This segment of my blog is a new one, beginning on 4/23/22. I am adding this page to respond to an insatiable urge to write down my thoughts about just one topic, “What is a Lay Cistercian?” It sounds like a relatively innocuous and fatiguing topic. Still, its purpose is to provide my group of Lay Cistercian discerners in Tallahassee, Florida, with a place where all of my thoughts about what it means to me to be a Lay Cistercian might be housed. I can’t answer the question, “What is a Lay Cistercian.” I can answer, “What are the Cistercian practices and charisms that I follow, and how does moving from my false self to my true self in Christ Jesus impact my view of reality.”
I would like to number these reflections on the impact that being more and more open to the Holy Spirit has on me. I am not recommending anyone follow what I do, but rather for each person to use Lay Cistercian practices and charisms outlined in the Lay Cistercian charter (Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist) and apply it to how each one seeks God each day. Each Lay Cistercian is unique. Christ is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow.
Now and forever, praise is to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. –Cistercian doxology
FIRST LESSON: Begin to develop spiritual stamina.
HOW LONG CAN YOU HOLD YOUR SPIRITUAL BREATH?
When I was young and adventuresome, I tried holding my breath for as long as possible. I managed to keep my breath long enough to swim underwater, but I never became accustomed to it. It was all part of my preparation to be able to swim in the deep section of Rainbow Beach in Vincennes, Indiana, my hometown.
You have a spiritual breath, you know. You tolerate the attention span for being in front of the Sacred, such as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. As an aspiring Lay Cistercian, I began my spiritual breath-holding with barely a minute or two. Now, I can go up to an hour plus before my mind takes me to places not consistent with the Sacred, such as what am I going to eat for dinner. I have noticed that I can get back on track much quicker than before when this does happen. Also, I have lost my nervous foot (shaking nervously) behavior. Contemplation has been a way to find peace and humility, and I consider myself just a toddler in the Cistercian way of thinking.
Here are some ideas about the sustainability of my contemplative Lectio Divina.
Life is good.
Why is accepting the fact of your wounded humanity a gift of love to the Father through Christ? What does it mean to be “in process” of becoming more like Christ rather than reaching a finality or mastery?
That in all things, may God be glorified. –St. Benedict
LESSON TWO: Read Chapter 4 (or a part of it) each day. 4/23/22
Begin the habit of prayer.
I only aspire to be a Lay Cistercian, which I suppose I will be doing when I knock on the Heavenly Gates and once more ask for mercy. I am not an expert on anything Cistercian, only a broken-down, old temple of the Holy Spirit who tries to seek God with all his heart, again and again.
The following reading is from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4. Tools for Good Works. I try to read it every day, or at least some portion of it. I have found that I now treat each day as a new beginning, making all things new once more. The “Now” makes more sense to me each day than reflecting on the past, with its wailings and wanderings. As a Lay Cistercian, I find it remarkable that I am growing, almost imperceptibly, more and more into that which I seek, having the mind of Christ Jesus, my purpose of life. (Philippians 2:5) After reading the following tools and reflecting on their importance in my life, I am slowly becoming what I read.
Forgiveness comes into play when I forget God is God and try to substitute my will for His. If you know what I am talking about, there is no need to explain further; if you do not know what I am saying, there is nothing I can do to make you aware.
Here are the tools for good works, as St. Benedict wrote about 540 AD.
The Instruments of Good Works
(1) In the first place, love the Lord God with the whole heart, soul, and strength…
(2) Then, one’s neighbor as one’s self (cf Mt 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-31; Lk 10:27).
(3) Then, not to kill…
(4) Not to commit adultery…
(5) Not to steal…
(6) Not to covet (cf Rom 13:9).
(7) Not to bear false witness (cf Mt 19:18; Mk 10:19; Lk 18:20). (8) To honor all men (cf 1 Pt 2:17).
(9) And what one would not have done to himself, not to do to another (cf Tob 4:16; Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31).
(10) To deny oneself to follow Christ (cf Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23).
(11) To chastise the
body (cf 1 Cor 9:27).
(12) Not to seek after pleasures.
(13) To love fasting.
(14) To relieve the poor.
(15) To clothe the naked…
(16) To visit the sick (cf Mt 25:36).
(17) To bury the dead.
(18) To help in trouble.
(19) To console the sorrowing.
(20) To hold one’s self aloof from worldly ways.
(21) To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
(22) Not to give way to anger.
