One of the strangest of all the seemingly contradictory phenomena about spirituality, and I use Cistercian Spirituality as I know it, as my frame of reference, is the sign of contradiction. My Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) meditations have been trending toward thinking about a dogma of the Faith, i.e., The Trinity, Transubstantiation, The Mystery of Faith, The articles in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and making the statement, “They just don’t make sense.”
I am reminded of the Harry Potter movie, Deathly Hallows II, where Professor Dumbledore is asked the question by Harry, “Is this real. Is it just happening inside my head?” Read what Professor Dumbledore says to Harry. “Just because it is happening inside your head does mean it is not real.” I would say of contradiction, “just because it is a sign of contradiction that you do not yet understand, doesn’t mean it is not real.”
REFLECTIONS ON WHAT IS, WHAT WAS, WHAT IS TO COME
The notion of three distinct universes does not make sense. I use three of them to makes more sense out of what does not seem to fit together. I began thinking about this because scientific thinkers were writing that spirituality did not makes sense because they could not measure it, so it is not real. Try as I might (mentally, of course), I could not smooch scientific thinking together with spiritual thinking, the classic visible and invisible dichotomy. Like oil and water, they would not merge together into one reality. After four years of trying and failing to squeeze all reality into one big blob, I remember waking up one night (most of my revelations seem to happen at night in the dead of sleep), and thinking, the answer is right before me. The answer is not that all reality, visible and invisible, is one, but rather that they are a sign of contradiction and are separate universes with the mind to mediate and makes sense out of what seems to be impossible or without measurement. What I came up with is that there are three distinct and separate universes out there,
The theme of the sign of contraction runs through all of my writings, as well as it underlying ideology, the notion of three universes. I can’t say it makes sense for anyone else, but it does for me (so far).
I bring all of this to your attention because spirituality, and for me Cistercian spirituality, in particular, makes no sense without the notion of three universes. Here is what I mean. Have you ever heard of polar shifts? These are the times in the earth’s history where the North Pole becomes the South Pole. Up is not down anymore. There are are whole different set of assumptions about reality when that happens. As I was thinking about the phenomenon, I linked it up to the sign of contradiction and why spirituality seems to make no sense, given the modern assumptions from science and psychology. Once more, the answer was right in front of me. The assumptions were different because each of the three universes are separate but essential, one reality, three dimensions. The reason the spiritual universe does not makes sense is due to changing assumptions.
In the physical universe, God changed the assumptions (pole reversal) and there was life. Why is there life? Maybe because no life, no spirituality. In the mental universe, God changed the paradigm again (poles reversed). https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geomagnetic_reversal Man was created with reason for a reason and received the ability to choose what was either good or bad for him. In the spiritual universe, God did it again. This time, God became one of us to make sure we got the message– you are adopted sons and daughters of the Father and your destiny is Heaven not earth. Christ showed us how to find meaning that will enable us to sustain ourselves in Heaven. Spirituality, although it is still the universe with the opposite assumptions from the physical and mental (we call that the World), actually answers the questions about the meaning of life that we asked in the physical and especially the mental universe. But, and there seems to always be a “But,” there is a catch. In the Spiritual Universe, the answer is the opposite to the question. What sounds like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, makes perfect sense, if you apply the sign of contradiction. It is the Mystery of Faith, reality that contains pure knowledge, pure love, and pure service, but we can only approach it with God’s own energy (contemplation). Here are a few of the signs of contradiction that Jesus gave us that changes our behavior as the World expects it to be.
St. Benedict, in his Chapter 4 of the Rule, tells us “your ways must not be like that of the World.”
HOW TO SEE JESUS
If you want to see Jesus and make sense out of what seems like nonsense, then do the following:
I. Remember, that when you look at Scripture, use the Rule of Threes.
1. The Rule of Opposites: in the spiritual universe what is up is down. Whatever Christ taught has to do with self denial not self gratification (the World).
2. The Rule of Threes: there are three universes that make up reality, each one with its own set of measure. Separate, yet united. Three yet one.
