. Something wonderful happens to one who surrenders his or her whole self to be shaped by the inexorably dynamic energy of being in the presence of Christ. You inexorably beginning to resemble that which shapes you. This is my journey.

The text is bolded for your ease of reading. My reflection follows the bolded text.

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.

As one who aspires to be a Lay Cistercian, the formation part of the journey is being present to the one who forms, in this case, Christ Jesus. There are two dimensions to the formation process: the individual as the ultimate repository of and depository of faith, “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:5). The second dimension is that of one community of faith, the crucible wherein Christ can shape the individual in His image and likeness.  Without the individual, there is no one to form in the image of Christ. Without the community, all sharing in the same Cistercian charisms and practices, there is no formation. Without Christ Jesus, there is no transformation from self to God.

A good example of the formation that leads to a transformation is experienced by those who are in a loving relationship. Long distance relationships tend not to last very long. Why? The answer is obvious. You must be present (physically, mentally, and spiritually) to each other on a consistent basis to grow deeper in love and affection. East and West coast marriages are not sustainable, although they do happen.  As a Lay Cistercian, I want to commit to being present, not only to the Lay Cistercian community of the monastery of the Holy Spirit but more importantly to be even closer to the heart of Christ, through being present with them.  I count myself fortunate that I have two such communities of faith, one Lay Cistercian with both laity and monks, and the other one the Eucharist Community of Good Shepherd parish, Tallahassee, Florida, with Father Mike Foley as its representative of Christ.

There are four ways in which I want my heart to be as close to Christ as possible (Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22:34)

1.  TO BE PRESENT TO CHRIST, BE PRESENT TO THOSE WHO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THEIR HEARTS.

As a Lay Cistercian, I want to commit to being present, not only to the Lay Cistercian community of the monastery of the Holy Spirit but more importantly to be even closer to the heart of Christ, through being present with them.  I count myself fortunate that I have two such communities of faith, one Lay Cistercian with both laity and monks, and the other one the Eucharist Community of Good Shepherd parish, Tallahassee, Florida, with Father Mike Foley as its representative of Christ. Some people don’t get it. They see the Church as composed of sinful people, which it is, but fail to see the effects of grace and God’s love for these same people. Which is greater? That people are sinful, which we all are because of original sin, or that they overcome their own sinfulness through faith and grace by trying to love God with all their hearts?  Part of the formation is being present to others who have in them the mind of Christ Jesus, part of the Lay Cistercian formation is being present to the monks and learning from how they practice the various acts that lead to humility, obedience, solitude, and silence.  A big part of it is the community helping you to open your heart to seek God right before you, in the moment. It may not be a spectacle or like going to a rock concert, but it works.

2. TO BE PRESENT TO CHRIST, DO WHAT HE TELLS YOU. St. John’s Gospel is the only one to tell the story of the Wedding Feast of Cana. In that account, Jesus turns water into wine, no small feat.  The mother of Jesus, Mary, tells those helping Christ to “…do what he tells you.”  Such a nondescript comment yet inserted by John for a reason. The whole Gospel proclaims the divinity of Christ and his mission. Like the wine-stewards in the biblical account, what he tells you may not be consistent with what they know to be the case, i.e., all the good wine is served. The point is when Jesus tells us to do something, it may go against our nature, it may not be comfortable to do, it may not make sense. All of these stories are just part of what Jesus taught us, according to the end of John’s Gospel.  (John 21:25) It makes me wonder what other stories are out there that never made it into written Scripture. Part of the being a Lay Cistercian has to do with seeking God in Christ by placing your heart next to the heart of Christ. What Christ tells us in these encounters is always based on giving glory to the Father by doing what God tells you. This is the personal part of the formation, one that leads directly to action. It is in the obedience to doing what God tells you to do that formation becomes transformative. This is the transformation from self to God, not that we ever reach the finish line, as St. Paul says in Philippians 3: 8-16.  We still run to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured us.

3. TO BE PRESENT TO CHRIST, REALIZE THAT THE LOCAL COMMUNITY OF FAITH, IN THIS CASE,  BOTH THE LAY CISTERCIAN AND MONASTIC COMMUNITIES, ARE THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST HIMSELF ON YOUR JOURNEY.

