CONFERENCE OF MOTHER CHRISTIANA
To Seek God in Truth
A Cistercian Vocation
Those who feel called to a Cistercian life ordered wholly to contemplation often have somewhat varied motivations: to love God alone, to give one's whole life to God, to live with Christ, etc. However, once they find themselves in the monastery and their ideals are put to the test of everyday life, they understand little by little that one thing only is asked of them: to seek God in truth. That is the absolute demand made by the Rule, a demand which must from now on take over their lives. Most ask themselves, not without apprehension and misgivings: "Where will this lead me?" Walking like blind men on the adventurous roads of faith, after a period that may vary in length, they leave the darkness and see at last a glimmer of hope. Guided by the example of the seniors, comforted by the community atmosphere, they come to find the pearl that is hidden in the Cistercian way. They know enough now to count no longer on their own strength, and are driven to abandon themselves to God in faith.
The Rule, Concrete Interpretation of the Gospel
When the time comes to be consecrated for life in the covenant with God, the meaning and the very form of their giving is put on their lips by the Rule itself: "I promise to obey my abbot according to the Rule, until death." At that moment, how can anyone avoid having in his heart the image of Christ in the gospels who, at the moment he reveals to them his Father's love, and in order to allow them to share in it, reveals to them the boundless mystery: He is the Son, become for us Word incarnate, who whispers in our hearts, "I always do what pleases Him." Of course, entering into this mystery does not lessen the difficulties of everyday life, but these hardships then become the occasion of entrusting everything to the one who deigns to make their hearts his dwelling-place. Hearing the Word demands of them a total conversion, a continual turning, and allows them truly to understand the teaching of the Rule on humility, the condition sine qua non of their relationship with the Lord. "Obedience comes naturally to those who cherish nothing more than Christ."
If the Rule is the fruit of monastic tradition, if it was a wellspring of renewal, if, thanks to the Rule, our Fathers were able to bequeath us a Cistercian spirituality of an astounding richness and diversity, why could not this same Rule still be for us, living in this post-modern age in such different cultures, the source of true renewal and of a future rich with promise?
The Cenobitic Life: The Word Comes to Life
I have no intention of treating community life at length. I would like simply to say a few words on certain elements of our life which, at this time, could endanger the contemplative aspect of our life and which should, perhaps, attract our attention.
Our Fathers of Citeaux believed in the formative value of manual work done in common. It is a balancing factor for body and spirit, and also one of the things that unites the community. What is its state nowadays? Many monasteries see that they are forced to give up agriculture and move into craft work or even industrial work. But is it necessary to get the greatest return, the greatest profit possible, while multiplying machines and man-hours? What are we to think when the monastery's economy rests almost entirely on commercial activity? What long-term influence will this have on the contemplative aspect of our monastic life?
Mutual Fraternal Aid
Cenobitic life gathers into fraternal communion those who truly seek God. By his vow of stability, the monk gives himself totally to his community. He knows he will find therein a powerful help to free himself from self-will and draw him, with ever more truth, into the search for God. Without the presence of truly spiritual seniors, it is difficult to discern whether our search for God is incarnated in our daily life. There is no more precious help in the life of a monk than the presence of those who have learned how to rid themselves of all encumbrances, who have become, without their even knowing it, completely transparent before God and their brothers. Meetings and fraternal help within the community deepen our mutual understanding and, with all our differences, permit us to see the face of Christ, until now unknown, among us. We become loving when we see
we are loved, and so are able to share mutual forgiveness in the joy of the children of God.
We all know how important it is to read the Bible, the sign and sacrament where we find hidden the reality of salvation. In order to incarnate the Scriptures in the heart of the monk, in order to free them of a deadening moralism, it seems to me that a serious formation is necessary from the very beginning of monastic life, not only in lectio divina but in the act of reading, in the broad sense of the word. Many of our young people are often content simply to "decipher" the text in a superficial way. When I speak of Scripture, I am obviously not excluding the Fathers of the Church or our Cistercian Fathers, depending on what is available in each language and on how each one is attracted. It goes without saying that our horarium should give an important place to reading so that it can be truly fruitful.
The monastic life is one great Opus Dei. If the Eucharist is the heart and summit of our life, by the Divine Office, echo of the great Eucharistic hymn of praise, the monk enters into the inspired words of the psalms, makes them his own and, borne up by the Spirit who animates them, is transformed little by little into the image of the One he praises. Our liturgy must be kept to the simplicity of the Fathers of Citeaux, if we are to leave the Spirit as much space as possible. In this simplicity, heart and lips join together most easily. It is hardly necessary to add how important it is to say the hours at the proper times of day, certainly more important than the place where we celebrate them. Study of the psalms as soon as one enters the monastery also seems indispensable to me.
It is surely possible to live the elements of our life in different ways. I simply wanted to state here an experience of Cistercian life, both personal and communal, which we live thanks to the example and help of those who, I dare to say, have been or still are, our Fathers in monastic life. In them, both men and women, we see already among us the harvest gathered in the each day's struggle; their peace and joy are for us a gauge of what the Rule promises us in the Prologue: "As we progress in the monastic life and in faith, our hearts expand, and we run in the way of God's commands with unspeakable sweetness of love." Doesn't that describe a true contemplative life?