Feast of the Cistercian Founders, Saints Robert Alberic and Stephen by Fr. Guerric Heckel

Homily of 26th January 2019

The great founders of Religious life – male and female – had an impact on the culture of their time because of their ability to discern the urgent needs of the people of their age and respond with originality and ingenuity. As we honor Robert, Alberic and Stephen today, our own Cistercian Founders, I find myself asking, “What are the urgent needs of our day they would be discerning to choose new life for Cistercians?“ I would like to share with you a few areas that come from my reading and dialogue with others as starting points for conversation rather than conclusions.

Our conventional institutions are not designed to meet the magnitude and complexity of today’s globalized world. The daunting realities facing us economically, ecologically, politically, systemically require new forms of organization and leadership anchored in collaboration, teamwork, diversity, and networking models. Past time honored models and modes of behavior will probably not be of much use.

Secondly, with an “asceticism of love,” it is no longer a case of imitating a sacrificial suffering hero but embracing the daring empowering mission of the Gospel imperative of the new reign of God on earth. Following Christ today is much more about the transformation of this world and all the inhabitants of planet earth than a privileged escape to salvation hereafter.

Another growing awareness on the Christian world today is that lay people in “secular” life are integral to the core meaning of vowed life. The hunger for genuine hospitality ranks as one of the most urgent needs of our time. John Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities writes, “Communities that have trouble making room for strangers because they have grown so insulated, or so preoccupied with their own needs and struggles, are communities that are dying.” The Theologian Diarmuid O’Murchu puts it this way.

Religious are not about a different set of values but about those values that all humans yearn for in our deeper truer selves. Monks and Nuns are called to take these values more seriously and strive to live them out authentically, but ensuring holiness does not result in a privileged position above and beyond everybody else. Dialogue and networking are likely to be the strategies for future monastic life. Monks will need to engage the cultural spiritual hunger with more creative forms of outreach.

Last Saturday at Chapter Fr. Joe spoke of the call that every person has to be a mystic. Monks give expression to that reality in a special way and are called to foster it in others.

For much of Christendom, fidelity and holiness were judged by how well members observed laws. We were dealing with a paradigm emphasizing quantity rather than quality, eternal norms rather than internal dispositions, individual salvation rather than communal wholeness. But today the focus is on community life rather than individual holiness. How we relate to one another in community in terms of human relationships is what celibacy is about. Sharing resources characterizes poverty and the exercise of co-responsibility, obedience – engagement over a spirituality of escape.

Our Founders would also be discerning “Embracing God’s Creation and Ecological Responsibility.” An anti world stance is no longer tenable, spiritually or theologically. This new earth centered spirituality resonates throughout Pope Francis’ Exhortation, Laudato Si.

The final area for discernment I would like to suggest is: becoming a learning community which means being able to grow, learn and experience as a community in order to adapt to an evolving world. Is that not what characterized our founders the most. Historians are far too hasty to categorize foundings into neat conceptual ideas. But foundings were more likely fueled by a kind of wild creative energy, characteristic of the Spirit who blows where she will. Energy and enthusiasm abound. Vision and hope are the driving forces.

I have always valued that our order celebrates three founders. They realized they needed a support group for the founding vision. Without the support of one another, the founding dream would not have caught fire and evolved into the cultural and spiritual force that marked its historical impact. It must be the same for us as we live out the Cistercian charism today and keep the vision of new life for ourselves alive.