One of our Lay Cistercians told me that, the late Father Anthony Deliese, OSCO, told him he should consider being a Lay Cistercian. He asked Father Anthony was are the requirements to be one. Father responded, “You just have to be a sinner.”  To attempt the lifelong journey of formation that leads to transformation does not mean you are NOT free from the effects of original sin. It does mean that the practice of moving from self to God is just that—work, as St. Benedict states in his Chapter 4 of the Rule, “Tools for Good Works.”  Doing good works or good behaviors produce good outcomes or products. The Reformation’s notion of good works was that you could buy your way to Heaven. Get rid of this bias when you hear these words. No one deserves Heaven, it is a gift of faith.  It is the result of those behaviors practiced in the context of a community of faith that produce energy or grace. No one deserves Heaven. When we as a community do those actions Christ taught us, they produce grace, God’s own energy. We call them sacraments because they are sacred moments where we can touch the heart of Christ and thus go with Him to give glory to the Father (John 17:3-26). This is Christ’s center. In so far as the whole community all focuses on this same mission, we are one together in Christ Jesus.  This differentiates us from communities such as Elks Club, Moose, Kiwanis, Knight of Columbus, or Little League.  They are good but they do not give us what we need for our journey to Forever. Many time we can’t see the grace they produce, but we can always see the good works emanating from Cistercian practices and contained in the charisms we seek in our lives. We see it most clearly in the communities of faith to which we belong. As one who aspires to be a Lay Cistercian, this is one of my faith communities, as I mentioned previously. It is no wonder then that one of the ways for this school of love to be present to Christ is for it to be present to each other, differences of personalities and perspectives notwithstanding. That is why Gathering Day is so important.

We cultivate silence and solitude as Lay Cistercians in the context of the grace we receive from each other on Gathering Day. That is an extension of our community practices together, which we will discuss shortly.

4. TO BE PRESENT TO CHRIST, PUT YOURSELF IN THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST.

We read above in the Lourdes document on The Lay Cistercian Spiritual Journey that it is a lifetime commitment with both individual and communal dimensions.  As I reflected on this fourth way to be present to Christ, I thought of myself, the individual, as being the temple of the Holy Spirit, although I must admit a broken down, old fragmented one. Each of us who accept Christ as really present in the Sacrament of Eucharist is like the tabernacle in the Old Testament, the Holy of Holies, and the tabernacle that holds the leftover loaves from the distribution by Christ. (Matthew 14:15-21).  Are we worthy to do this? Indeed not. Lay Cistercians need to awaken the soul and be aware that we need the Cistercian practices that lead to charisms that, in turn, produce in us the mind of Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:5). Daily!

A chance conversation one day at Starbucks with a young woman brings this fourth way into focus for me.  I was waiting in line for my coffee when I noticed a young girl have a copy of the Rule of Benedict in her hands.  Naturally, my senses all quickened and I got up the nerve to ask her how she liked it. She said she had been to a retreat recently and picked it up at their bookstore. She did not know much about it.  I told her I could share with her what I know and we sat down to a quick cup of coffee.  I told her about Chapter 4 of Benedict’s Rule and how I try to read it every day in the hopes of becoming more like what I read. We talked about the various practices, such as Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharist, Lectio Divina and other practices which I had as part of my schedule.  She said that she was recently divorced and it was probably due to her former husband being in California, while she was in Florida.  They thought it would work out, and it did for nearly a year.  “We needed to be present to each other more,” she said. I thought of what she said whenever I think about my Lay Cistercian Journey.  I not only need to be present to Christ but also to the Cistercian community of faith. It is one of the reasons I drive five + miles once a month to attend the Gathering Day with other Lay Cistercians. Long distance love can cause the ardor to wane.  I am convinced that is why many people leave the Church, because, as G. K. Chesterton says, “..it is not that they have tried the Church and found it wanting, but they have never tried it at all.”

For me, the Cistercian practices, as outlined in the Lourdes document on The Lay Cistercian Spiritual Journey, help me to focus and refocus my energies on Christ each day. Each day!  I see it as a way to fill up my tank each day with the energy of God, giving me the strength to keep myself from falling into a long-distance relationship with Jesus. The Cistercian practices are not unique to the Church, but, as coupled with the readings of Cistercian monks and nuns and other more recent writings, such as The Cistercian Way, by Dom Andre Louf, OSCO, provide context to what might otherwise be like drinking concentrated orange juice. http://nunraw.blogspot.com/2010/08/andre-louf-ocso.html

PURPOSEFUL PRACTICE

As one who can only aspire to be a Lay Cistercian, my Lay Cistercian Spiritual Journey is, both unique in where I find myself on my journey, but also based on the solid, centuries-old heritage of Cistercian spirituality, such as the practices and following the Rule of Saint Benedict. I have found that the following holds true for me:

