MAKING A CONTEMPLATIVE RETREAT

In February, Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Georgia, will be making their annual retreat. Retreats are special opportunities to advance the amount of time we spend in the presence of Christ. What follows is an excerpt from my book GETTING FROM HERE     TO THERE: A Lay Cistercian reflects on Cistercian Charisms and how they move us to conversion of life from self to God. 

All methods of spirituality have Charisms. In the Roman Catholic heritage, Dominicans, Basilian, Augustinian, Ignatian, Benedictine, Cistercian and Carmelite systems of spirituality, and many more, have a Lay component, a way for Laity to practice a particular way to approach living the Life of Christ. Anyone who seeks to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus is blessed, be they Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, or Assembly of God or Eastern Orthodox.

Cistercians, evolving from Benedictine spiritual methodology or the Rule of St. Benedict, also have charisms. It is only recently, (1986) that Lay Cistercians were founded at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist), Conyers, Georgia. Lay Cistercians use practices and charisms of the monastery to which they are attached (called the charism of stability).

One of the important core qualities that comprise Cistercian spirituality is the conversion of morals “conversio morae” or conversion of self to God. It is a transformation from the false self to your true self. Charisms help those who wish to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5) to get there from where you are.

WHAT IS A CHARISM?

The following items I found in a book by the late Father Anthony Delisi, OCSO, a monk of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit.  He writes in this book about Cistercian charisms, What makes a Cistercian Monk? His book is taken from a series of weekly Chapter meetings he presented to monks from 2003-2004. He offered some of these reflections to Lay Cistercians to help them define what it means to seek God in the world and not only in a monastery.

What is a charism? I remember my first session as a novice Lay Cistercian, sitting in the second-floor conference room and having the late Father Anthony address all of us on the meaning of charisms. I knew that it was an important concept, but had little appreciation for what it meant, other than it was what was necessary to be a monk. Father Anthony, in his typically understated way, told us that charisms are that special something that makes a monk a monk. If I apply that to Lay Cistercians, I get “Charisms are those things that make a Lay Cistercian a Lay Cistercian.”

I know a bit more, now that I am a professed Lay Cistercian, and I stress the bit. The following areas of formation as seen below, all leading to transformation from our false self to our true self in Christ, are charisms that monks try to live every day in silence and solitude. I will use these categories to explore these charisms that have helped me become a Lay Cistercian. I speak for my own spirituality and no one else.

When I first entered the Lay Cistercians as a novice (2012), the late Father Anthony Delisi, O.C.S.O., considered the founding father of Lay Cistercians, ask a group of us “greenies” what a charism is. Of course, we all knew that we had no clue what that meant. He also knew that we did not know. In his unique wisdom, Father Anthony told us to read his book for the answer. What topics follow are the chapters from his book, What Makes a Cistercian Monk?  Father Anthony delivered these topics as part of his Chapter talks to the monks of Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Georgia. I have provided you with some of his topic headings and added my own reflections on what it means for me as a Lay Cistercian.

A FEW DIMENSIONS OF LAY CISTERCIAN CHARISMS  Excerpted from: What makes a Cistercian Monk? Chapter talks on the charisms of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance. Father Anthony Delisi, O.C.S.O.

  • Nothing is to be preferred to the work of God
  • Faith in the rule of St. Benedict
  • Respect and Love for one another
  • The Stability of the Rule
  • Respect your Elders, Love the Young
  • Charisms of the Strict Order Observance Cistercians (OCSO)
  • Early Rising
  • Encountering the Presence of God Especially at Divine Office
  • The Psalms as Song and Prayer of the Monks
  • Lectio Divina
  • Contemplative Prayer
  • Silence in Contemplative Prayer
  • Why do we need solitude?
  • Treasuring Cistercian simplicity
  • Living by the work of our hands
  • Embracing the torch of obedience
  • Stability and Community
  • The gift of celibacy
  • Living in Community
  • Amore Christi–the love of Christ
  • Conversion of manners (life)
  • Humility
  • Patience
  • Balance

Not all of these charisms are appropriate for Lay Cistercians, mainly because they are designed for monks and nuns who live a cloistered life in a monastery, purposefully separated from society, but many of them apply to those of us who still weather the storms of daily living in the World.  We use five charisms: silence, solitude, pray, work, and community as cornerstones and try to implement the rest of them as we can.

See https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org  for my blog on contemplative practice.

See www.trappist.net/support/lay-cistercians  to see the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and look under Lay Cistercians.

SOME ASSUMPTIONS I USE

All of these ideas from the edge of time come from my praying Lectio Divina based on Philippians 2:5. What happens when you just let go and accepting whatever follows? For me, it is truly remarkable. I have to admit, sometimes, nothing comes to mind. I don’t know if time actually has an edge in the spiritual universe nor even in the physical universe for that matter. My point is: the ideas come from somewhere out there. I believe it is from the Holy Spirit. Moreover, I am not worried about it.

My ideas are, as I have said, the result of my Lectio Divina meditations and contemplations. This book is your chance to write down your ideas about some spiritual thoughts. You may have always wanted to write a book, here is your chance to make a private retreat and also set down your feelings for your family and friends.

The blogs may be found on my site at:

https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org You will need access to the Internet for some of my connections to sites to read and reflect upon as you make your retreat. May I offer some ways to seek the most out of this time we have together.

