Saturday, August 20, 2011

Feast of St Bernard

St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) is undoubtedly the most famous Cistercian monk and abbot.  His influence was felt throughout Europe and even into the Holy Land.  He is judged harshly for his involvement in preaching the Crusades, but is loved by many monastics past and present for his writings in which he reveals and teaches a way of affective union with Christ, the Beloved.  Here are some excepts from writings:

The psalmist says: "seek God's face." Not, I think , will the soul cease to seek God even when she has found God. It is not with steps of the feet that God is sought, but with the heart's desire. And, when the soul happily finds God, her desire is not quenched but kindled. Does consummation of joy bring about the consuming of desire? Rather it is oil poured on the flames. So it is. Joy will be fulfilled, but there will be no end to desire and, therefore, no end to the search. Think, if you can, of this eagerness to see God as not caused by God's absence, for God is always present. And think of the desire for God as without fear of failure, for grace is abundantly present. (quoted from The Spiritual Teachings of Bernard of Clairvaux, p 114)

So the soul returns and is converted to the Word to be reformed by him and conformed to him. In what way? In Charity - in love. Such conformity weds the soul to the Word, for one who is like the Word by nature shows herself like him too in the exercise of her will, loving as she is loved. When she loves perfectly, the soul is wedded to the Word..... Truly this is a spiritual contract, a holy marriage. It is more that a contract, it is an embrace. An embrace where identity of will makes of two, one spirit. (St Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Song 83:23)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sayings on Silence

Hesychia, Blessed Silence 
This icon is Hesychia, Blessed Silence, an angel that represents Christ with the qualities of Sophia, Holy Wisdom . It speaks to that interior movement of the mind into heart where we meet God in the deepest form of prayer. This is the place where Christ tells us to “Go into your room, shut the door and pray…” (Matthew 6:6)

Since silence is such a foundational value to our life of prayer, we had several community meetings at Redwoods to discuss our monastic practice of it. The following are some sayings taken from our discussions:

  • The practice of silence is not to be restrictive but expansive of God’s life within our hearts and within the heart of community
  • To keep silent …. In order to stay in touch with God and the ways which He calls forth an ever deepening communion
  • In silence and simplicity we live at the center of our call to be authentic witnesses of the Cistercian monastic life.
  • Silence is needed for listening to both: outer messages as well as to the deep inner ones.
  • Silence – stillness – inwardly and outwardly restores the balance or harmony in oneself.
  • Silence is an ingredient for prayer and meditation, human attentiveness and relatedness.
  • Simplicity is the absence of things that gives the fullness of beauty
  • We can try to create an atmosphere that is conducive to interiority, but it is mostly Grace and gift
  • Mindfulness – returning to God from thoughts, distractions to the center again and again…
  • I need to work on being in the present moment, watching my thoughts and motivations and importuning God’s grace when I am caught in irritations, judgments and reactions.
  • Do whatever work with the intention (manual labor) that it will glorify God
  • This value of silence gives us authentic simplicity.  With the manifestation of interiority tour monastic rhythm is held in the groundedness of the Cross that frees us, little by little.

If you are interested in a good book on the practice of contemplative silence in the Christian tradition,  Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land, Oxford University Press, 2006

Friday, April 8, 2011

T'he School of Jesus

Lent is a journey, it means accompanying Jesus who goes up to Jerusalem, the place of the fulfilment of his mystery of Passion, death and Resurrection; it reminds us that Christian life is a “way” to take, not so much consistent with a law to observe as with the very Person of Christ, to encounter, to welcome, to follow.  Benedict XVI, Ash Wednesday Address
In his Ash Wednesday address, Pope Benedict goes on to explain the importance of Liturgy as a means to make present the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  He calls the liturgy "the School of Jesus," where "Christ makes himself present through the power of the Holy Spirit and these saving events become real."

This same power and presence is the foundation of the monastic Liturgy of the Hours.  At Vigils, we keep watch for the Messiah in all His comings - Past - Present - Future.  The psalms we recite recall the longings of ancient Israel.  In prayer and meditation, we commune with His presence in our hearts.  And we stay awake so that we may be ready for His return.

With the dawn (Lauds), we greet the rising of the sun and celebrate the arrival of the Savior by singing the Canticle of Zachary (Benedictus):which describes the loving kindness of the heart of God as "a dawn from on high."  During the prayer at noon (Sext or Midday) we chant the psalms of ascent.  These are ancient psalms that have been sung by Jewish pilgrims as they go up to Jerusalem to celebrate festivals. At evening prayer (Vespers), we sing with Mary, the Mother of God, her Magnificat and recount God's mercy and plan of salvation.

At Compline, the day is complete.  We end the prayer with a blessing from the Abbess and remember the words of Simeon, " Now Lord, you may let your servant go in peace, for with my own eyes, I have seen your salvation."