  1. I need a default plan of spirituality if I am to keep the daily practices I need to sustain my spirituality. Some people call this a schedule.
  2. I need to have a balance between my Cistercian practices and doing chores that have nothing to do with God. (Ora et Labora) While it is true that I yearn to love God with all my heart, my soul, and my strength, I can’t keep up this intensity without becoming consumed by it, which, for me, is not a good place to be. This morning, I spoke with a person after Morning Prayer who was concerned that one of our members was burning themselves out with doing good works (can’t say no to anyone who asks for their help either because of guilt or the self-perception that a good parishioner always responds to someone in need). Balance means you have the perspective to see where you are in terms of where you want to be.
  3. I need to have perseverance in doing spirituality. The temptations I have are several: a) You don’t need to go to Morning Prayer today, you can miss just one and it won’t hurt; b) Your spirituality won’t suffer if you miss just one Eucharist. You need to sleep in because you are so tired (actually I am tired at 77 years old); c) No one will miss you; d) No one reads your blog, so why waste your time; e) My wife thinks all this is fantasy land and la-la land, so maybe she is correct and trying to go each and every day to Cistercian practices is foolish.
  4. I need to have the perspective that just because I don’t see immediate results from my Cistercian practices I am failing to grow from self to God. God is the yardstick for my measure, not doing so many activities for the sake of activities.  Doing Cistercian practices and good works for the sake of good works or so that others in the Cistercian or faith community will see you and think you are holy, is deceitful and you will have the reward of a deceitful person from God.
  5. I need to see with the eyes of faith, not of this world. When I try to recite and read Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s Rule, The Tools for Good Works, success is not reading it every day or even remembering what I read. Success is placing myself in the presence of God, in this case with silence and solitude, and waiting for God to speak.
  6. I need to remember that, according to Brother Michael, OCSO, I pray as I can, not as I can’t.
  7. I need to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5) all day and to remind myself frequently during the day of the great love that Jesus had for all of us, and particularly just for me. It just takes a second to lift my heart and mind to glorify God. I do this at daily Eucharist in a more perfect way but have those reminders throughout the day that a Eucharistic mini-moments. If you love someone, you will constantly think about them throughout the day.
  8. I need to strive to be humble and obedient to God’s will as personified by the Abbott and the Lay Cistercian community elders.
  9. I need to strive for perfection yet realize that original sin keeps me from ever loving with all my heart and soul and strength. As St. Paul says in Phillippians 3: 12-13, I still run the race trying to capture the prize for which Christ captured me.
  10. The Cistercian practices with a schedule keep me focused on both my individual schedule (rosary, daily Lectio Divina,  reading Chapter 4 each day,) and my faith community participation (Gathering Day, daily Eucharist, Penance, Morning and Evening Prayer and other Hours).

CISTERCIAN PRACTICES TO HELP ME ON MY JOURNEY

a) The practice of Lectio Divina and prayer.  

I try to practice the discipline of Lectio Divina each day for at least thirty minutes or more. As I become more and more converted to having in me the mind of Christ Jesus, I find that I look forward to the time in silence and solitude that I spend on my one and only Lectio Divina reading, “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.”  The key here is making Lectio a habit, one that produces that which it signifies, love, without reservation. I also call this fierce love.

Guido II, the Carthusian Prior, devised a four-step ladder or rungs of accomplishment to help his monks reach the ultimate and rare relationship with the heart of Christ, i.e., contemplation. They are reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation.  As one who aspires to be a Lay Cistercian, I do best at Lectio when I purposefully set my mind to saying over and over my reading (Phil. 2:5) and then let what comes to mind just happen.  I wrote over 36 books as a result of my Lectio encounters with the love of Christ plus the blog you are now reading.
b) The Rule of Saint Benedict. I can see someone who reads St. Benedict’s Rule as thinking this is just for monks and nuns who are Benedictines, Cistercians, or Carthusians.  I am far from being anything of an expert on St. Benedict in any way, but I want to follow his way of spiritual perfection to help me move from self to God.  Here are some of my reflections on the Holy Rule.St. Benedict wrote the Rule as a way to focus monks on living in a community of very different personalities and backgrounds without killing each other. It is that.

