BUILDING LAY CISTERCIAN CHARACTER: To hold one’s self aloof from worldly ways.
How do you build character in someone, preferably beginning with me? In one of my Lectio Divina (Phil 2:5) meditations, I thought of the human character of Christ and how he built it. He had to learn it in the same way we do, with one exception, He was God. I don’t pretend to know what that means or how he did it. I do know that love for us what the motivation for taking on our human nature. I thought of how God would want to show us how the perfect human should act, one that did not succumb to the temptations of Adam and Eve, one who experienced all the temptations that the world has to offer, just he was without sin. He had all those temptations but chose his true self not his false self. What a great example for us.
St. Benedict sought to have in him the mind of Christ Jesus and to love others as Jesus loved us. He came up with a Rule, a school of Love or Charity, to teach his monks and nuns how to prefer nothing to the love of Christ. His lesson plan was to do the tools of good works each day and become what you read in Chapter 4, to me the key of his spirituality. Lay Cistercians are not monks or nuns in a monastery, but we have the good fortune to learn from St. Benedict and those who have follow the Cistercian approach to making room for God using silence and solitude, prayer, work in the context of community. One of these tools is number 20, to hold one’s self aloof from worldly ways.
(20) To hold one’s self aloof from worldly ways.
(21) To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
Here are some of my reflections, as always, with the disclaimer that I do not represent the Catholic Church, nor any Cistercian perspective not any Lay Cistercian point of view. I am just a broken-down, old temple of the Holy Spirit reflecting on some things in my Lectio Divina.
- Keeping aloof from worldly ways is to deny oneself and take up your cross daily to follow the will of God.
- Following the will of God demands energy. I get that energy from prayer, consistent and constant prayer, focused as best I can on preferring nothing to the love of Christ.
- Preferring nothing to the love of Christ means I must cultivate charisms of humility to be able to listen to what God says to me rather than be seduced into thinking that what I say comes from God.
- Holding myself aloof means I actually embrace temptations as opportunities to choose God over worldly ways. I get the strength to help me from the Holy Spirit.
- One of the ways I get the Holy Spirit is to be in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic adoration.
- One of the ways I get the Holy Spirit is to be in the presence of other Lay Cistercians and monks at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (www.trappist.net) at the gathering day each month.
- One of the ways I get the Holy Spirit is by doing Lectio each day, receiving the Bread of Life each day.
- One of the ways I get the Holy Spirit is by proclaiming the death and resurrection of Christ in me each time I sit on a park bench in the dead of Winter and wait for the Lord to pass by. It is the waiting that is my prayer.
- I know that the world has me trapped in its clutches when I prefer myself to Christ.
- I know that I am not aloof from the world, when I believe my own delusions that I am the center of the universe, when I think that my body is mine to do with what I want, when all I can think about is power, money, adulation, self-indulgence (Galatians 5) and idolatry.
- I know that I am not aloof from the world when I don’t want to change from my evil or false self, when I have identified it against Chapter 4 principles of spirituality.
- I know that I am not aloof from the world when I think the Church is just a building where old people go on Sunday morning to fulfill some strange longing in their hearts put there by their mom and dad.
- I know that I am not aloof from the world when I take my life and moral principles from movie stars. sports figures, reality show stars, politicians of all types, University Professions who profess nihilism, relativism and secular supremacy over that of God.
- I try to be aware of all these temptations to be my own god rather than preferring nothing to the love of Christ. The battle is not easy and the Evil One tries to seduce all of us into thinking that there is no Evil, that it is being true to yourself and who you are.
The practices of Lay Cistercian spirituality have helped me to have the strength to see the world for what it is. The Lay Cistercian charisms, enhanced with help from the Cistercian monks and nuns, help me to build up in my a capacity to prefer nothing to the love of Christ. Do I always succeed? No. Do I always choose my true self verses my false self? No, but with this caveat. I am in the race, as St. Paul says, and, with Christ in me, I am beginning to win more than I lose. I count myself lucky just to be aware that I am an adopted son in the grand race for eternal life with Christ Jesus.
Praise be to God the Father and to the Son and to 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. –Cistercian doxology