3. The Rule of Revolving Centers: as soon as you profess your Faith in Christ Jesus, you will be challenged to change your center to that of the default (whatever the World thinks is important). Original Sin and its effects are the reasons we have to struggle to make all things new. Some new religions think all the individual has to do is believe and you can “sin bravely” because you are forgiven by the blood of the Cross. It is true that we must believe to be saved but it is also true that this belief is subject to the effects of Original Sin. St. Paul puts it this way: the things I don’t want to do I do and the things I want to do I don’t do. The freedom to choose does not mean anything I choose is morally true. The consequences of sin is death to the Spirit, sometimes just a small cut, but sometime it removes the whole limb. If we don’t take up the cross daily and follow Christ, we risk being spiritually amenic, without energy, slowly rotting from the inside, our purpose clouded by our own false self. It takes work to be spiritual just as it took work for Christ to suffer, die, rise from the dead and ascend into Heaven.
II. To move from my false self (Seven Deadly Sins) to my true self (Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit) I must deny myself, take up my cross and follow the footsteps of Christ. One of the ways I do this is by following the Rule of St. Benedict as interpreted by the Cistercian monks (Trappist) and nuns (Trappistine) from it foundation by Saint Robert of Molesme. I have attached the entire Wikipedia for you so you can read about one of the founders of the Cistercian Order.
He was made the abbot of Saint Michel-de-Tonnerre around the year 1070, but he soon discovered that the monks were quarrelsome and disobedient, so he returned to Montier-la-Celle.
Meanwhile, two hermits from a group of monks that had settled at Collan went to Rome and asked Pope Gregory VII to give them Robert as their superior. The pope granted their request, and as of 1074 Robert served as their leader. Soon after, Robert moved the small community to Molesme in the valley of Langres in Burgundy. Initially, the establishment consisted of only huts made of branches surrounding a chapel in the forest, dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Molesme Abbeyquickly became known for its piety and sanctity, and Robert’s reputation as a saintly man grew. It is because of this reputation that in 1082 Bruno of Cologne came to Robert seeking advice. He lived with Robert’s community for a time before going on to found the Grande Chartreuse, the first Carthusianmonastery.
In 1098 there were 35 dependent priories of Molesme, and other annexes and some priories of nuns. Donors from the surrounding area vied with one another in helping the monks; soon they had more than they needed, slackened their way of life and became tepid. Benefactors sent their children to the abbey for education and other non-monastic activities began to dominate daily life. The vast land holdings they had acquired required a large number of employees. As the community grew increasingly wealthy, it began to attract men seeking entry for the wrong reasons. They caused a division among the brothers, challenging Robert’s severity. Robert twice tried to leave Molesme but was ordered back by the Pope.
Modern icon of the founders of Citeaux Abbey: Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen Harding venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary
In 1098, Robert and twenty-one of his monks left Molesme with the intention of never returning. Renaud, the viscount of Beaune, gave this group a desolate valley in a deep forest; there they founded Cîteaux Abbey. Saints Stephen Harding and Alberic – two of Robert’s monks from Molesme – were pivotal in founding the new house. The archbishop of Lyons, being persuaded that they could not subsist there without the endorsement of an influential churchman, wrote in their favour to Eudo, duke of Burgundy. Eudo paid for the construction they had begun, helped the monks finance their operating expenses and gave them much land and cattle. The bishop of Challons elevated the new monastery to the canonical status of an abbey.
In 1099, the monks of Molesme asked Robert to return and agreed to submit entirely to his interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict; the local bishop also pressured Robert to return. He agreed and Molesme became a major center for the Benedictines under his tutelage. Albéric was made successor abbot at Cîteaux, with Stephen Harding as prior.
Robert died on 17 April 1111. Pope Honorius III canonized him in 1222. His feast day in the Roman Catholic Church was at first observed on 17 April, later transferred to April 29, and finally combined with the feast of Alberic and Stephen Harding and is observed in our day on 26 January.
The Vie de saint Robert de Molesme was written by Guy, his immediate successor as abbot of Molesme.“
Saint Robert felt called to reform monastic practice, not by starting his own religion, but by taking what was there (Rule of Benedict) and trying a form that stressed silence and solitude. This to counteract the confusion and dysfunction of his age.