  • St. Benedict wrote the Rule as a way to focus monks on living in a community of very different personalities and backgrounds without killing each other. It is that.
  • St. Benedict wrote the Rule as a way to focus monks on living in a community of very different personalities and backgrounds without killing each other. It is that.
  • St. Benedict wrote the Rule as a spiritual guide, as the Prologue says, to learn how to listen with the ear of the heart. There are other Rules from other spiritual figures, Ignatius, Augustine, Basil, Dominic, Francis, and Carmelites, to name only a few, each trying to focus their followers on living the life with Christ as their center. http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/0480-0547,_Benedictus_Nursinus,_Regola,_EN.pdf
  • St. Benedict was influenced by the Conferences of Saint John Cassian (340 BCE) http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03404a.htm and The Rule of the Master.https://archive.org/stream/ruleofstbenedic00delauoft/ruleofstbenedic00delauoft_djvu.txt. You may wish to read more about early monasticism in these references.
  • Lay Cistercians use the heritage of St. Benedict and his Rule as the basis for the charism of conversion of life to Christ. St. Benedict’s saying, “That in all things, may God be glorified” exemplifies the simplicity of seeking God in whatever we do.  Believe me, it is not that easy to sustain one’s focus on God.
  • As the Lourdes document on Lay Cistercian Spiritual Journey states, we strive for formation, leading to transformation (from self to God).  We try to adapt The Rule of Benedict to a non-monastic setting while trying to keep Cistercian practices and charisms. It is not for everyone, but it is for anyone who wishes to penetrate the merely physical and mental universes to discover a whole new world opened for us by the redemptive sacrifice of Christ in his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. It is most definitely a call from God to lead the life entirely devoted to loving God with all our heart and mind, even if we so often fail to do so.

c) Knowledge of the treasure of Cistercian literature

This practice is still in the process of unfolding.  I am reading current Cistercian authors. Here are some of the primary sources I have found helpful, for those who wish to dig deeper.

http://www.osb.org/cist/ An inexhaustible source of all things Cistercian and Benedictine.

http://www.carlmccolman.net/books-to-explore/ This is probably, in my biased view, the best website for things Cistercian with emphasis on Lay Cistercian.  Carl is a Lay Cistercian at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Georgia.

https://books.google.com/books?id=YIdqbXFOvwwC&pg=PA218&lpg=PA218&dq=early+cistercian+authors&source=bl&ots=stMKzJ4eso&sig=WU4WdO78ATEa_j17NIJRACNOLko&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiEi9-I4fLWAhWoz4MKHahxCc4Q6AEIPjAD#v=onepage&q=early%20cistercian%20authors&f=false.  This huge URL title is the Cambridge Companion to the Cistercian Order.

https://www.cistercianpublications.org/Category/CP-CT!OCW/Other-Cistercian-Writers A great site for Cistercian books from Cistercian Press.

https://books.google.com/books?id=Rj_dTtDoAFEC&pg=PA6&lpg=PA6&dq=early+cistercian+authors&source=bl&ots=4kD8HlUMAN&sig=ZwpLvOxu5tNLg3VBhidqKuXrzeI&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiEi9-I4fLWAhWoz4MKHahxCc4Q6AEIQDAE#v=onepage&q=early%20cistercian%20authors&f=false

 
d) The Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours)

One of my favorite practices to move from self to God is Liturgy of the Hours.  As organized in the Rule of Benedict (c. 540 AD) is typically prayer seven times a day, five of which may be in the form of choir chanting.  The hours are Office of Readings, or Vigils, Morning Prayer, formerly called Lauds, three short, mid-day hours, Evening Prayer and Compline (Night Prayers).  When you attend these hours at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, Georgia, especially Compline before bedtime, the Abbot will bless each person with a sprinkle of holy water.  How nice.

This is one of the most important practices for Lay Cistercians, but it is not without its difficulties.  The official prayer of the Church is meant to be chanted by two choirs of respondants. Since Lay Cistercians do not live in a monastery, this can be challenging.  Personally, I am fortunate to have a group of the laity at Good Shepherd Parish, Tallahassee, Florida who wish to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in choir. We recite but do not chant the Psalms. (Office of Readings, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer).

Here are some of my observations as one who attempts to be a Lay Cistercian who recites the Liturgy of the Hours.

  • Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of the whole Church, even it recited in private.
  • It is the Church giving praise to the Father through the Son, in union with the Spirit.
  • It is a way in which I can offer my daily intentions for those I love.
  • It is my pledge as a Lay Cistercian to convert my way of thinking and living to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus.
  • It is one way during the day during which I can try to focus on loving God with all my heart and soul.  I try to recite the words as though they are a gift from me to God, unique in their weight with my intentions of reparation, praise, thanksgiving, and petition.
  • It is a challenge each time because the Wiley One keeps prodding me to stay home and sleep or even to pray at home which would be more convenient. Sometimes I give in to these temptations, but more and more, with God’s grace, I am finding myself aware of what is going on and how much my commitment to pray the Liturgy of the Hours means to my Cistercian spiritual journey.
  • I let down others when I choose my own self-comfort over the needs of the community of faith.
  • Liturgy of the Hours is a way for me to practice penance and reparation for my sins.  I don’t go around always committing lots of sins, nor do I consider myself evil and sin-centered in my Cistercian spirituality, but I do need God’s grace to keep me from choosing to be a god rather than seeking God in everything I do.

e) Self-knowledge

As a Lay Cistercian, knowledge of self is critical to my journey to Forever.  I know that, without the constant taking up of my cross and renouncing myself, I will slip on the slippery slope of thinking that I am a god. Read what St. Paul says in Romans 7:19.