This is the rhythm of the Divine Office which forms us into monks and nuns.  During a liturgical season, such as Lent, prayers, hymns, readings, and antiphons become even more centered on Jesus and draw us deeper into His life.  A good example of this is a common Cistercian hymn often sung at noon prayer.  "The hour it is when Christ did thirst, for Justice thirsted on a tree.  His lips were slaked by no relief - except a poor man's psalm of grief."  The hymn works in us because it is noon, the time of day that tradition commemorates the beginning of Christ's passion.  It is Lent, we have been fasting and we are hungry and maybe a little thirsty. The liturgy invites us to unite our own experience, which has been structured by our monastic schedule, with the experience of Christ.  At the same time we are the monastic choir, singing psalms - so we also take on the role of the "poor man", the one who agonized with Christ at His hour of suffering.

As we come nearer to Holy Week, may we make time to experience this school of Jesus, attending liturgies not only in church but also in the prayer of the heart.  May the living Jesus touch us all very specially this Lent.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Of Gods and Men

Fifteen years ago on March 26, 1996, our brothers at the Trappist Abbey of Tibhirine in Algeria were kidnapped.  Two months later, on May 21st, they were killed, caught in the deadly strife between terrorist forces and the Algerian army.  Of Gods and Men tells their story - their interior struggles as well as their love of the Algerian people. The movie portrays our brothers as the ordinary monks that they were however extraordinary their circumstances and shows the sanctity of their call to be Christ's life and love in the world.  I highly recommend it.

Fr Christian's Testament - Prior of Our Lady of Atlas in Tibhirine Algeria

This testament was composed by Dom Christian de Cherge in Algiers, December 1, 1993 and produced in Tibhirine, January 1, 1994. It was opened on Pentecost Sunday, 1996, shortly after the monks were killed.
If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. To accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would like them to pray for me: how worthy would I be found of such an offering?

I would like them to be able to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones allowed to fall into the indifference of anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, and even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a space of lucidity which would enable me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I don’t see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder. It would be too high a price to pay for what will be called, perhaps, the “grace of martyrdom” to owe this to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.

I know the contempt in which Algerians taken as a whole can be engulfed. I know, too, the caricatures of Islam which encourage a certain idealism. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience in identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam is something different. It is a body and a soul. I have proclaimed it often enough, I think, in view of and in the knowledge of what I have received from it, finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria, and already respecting believing Muslims.

My death, obviously, will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!” But these must know that my insistent curiosity will then be set free. This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills: Immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with Him His children of Islam as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, playing with the differences.

This life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that JOY in and in spite of everything. In this THANK YOU which is said for everything in my life, from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, O my friends of this place, besides my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families, a hundredfold as was promised!

And you too, my last minute friend, who will not know what you are doing, Yes, for you too I say this THANK YOU AND THIS “A-DIEU”-—to commend you to this God in whose face I see yours. And may we find each other, happy “good thieves” in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. . . AMEN!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Divine Child and Spiritual Motherhood

As I look back over the series of Ordo’s* that marked this Advent and Christmas Season, I am amazed at the wealth and depth of the liturgical seasons. This is a unique grace of living in a monastery and one that is not as readily available in the busy world outside the monastery. In the monastery, we live the life of Christ in the liturgy. We long for his presence in Advent, we celebrate his birth with the Holy Family, Shepherds and Maji during the Christmas Season, and now we experience His Baptism and the coming of salvation for all human kind. The daily liturgical hours bath us in the holy remembrance of Christ’s life and Spirit. It is the primary way monastics fulfill the precept of St Paul to “put on the Mind of Christ.” Through this constant contact, we hope to be transformed into His Presence and Light for our world.

This past Advent and Christmas our liturgy was filled with references to the Divine Birth and Spiritual Motherhood. According to ancient monastic tradition, we are mothers not because of our gender, but because of our vocation. We, like the Mother of God, are Christ Bearers. Every Cistercian monastery is dedicated to Our Lady. She is the model of the ideal monk because she is the Mother of God and spent her life contemplating these things in her heart. And while she birthed Christ once in the flesh, Mary continually gave birth to Him in the spirit through her prayer and contemplation. Blessed Geurric of Igny (12th century Cistercian Abbot) has this to say, “For she who conceived God by faith promises you the same if you have faith; if you will faithfully received the Word from the mouth of the heavenly messenger you too may conceive the God whom the whole world cannot contain, conceive him however in your heart, not in your body. And yet even in you body, although not by any bodily action or outward form, nonetheless truly in your body, since the Apostle bids us glorify and bear God in our body.” (2nd Sermon for the Annunciation 27:4)

Guerric further instructs his monks, “Keep watch then, holy mother, keep watch in your care for the new-born child until Christ is formed in you who was born for you...” (3rd Sermon for Christmas, 8:5)

As we enter Ordinary Time, let us not loose touch of this great Mystery. Let us nurture the Divine Child in our hearts and our world.

*an Ordo is a list of the day's monastic prayer services, listing readings, hymns, proclamations and antiphons.