1. The Holy Spirit is your Guide. That may sound trite since you might not think you can experience the Holy Spirit, but you can place yourself in the presence of Christ, and where Christ is, so the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth and wisdom, must be. Let go of your defenses and trust the Holy Spirit.

2. Be open to the ideas produced by your reading and reflection. I get new ideas every time I try Lectio Divina. I have been doing Lectio off and on, since 1964, but have only been writing down the results in my books (51 so far) and blogs, since 2000. Where these ideas come from is always a marvel and a mysteries. I think I know, but I don’t want to get too cocky about it. The Holy Spirit gets the credit because I don’t have these thoughts in my mind as I begin the Lectio Divina meditations on Philippians 2:5, the only phrase I have ever used in Lectio (reading) section of my Lectio Divina prayer.

3. I use the Lectio Divina method (reading, meditating, praying, contemplating), but you can just focus your mind and your thinking on the blog and the Internet sites you have accessed. You can make this retreat to fit your life patterns, but I think it works best if you say a prayer to the Holy Spirit for enlightenment and wisdom, read the book, look up any Internet sites, then silently reflect on all of it, finally writing down your thoughts in the space provided.

4. Pray as you can. I read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict every day. You can read Chapter Four in total in just a couple of minutes. Many time I struggle to read the entire Chapter 4 without getting off track. Sometimes the thoughts are violent, some are extremely provocative with intense sexual innuendos, some are covetous of goods. with thoughts that what I do is not worth my time. I understand why Moses wandered in the desert for forty years. I let these thoughts happen as they present themselves and don’t try to categorize or prioritize them. I try to banish them like St. Benedict advises us to do in Chapter 4. of the Rule. “(50) To dash at once against Christ the evil thoughts which rise in one’s heart. (51) And to disclose them to our spiritual father.” I win some and lose some. That is why I need to live each day as a lifetime of trying to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus.

5. Make this, or any spiritual experience, with not only your head but your heart. The head tells us what is, how it exists in our world, where it fits, the heart helps us to feel what is right, why it is right, and where it fits in the Kingdom of Heaven. Trust both your head and your heart. I try, in all my attempts to pray, to approach the Sacred and allow what happens to happen, rather than forcing something to be there that I want. The goal is to feel Christ’s presence in you.

6. Scriptures are the collected love letters of God to humans from the Torah through Revelations. What do you do with love letters you received from your spouse or family? Do you throw them away? Are there such things as hate letters? You don’t send someone a love letter if you don’t love them. You can’t respond to a love letter unless you hold the person who sent it as special.

8. You know you have been effective in your prayer when you produce something that you did not have before. For example, replace hatred with love. I read Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s Rule every day. I pray Chapter 4 with the hope that I become what I read. It is a way for me to keep in mind that Christ is my center and that I must have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5)

9. You must pray as though everything in spirituality depends on God, but act as that you are the one who must make it real. You must Hope and Trust that everything God tells you to do is true. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, not you, not the Church, not any ministers, priests, or rabbis. You.

10. Contemplation is a relationship, more of a feeling of God’s presence in your heart, than reciting a prayer with your mind., although both are good. The move from Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, to Contemplatio (Lectio Divina stages) is to allow you to travel from the mind to the heart. Moving from self to God means in silence and solitude is one way to increase the capacity for God in your spirit, making room for Christ while you have less room for yourself. Contemplation allows me to confront my demons (7 Deadly Sins) and move toward replacing them with the Gifts of the Spirit. Each day, I begin with a Morning Offering to the Father to try to convert my life from a false self (the world) to my true self (adopted son of the Father). That I don’t make it is just a fact of Original Sin. I begin the next day again using the Cistercian practices and charisms as I can. I do this over and over and over until I die.

11. Christ’s only command was to love one another as he has loved us. Of course, that contains the totality of spirituality. As a Lay Cistercian, I use the practices and charisms of Cistercian spirituality to open my mind to my heart and open my heart to sit next to the Heart of Christ. St. Benedict, in his Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict, says we should prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

LEARNING AND DISCUSSION POINTS

  • One of the effects of totally surrendering oneself to the Mystery of Faith, that which is beyond definition, ut exists in God, is to be present to the one you love. In the case of God’s energy, you canNOT be changed into the greater reality, i.e., God. How would making a contemplative retreat place you in the presence, the Real Presence of Christ?
  • We are like an empty glass, waiting to be filled with the Spirit of Truth. All we can do is lift up our glasses to the Father and ask for more. What are the effects of being filled with the Holy Spirit?
  • Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit, but with a difference. Because of Original Sin, my glass can be filled up (capacitas dei) only to the extent that I make room. In Mary’s case, God filled her human nature with so much grace that she is like a glass that is filled up to the meniscus–one more drop and it overflows. We call that being full of grace.
  • A contemplative retreat is abandoning all agenda’s, all private comforts, seeking to have your private time with Christ, being driven by achieving something tangible from the retreat. It is simply sitting on a park bench in the dead of Winter and waiting for Christ to come by and sit with you, It is the waiting that is prayer. It is the anticipation that converts your false self into newness of life, not your own, but Christ’s.

Praise be to the Father and 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 —Cistercian Doxology

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