I am not a rotten piece of flesh covered by a thin candy shell of grace from Christ. Such a radical, Reformation position does not take into account the transformation of the heart and the power of the Sacred Heart to make all things new. I am a responsible person, one who has free will and the self-knowledge to learn from my mistakes and ask for God’s mercy. My human nature, is not rotten anymore than Christ’s human nature was rotten, but, because of the original sin of Adam and Eve, I am wounded and in need to take up my cross daily and reproduce the sufferings of Christ, as St. Paul says in 3:9-17.  As a Lay Cistercian who seeks God in whatever the day brings, my strength is not in my own self-knowledge but rather in having in my the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5)

Cistercian spirituality, to my utter astonishment, stresses:

Simplicity:  God is one, so spirituality, the more complex it is, the closer it is to One.  More is not better in prayer and actions.  The contemplative approach is seeking to meet God within us, then listening to what is said, and finally doing what Jesus tells us.  I like to use the analogy (conscious of the fact that all analogies fail to capture or adequately describe our relationship with God) of me sitting on a park bench in the snow, waiting for God to show up. Every day, I come to that park bench (Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina, Eucharist, Rosary, Reading Scripture, Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament). I know that the heart of Christi always there, but it is enough for me to show up every day in the hope that He will see my intentions and grant me mercy, forgiveness, and make all things new in me for that day.  One of the lessons I have realized, as a Lay Cistercian is that each day is a lifetime, you begin each day with morning offering, then Cistercian practices, and whatever happens, it is that in all things, God be glorified. (St. Benedict and I Corinthians 10) If God is love, then love is One.  It is the Mystery of Faith, slowly unfolding its secrets, only to be fully revealed in Heaven, the end of our journey.

Balance:  It is not good to burn yourself out on spiritual practices, although sometimes I think St. Bernard came close.  Balance in my life as Lay Cistercian means I don’t isolate myself from daily immersion in the problems of this world.  It does mean I don’t take my values from it. I like to think of myself as a pilgrim with no home or sense of comfort while I am on this earth. My values come from Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s Rule, which I try to read and into which I conform each day. Renouncing self-has become a big theme in my spiritual journey, in the past few years. Here too, balance is needed to keep from tripping over the edge of my path.  I don’t want to be a fanatic about Cistercian spirituality, just a broken-down, old temple of the Holy Spirit who sits in the back seats of  church, not daring to look up to Heaven and proclaiming, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

f) The importance of the Eucharist and other sacraments

Sacraments are sacred moments when the individual in, with, and through the community of faith, encounter the God in, with, and through Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. They are special occasions where we receive God’s own energy to help in our formation. They are instituted by Christ Himself to give us what we need to move from self to God. In all these occasions, we place our hearts next to the heart of Christ. We receive the strength to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus. As part of the Cistercian practices that lead to our formation, Sacraments allow us to be transformed in, with, and through Christ to become more like God and less like our sinful selves.

With time, I have found that I can see beyond mere physical reality to mental reality (meaning) and spiritual reality ( God’s meaning).  Thus, sacraments are not merely physical activities by a group of people but are the means by which the Body of Christ, the local community of faith, transforms itself from self to God.  This mystical view of sacraments, lost with the over-zealous desire of reformers to dump control over them by the monarchical church, is key to transforming oneself as a Lay Cistercian. In a mystical view, the sacramental experience is a lifetime one, given to the Church to help individuals get to Heaven.

A LIFETIME VIEW OF GOD’S GIFTS TO US

Sacraments are gifts like Faith is a gift. We don’t deserve Christ coming to us under the appearance of human activities, but where two or more are there, Christ is in their midst. Here is how I view these gifts in my Cistercian journey. There are four phases containing seven sacramental gifts.

  1. Gifts to bring us into adoption as sons and daughters. Christ has chosen us, but it is by faith that we have responded to the call. John 15:12-17 states that we must do what Christ commands of us. Quite simply, it is to love one another as Christ has loved us. There are two sacraments of initiation, ones that help us to get rid of Original Sin and one to sustain us with the Holy Spirit as we struggle to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5).