(23) Not to foster a desire for revenge.
(24) Not to entertain deceit in the heart.
(25) Not to make a false peace.
(26) Not to forsake charity.
(27) Not to swear, lest perchance one swear falsely.
(28) To speak the truth with heart and tongue.
(29) Not to return evil for evil (cf 1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9).
(30) To do no injury, yea, even patiently to bear the injury.
(31) To love one’s enemies (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27).
(32) Not to curse them that curse us, but rather to bless them.
(33) To bear persecution for justice’s sake (Mt 5:10).
(34) Not to be proud…
(35) Not to be given to wine (cf Ti 1:7; 1 Tm 3:3).
(36) Not to be a great eater.
(37) Not to be drowsy.
(38) Not to be slothful (cf Rom 12:11).
(39) Not to be a murmurer.
(40) Not to be a detractor.
(41) To put one’s trust in God.
(42) To refer to what good one sees in himself,
not to self, but to God.
(43) But as to any evil in himself, let him be convinced that it is his own and charge it.
(44) To fear the day of judgment.
(45) To be in dread of hell.
(46) To desire eternal life with all spiritual longing.
(47) To keep death before one’s eyes daily.
(48) To keep a constant watch over the actions of our life.
(49) To hold as sure that God sees us everywhere.
(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.
(52) To guard one’s tongue against evil and hateful speech.
(53) Not to love much speaking.
(54) Not to speak useless words and such as provoke laughter.
(55) Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
(56) To listen willingly to holy reading.
(57) To apply one’s self often to prayer.
(58) To confess one’s past sins to God daily in prayer with sighs and tears and to amend them for the future.
(59) Not to fulfill the desires of the flesh (cf Gal 5:16).
(60) To hate one’s own will.
(61) To obey the commands of the Abbot in all things, even though he (which Heaven forbid) acts otherwise, mindful of that precept of the Lord: “What they say, do ye; what they do, do ye not” (Mt 23:3).
(62) Not to desire to be called holy before one is, but one may be indeed so-called to be holy first.
(63) To fulfill daily the commandments of God by works.
(64) To love chastity.
(65) To hate no one.
(66) Not to be jealous; not to entertain envy.
(67) Not to love strife.
(68) Not to love pride.
(69) To honor the aged.
(70) To love the younger.
(71) To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
(72) To make peace with an adversary before the sun’s setting.
(73) And never to despair of God’s mercy.
Behold, these are the instruments of the spiritual art, which, if they have been applied without ceasing day and night and approved on judgment day, will merit for us from the Lord that reward which He
hath promised: “The eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor 2:9). But the workshop in which we perform all these works with diligence is the monastery’s enclosure and stability in the community.
My Reflections on The Tools for Good Works.
These spiritual habits are not the ends in themselves, any more than saying the Morning Prayer is the only reason for spiritual living. These tools and practices serve to propel and compel us to have in ourselves the mind of Christ Jesus, to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.
Here are three ways I use Chapter 4 to place my heart next to the heart of Jesus.
We become the real presence of God in this world of original sin, using the power of God through the Holy Spirit to make all things new. To do that without being corrupted by the sins of the world, we need to constantly throw ourselves on the mercy of God, asking forgiveness first for our own sins and then the sins of all. Daily confessing our need for humility and obedience, we do penance to sustain us in our resolve to have Christ Jesus’s mind in us. (Phil 2:5)
Why is developing a habit of reading Chapter 4 beneficial for a Lay Cistercian candidate? What is a habit of prayer?
LESSON THREE: Pray as you can.
If you wish to be a Lay Cistercian (not a monk living in a monastery, but one who follows the Rule of St. Benedict using Cistercian practices and charisms (silence, solitude, work, prayer, community) to be present to the heart of Christ, then you face a challenge of making room for all of these five throughout your week. My first realization is that I am not a monk, but I am me. I am not another Lay Cistercian, but I am me. I can’t be thinking of Jesus every minute, every day (that is Heaven). Heaven on earth means I pray as I can. Important here is having the mindset of “Having in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) The temptation I had was to cram in as much prayer as possible, thinking that more prayer would make me more holy. Begin slowly with how much you pray. I recommend you say a morning offering of your day to Christ as a gift to the Father that day; each day is a different opportunity to seek God.
LESSON FOUR: You are given The Eucharist to use to get to Heaven.
LESSON FIVE: The Prayer of Abandonment by Saint Charles de Foucauld.