The Lay Cistercian Way is more about how the individual Lay Cistercian crafts what it means to take Cistercian spirituality as they know it and live it out each day, simply seeking God in whatever happens. For me, that means doing the Lay Cistercian practices each day as I can and as I have scheduled for that day. A lot of my Lay Cistercian Way is determined for me by my advancing age and its consequences.
One of my most cherished activities is to pass on what I myself have received, knowing that I have filtered my life experiences with The Christ Principle and settled down to just relaxing with this whole notion of being active. What happens for me is primarily new within (which is what the Lay Cistercian Way is all about).Matthew 6:5.
For new novices under the shade of my wing ( or sub umbra alarum suarum), I offer these four ideas about being a novice. Take it from one who realizes he is a perpetual novice in all things Cistercian.
ENJOY THE JOURNEY: You have just begun your exposure to different ideas and different people who have different views of what it means to be a Lay Cistercian. You are not them; they are not you; God is not you; and you, most certainly, not God. In our age of instant gratification, we want to skip from novice to mastery in one day. It is the flush that comes with conversion, wishing that all people you meet can share the joy you feel. They can’t and won’t. My advice is to relax, pace yourself, as Brother Michael recommends, and enjoy the journey each day. That “each day” is important because I am the only one who can offer up to the Father’s glory through, with, and in Christ. Each day is a lifetime, I have come to realize. Enjoying the journey means it takes time, patience, endurance, and sometimes depression, over moving from my false self to my new self in Christ. You are a new wine as a novice, and you don’t need to put it in the wineskins of your past. New wine is what happens on your journey each day, each day. The new wineskins are the Lay Cistercian Ways you absorb into your unique way, all based on the Cistercian traditions and practices of the Trappists who have chosen to call us brothers and sisters. You are not called to be a monk but rather to translate Cistercian Way into your space in time with whatever remains of it, to seek the simplicity of heart, poverty of spirit, and the ability to wait for the Lord in Lectio Divina and other practices. Don’t rush to the parousia. Heaven is now, each day, each time you rise above your false self and convert your mind and heart to be more like the one you love. Savor the martyrdom of ordinary living, recognizing that repetition and sameness are the crucibles in which your spirit is ground to make an acceptable meal of grain for the Lord.
HABITS: Enjoy the journey. Relax and wait for the Lord to catch up to you. Eat your meal one bite at a time, and don’t gorge yourself.
DON’T TRY TO BE LIKE OTHER PEOPLE– As a Lay Cistercian, you are one of a kind, even if you are one of many on Gathering Day. It is this uniqueness that comes from the Holy Spirit in you and your awareness of it in others that makes these monthly meetings so electrifying. Forge your own schedule, your Lay Cistercian Way is not my Lay Cistercian Way. It is in sharing that difference that we become more One in Christ Jesus. It happens almost imperturbably.
HABITS: You are the only Lay Cistercian that is you. Give glory to the Father for your Faith, your Hope, and your Love. Celebrate the uniqueness in others. Relax and wait for the Lord to catch up to you.
ASSIMILATE THE WORD INTO YOUR HEART: The Rule of St. Benedict is our guide to becoming more like Christ. Chapter 4 sets forth many behaviors we must assimilate into our hearts and minds. My particular favorite is “prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” Assimilation means repetition. Repetition means I realize it takes work to carve out time for Christ. We do what it takes to be present to Christ in the Eucharist and Eucharistic Adoration, Lectio Divina, and Liturgy of the Hours. Take it easy and ease into the more challenging ways of behaving. Some of them won’t make sense right now, such as you must die to self to rise to a new life. All of this takes time. Slow down. Relax and wait for the Lord to catch up to you (or rather for you to slow down enough to listen the “the ear of the heart.”)
HABITS: Patience. Perseverance. Balance. Don’t be afraid.
APPRECIATE WHERE YOU CAME FROM AND WHERE YOU ARE GOING-– At Baptism, you received a tattoo on your spirit, the sign of the cross. It should remind you that “you are dust and into dust you shall return.” As dual citizens of both earth (until we die) ad heaven (begins with Baptism and never ends) we are the product of all those life experiences that were authentic, and even those which caused us to walk off of the path, we could learn from them and in humility ask God for mercy on us. We are intended to live forever. To do that, God has provided us with Jesus, the Messiah, the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In Baptism, Christ chose us to be an adopted son or daughter so that we could make the hyperjump from this secular world to the spiritual world. In the Eucharist (the word means Thanksgiving), we go with Christ to the Father to know, love, and serve more in this life so that we can live what we discovered about love on the earth to take with us to heaven. We make our heaven on earth (or our hell…ouch!). That tattoo overcomes the world and permits us, through Faith, to begin the journey to our destiny as fully human. As a Lay Cistercian, appreciate where you came from but also realize that you must struggle while in this world to keep faithful to the stone, which has become the new cornerstone of reality. Lay Cistercian practices and charisms allow us the privilege of placing ourselves in the presence of Christ and bask in the Holy Spirit while we still live on this earth.
HABITS: Humility. Obedience to God’s Will. Cultivating an appreciation to be in the Real Presence of Christ through the Eucharist, Scriptures, and Good Works (Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict), to name a few.
Relax. Be Still. Be Patient. You Are Loved. Learn the Art of Contemplation. Learn to go to the upper room in your heart and pray in silence and solitude. (Matthew 6:5) You have all those Lay Cistercians plus the Cistercian monks and nuns who are praying for us, plus those for whom we pray. Live each day as a lifetime. Pray as you can, says Brother Michael O.C.S.O.