    12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants[d] any longer because the servant[e] does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

BAPTISM — In Baptism, we are born of water, water symbolizing new life, making all things new again. But it is more than that, it is what it signifies, washing away the sin of Adam and Eve, cleansing us once and for all from Original Sin. We are now washed clean in the blood of the lamb, whiter than snow, as the Psalmist says.  We are friends of Christ and adopted sons and daughters of the Father, in, with, and through Christ Jesus. There is a problem. Baptism does not take away the effects of the sin of Adam and Eve. We must still suffer, feel pain, get sick, grow old, have personal setbacks in life, we are prone to evil while not being evil ourselves, and we must all die.

Baptism is not just a one time bath in water, although it is that. Once baptized, we become adopted sons and daughters of the Father and must try to follow God’s will as best we can.  We pray to help us renew our baptismal commitment. We say the Creed at each Eucharist to renew our baptismal pledge to renounce Satan and all his allurements. We ask for God’s help to keep us centered on Christ as we live our daily lives.

CONFIRMATION– This is the gift from God that keeps on giving. Once we have been accepted by God as adopted sons and daughters, we find that we are a pilgrim in a foreign land, the land being secular thinking and what the world thinks is true. The Spirit of Truth comes to make his home in us, so much so, that we are called temples of the Holy Spirit. As one who aspires to be a Lay Cistercian, I am a broken-down, old temple of the Holy Spirit, one covered by all kinds of vines and with visible cracks in my facade. Remember, Sacraments are outward signs instituted by Christ to give us grace, God’s own energy.  How thoughtful our God is. We get just what we need, the Holy Spirit to help us discern how to see what the world cannot see, and to hear what the world cannot hear. We can contemplate the depths of the spiritual universe and place our very hearts next to the heart of Christ without being destroyed by pure energy. Christ is our mediator, the one who help us transform from self to God, the purpose for our lives, the one who awaits us in Heaven. As St. Paul says in Philippians 3:8-21,

More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ,[e] the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ[f] and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal;[g] but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved,[h] I do not consider that I have made it my own;[i] but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[j] call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

17 Brothers and sisters,[k] join in imitating me and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly, and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship[l] is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation[m] that it may be conformed to the body of his glory,[n] by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. (NRSVCE)

  • One thing about the Holy Spirit. You will never realize the Spirit without Faith, the Mystery of Faith, and without the Spirit, the transformation from self to God is impossible.
  • These sacraments are both individual and communal expressions of grace. They are public professions of the faith of the community, into which we were all baptized and received the Spirit of adoption.
  • As one who aspires to be a Lay Cistercian, Sacraments are the major highway of the spiritual journey, constructed at great cost by the blood of Christ and those of the martyrs and saints. The road goes through solid rock and enables us to journey on a path made straight by centuries of trying to do the will of the Father through Christ in unity with the Holy Spirit.

2. God sustains us with his own energy. In the knapsack of gifts God gives us both individually and communally, Eucharist is our food for the journey. For Christ, doing the will of the Father was his food. For us, doing the will of Christ and thus the Father is the food that will sustain us in the spiritual universe.

  • One of the rules of our universe is everything deteriorates–everything. Only two things did not corrupt–Jesus and his mother, Mary.  In keeping with the natural law, we live inside the boundaries of birth and death.  Being spiritual is not natural because we must give our intellectual assent to living outside of birth or death, in favor of a mindset that says there is no time, no matter, no space where we are headed (with Christ in Heaven). To those who just believe in what you can see, it is folly. To those who believe that Jesus will deliver on what he promised us, it is called salvation and the fulfillment of the Garden of Eden scenario of Adam and Eve.
  • It is just like God to give us of Himself under the appearance of bread and wine. Eucharist provides us with what we need to sustain ourselves in this foreign land. We receive these gifts from God each time we proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.

MERCY — As we approach the reading of the Word we proclaim that we are unworthy to hear the Word of God and ask God and Christ to have mercy on us and wash us with the waters of forgiveness of our sins. As we approach the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, we proclaim that we are not worthy for Christ to come under our roof. This act of humility, as given by the Roman Centurian, is transformative.

PEACE — We receive God’s own peace in our hearts. It is transformative because anything that comes from our heart being next to the heart of Christ means we grow toward the greater nature (three natures: divine, human, animal and living). For one who can only hope to aspire to be a Lay Cistercian, this is an often overlooked gift from God. We have just given all honor and glory to the Father through Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit, the ultimate act of sacrifice acceptable to the Father. Now, the Father tells us that we will have in us His very life, that which is pure energy, pure love, pure knowledge, and pure service. This peace, however, must be shared, as it states in Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22:34, love your neighbor as yourself.  That is why we give each other the gift that God has given to us. This peace which is given by you to another is transformative.