III. Being holy It is not keeping busy with prayer all day but rather to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). I might add, doing this by loving God with all my heart, all my mind, an all my strength and my neighbor as myself.
IV. There are three levels of spiritual maturation, each one dependant on the one before it. 1. The Mind — we are given reason for a reason. We have reason so that we can fulfill out destiny as humans and read the directions on how to move from self to God. But we must grow beyond just mere belief. 2. The Heart — Christ tells us our only rule is to love one another as He loves us. When we sit on a park bench in the dead of Winter and wait for Christ to pass by, knowing that he is approaching, we have reached the beginnings of spiritual maturity. 3. My Heart next to the Heart of Christ– There is no trying to prove Christ exists on this level, no proving my god can beat your god on this level, only sitting in the presence of pure energy and being. The product of God’s energy is me and how its Church addresses the needs of those less fortunate. Read Matthew 25. I you do have the energy of Christ in you, you will have love for your neighbor as yourself not hatred.
V. The Old Testament is all about covenant and keeping it or not. The New Testament is all about God taking on our human nature because we were not doing such a good job and could not reach the next level of our collective progress without help from God Himself. The period from Pentecost until the Lord comes again in glory is marked by the Holy Spirit being with each age as they try to do God’s will. The problem with the Church is that is entrusted to sinful people, just like the Old Testament. Nothing has changed, only the characters, and those now include you and me. The sign of contradiction is that the Church is Holy even though we meander down the road of life, sometimes recklessly, sometimes losing sight of the Light of Christ as our destination, but always moving forward and trying to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). I had an encounter with a particularly aggressive and pride-filled person about the Catholic Church as she saw it. Real hatred here. Real anger here. She told me that all Catholics are corrupt and sinful. I asked her if her Church was sinful and she hesitated and said “well, yes”. I told her to apply to my Church the same attitude she has towards her Church. She told me that was different. It always is. We must strive for perfection in the midst of the World. If you condemn the Church for being corrupt because its members are corrupt, then the only ones who can be members of the Church are Jesus and His mother, and only her because God Himself overshadowed her with the fullness of His Grace.
VI. Lay Cistercian spirituality, based on the interpretation of the Cistercians on the Rule of St. Benedict, is one which I find permeated with contradictions about moving from our false self to our true self. The World teaches us that to be fulfilled we must do what makes us happy. What makes us happy is up to us. The Spirit teaches us that to be happy you must take up your cross daily and follow Christ. Do you know how heavy a cross is? This is not a mental exercise with no stress nor demands on us, but rather we must go against or instincts to do what makes us happy. B.F. Skinner must be turning over in his grave when he hears this. We are not animals who must respond to a stimulus when it is offered. We must choose the opposite of convenience many times as our sign of contradiction. The World (Satan) has seduced many people in our times with thinking that no one can tell us what is the way, the truth and the life, only our own instincts, and that we are correct just because we think it. Classic Adam and Eve and Original Sin. As a result, we must choose the more difficult way, the way that does not make sense to the World. Lay Cistercian spirituality, as I understand it, means we seek God in daily living using silence, solitude, prayer, work, and community. Some days are better than others, but we move inexorably foward towards Omega in the sure and constant confidence of the Resurrection.
TOWARDS A CONCLUSION, NOT A FINALITY
To see Jesus, to love others as Christ has loved us, to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5), we must recognize that Christ left us not a written book, but actions that we should replicate. These actions don’t make sense, like loving those who hate you and not returning hatred for those who hate you. Chapter 4 of the RB (Rule of Benedict) contains many of the contradictions, those who demand that we give up what the World says is correct in favor of the will of God. It is when we realize the meaning of Christ’s wisdom that when we lose our life, we will find it. The sign of contradiction does not make sense to those who do not have Faith, to those who ask God for mercy, no answer is needed.
Each of us will be judge by our actions after we die. Love is the measure. We will see Him as He really is before the Throne of the Lamb.
Praise be 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