BREAD AND WINE — The Eucharist is the Last Supper, the Passover from slavery to freedom each time we proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.  When you die, your family and a few friends will remember you in their thoughts and maybe in a few old, faded photographs, thinking about the fact that you once were.  When Christ died, there were no books Jesus wrote (except to use the Torah and writings of the Prophets). His disciples and the Apostles probably panicked and went into an upper room to re-group and decide what to do now that the reason for their movement died. The only social and religious ties these pioneers had was the Temple, The Torah, and the Jewish festivals of their ancestors.  After Christ died, his disciples were disorganized, fearing authorities, unsure of what Christ taught. What caused a 360 degree turn around? With the reception of the Holy Spirit, their eyes were opened that is, they saw how everything fit together to the glory of the Father. They were no longer fearful but fearless, They knew what to say. Some Apostles and disciples wrote Gospels, a heroic account of Christ using the Greek and Roman heroic myth form (authority from higher person, mission, impossible tasks overcome by the hero, suffering greatly, the descent into hell, dying in some cases, rising from the dead, ascension, and triumph) http://www.storyboardthat.com/articles/e/classical-hero Some, like St. Paul founded a school to stretch the message to the Gentiles through personal journies and writing letters.

Early followers did the only thing they knew, they wrote down what they remembered from what Christ taught. St. John says, in the last part of his Gospel (John 20:30-31) that there were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but these are not recorded in this book. There are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing this you may have life through his name. This statement is at the core of what I hold as my interpretation of Cistercian spirituality.  The beauty of Cistercian practices as we describe here is putting your heart next to the heart of Christ through various activities. It is this simplicity of love that I desire to emulate in my life as I try to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus. Eucharist is the food of angels but also the food that is God Himself under the appearance of simple bread and wine.

THE REAL PRESENCE

After the Apostles met Christ in the upper room, they were changed. Physically there was no change, but spiritually, they now knew why Jesus came and what they had to do to tell others about it. They also knew that those who followed Christ would need to see the Lord as they had done. They used the Last Supper, Reception of the Holy Spirit, Baptism, Mercy and Forgiveness, Marriage and Priesthood, plus preparation for the journey to Heaven. Early followers of the Master also got zapped by the Holy Spirit and were never the same. Christ is present to them in many ways:

The Last Supper--when they ate the bread and drink the wine, they proclaim the death of Christ until he comes in glory. This is the mystery of faith.

The Body of Christ– it is difficult to see the Body of Christ when all you see are sinful people trying and failing to love God. If all you see is the negative beam in the eyes of others, maybe you should take the beam out of your own eye first and have in your the mind of Christ Jesus.

Christ in our neighbor — St. Benedict talks about treating guests as though they were Christ. This is called hospitality and one of the Charisms of both Benedictine and Cistercian heritages.  It is more difficult for us to see Christ in others than for us to find Christ at Church on Sunday morning, although He is there. We know we are disciples of the Master when we can love those who hate us and do good to others when they persecute or belittle you for Christ’s sake.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament — this is the big leagues of Catholic spirituality.  I consider it the ultimate place to contemplate the heart of Christ. Of course, this is possible because of Faith.  Faith is not just intellectual belief, but the radical conviction that Jesus is present under the sign of contradiction, a wafer of bread.  I must struggle to believe this because it goes against reason, but it is reasonable. “O Lord, I believe,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “help my unbelief.” He also said, “For those who believe in the Real Presence, no answer is necessary. For those who do not, no answer is possible.”

3. Do what Jesus tells you.  Mary told the wine stewards, who came to her with the concern that there was no wine for the wedding celebration, “Do what he tells you.” (John 2:1-12) The same can be said for the Jesus who lives in the Body of Christ in our day. The question becomes, what does he tell me to do? What does he tell the community to do? How we answer that depends on how much we act on what Jesus tells us to do. t helps that we have twenty centuries of trying to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus to discern truth from error.

FORGIVENESS AND MERCY: The gift that sustains us in a world of original sin.

One of the ways Jesus is really present is through the community of faith. He bids us cultivate mercy and forgiveness of others, as we ourselves wish mercy from Him. This was so important to Christ that he instituted a formalized way that the community could receive the grace (energy of God) to make all things new, once again. As an aspiring Lay Cistercian, I am keen on the fact that I don’t go around committing moral every day.  The problem for me is, as I read Chapter 4 of the Tools for Good Works in St. Benedict’s Rule, I am so far from even reaching, much less sustaining them, even with God’s own energy through the sacrament of Reconciliation. I am a mere perpetual novice, a pilgrim in a foreign land, one who will never achieve what I seek.  Maybe that is the way it is supposed to be. At least Christ walks by my side on my Lay Cistercian journey.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance was instituted by Christ to make all thing new in Christ. As Christ stressed Mercy, so we, followers of the Master must do what he tells us. We must cultivate in our hearts the mercy that comes with unconditional love, but we must be careful not to succumb to the temptation of the world that beckons us to equate mercy with justice. If you have mercy on those who do not believe or who hold teachings contrary to the Apostolic heritage, you don’t have to agree with them that what they hold is correct. If you do, you are not from Christ.

SPIRITUAL PROPAGATION

There are two gifts that Jesus left us that propagate the Church and ensure it is ready for the next generation to love Christ with all their hearts, minds, and strength and our neighbor as ourself: Matrimony and Holy Orders. Remember, Sacraments are holy moments where the community of believers generates new life (Matrimony) and sustains the life of Christ through service to the Body of Christ(Holy Orders).

4. The gift of healing.

Jesus heals each of us, believers and non-believers.  When we get to Heaven, we will see just how much Jesus did for us and just how much we were aware of it during out lifetime.  I think we will also be astonished at who is in Heaven and the good they did in their lifetime.  I don’t want to be too proud to think that I am on a conveyor-belt on the way to Heaven.  I know that we will be judged, each one, according to our good works, not our bad ones.

Healing is a gift, instituted by Christ to give us God’s own life through the Body of Christ. Only Christ can heal, or anyone to whom he gives the gift.  In the upper room, John 20:23-24, he breathed on the disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit, for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” 

The gift of healing is one to prepare us either to continue our journey of life or to prepare us to meet Christ in the next.

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. 

What makes a Cistercian monk or nun, according to some of the Brothers who have taught us how to be Lay Cistercians, is silence and solitude.  Not all Cistercians belong to the strict observance. Two divisions of Cistercians come down to us from the time of St. Bernard: Regular Observance and Strict Observance.

The following excellent description of what is Cistercian is taken from the website of Our Lady of Dallas, a Regular Cistercian observance. “Cistercian monks and nuns derive their name and origins from a place in France called Cîteaux (in Latin, “Cistercium”), where in 1098 St. Robert of Molesme and twenty-one monks founded a seminal monastery. Today, two canonically distinct religious orders share the heritage of Citeaux: the Cistercian Order (O. Cist.), sometimes called ‘Common Observance’ Cistercians; and the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.), more commonly known as ‘Trappists’ on account of their derivation from the seventeenth-century, French reform associated with the Abbey of La Trappe. Both orders have men’s and women’s monasteries with communities throughout the world.” https://www.cistercian.org/abbey/history/the-Cistercian-order/index.html

For those who wish to dig deeper still, try the following: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03780c.htm

All Lay Cistercians exist because they have an Abbot/Abbess who accepted them as Lay associates of their Monasteries. I am fortunate to have been accepted by Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist) in Conyers, Ga.  http://www.trappist.net/lay-cistercians. We learn about Cistercian practices and charisms from the monks, both brothers, and priests. Five pillars of the Strict Observance Cistercians (Trappists) are silence, solitude, pray, work, and community.  I am striving to put these five anchors of contemplative spirituality into my life as a layperson. I have a long way to go but am making some headway.  It is indeed a journey with Christ not only the prize but a welcomed companion on the journey.

As a member of the Lay Cistercian community, I promise to make an annual retreat and other practices that I have commented on above, as ways to focus my mind and heart on Christ with all my strength and love my neighbor as myself. You would think it gets easier the older you get, but I find the Wiley One often creeps into my thinking trying to pry me away from practicing my Cistercian charisms, broken-down, old temple of the Holy Spirit that I am. It is my journey, and there is great joy in having Christ walk with me on the journey to Emmaus, once again. Once you have seen the Lord, nothing is the same again in your life.  I will suffer any indignity, any discount, any attempt to get me to think of Cistercian spirituality as la-la land, and open opposition to my travel to Gathering Day in Conyers, Georgia, as St. Paul says in Phillipians 3:10-11, “…all I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death. That is the way I hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead.”

Praise to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and Forever, the God who is, who was, and who is to come, at the end of the Ages. Amen and Amen.

 

 

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