Homily for 26 January 2020, Solemnity of the Founders of Citeaux and 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time by Fr. Gerard Jonas

Proverbs 4,7-13; Colossians 3,12-17; Matthew 23,8-12

Homily for 26 January 2020, Solemnity of the Founders of Citeaux and 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time by Fr. Gerard JonasCistercian Founders Encounter the Word

Today, we Cistercians celebrate the Feast of our Founders- Saints Robert, Alberic, and Stephen. Likewise, upon the decree of Pope Francis, the whole Christendom celebrates on this 3rd Sunday of the Ordinary Time, the Sunday of the Word of God.  Our Holy Father calls on us to make the Sacred Scriptures part of our daily life.  And this is exactly what our Founding Fathers just did that is why we are Cistercians today.

The monastery is not a museum, the way the live oaks here at Mepkin are not static artifacts of the past. For though Monastic communities may carry things of the past, they are not stuck in the past as to be anachronistic at any given time in monastic history. They carry strains like DNA to the present but evolve accordingly.

The Cistercian Monastic life eventually evolved when our Founders, Saints Robert, Alberic, and Stephen deemed it necessary to go back to the more basic way following not only the Monastic Rule of St Benedict but truly to the Gospel Truths of which it is a wonderful expression.

Now we continue to savor the sweetness of encountering God in the Cistercian way because of the successive staunch leadership of our Founders who steered the breakaway community into the stability of such a monastic life.

Heeding the first admonition in the Prologue of the Benedictine Rule, “Listen, O son,” we now continue to live the contemplative life as we encounter God through the Sacred Scriptures in the communal Liturgy of the Hours, as well as in private Lectio Divina.

The call continues – to listen to the Master with the ear of one’s heart.  In today’s Gospel Jesus calls Himself as the Teacher. So it is from Him we only truly learn. He calls Himself the Messiah, and it is only in Him we live fully.   As with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are pilgrims to and with Jesus.  He is our only life and He opens the Word of life and breaks the Bread of life with and for us.

It is so wonderful that we celebrate today the Feast of our Cistercian Fathers and the first Sunday of the Word of God that eclipse into the same message – to encounter God in and through the Word.

We as monks may have the privilege of the constant consciousness of the call to the contemplative life. But the contemplative culture is not our exclusive right. We are all called to cultivate the contemplative culture of encountering God in His Word.

Truly, God is with us. For example, just see how in praying the Psalms, we pray through all and any human experience we may have undergone or are going through at the moment.  All our sufferings, anxieties, and hopes,  even anger and fears come alive. Remember how Jesus Himself prays in agony while hanging on the cross,  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Ps 22, and when we continue praying to the next the Psalm, Ps 23 – we are appeased and comforted as we utter “the Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” – nothing would be lacking…

And again, for instance, how we enjoy the peace and serenity here at Mepkin. Well, that is what Mepkin means in the now-lost native language. The massive live oak trees also help create that ambiance.  At any time of the year, these live oaks are ever green with foliage and seem never to fail to offer their refreshing embrace.  But do we realize how the Cooper River and its tributaries keep these live oaks well hydrated?  So in Psalm 1, we pray that we be wise and steadfast to be with what nourishes and refreshes us, as we utter:

“Happy are those

who do not follow the advice of the wicked,

… but their delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law, they meditate day and night.

They are like trees

planted by streams of water,

which yield their fruit in its season,

and their leaves do not wither.

In all that they do, they prosper.”

Indeed, God is with us through the Sacred Scriptures. We are nourished and given life.
Finally, notice how our Icon on our Cistercian Founders depicts them flanking the Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary bearing the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ in her bosom. All Cistercian Monasteries are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We recognize her distinct role and support in making this encounter with the Divine Incarnate Word possible in all generations. Our Benedictine culture of hospitality may also be traced to Mary. In her docility, Mary is our best model and guide in the art perfect listening and openness to the Word and to the action of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, likewise, Mary presents us with the constant challenge of bearing Christ for and with one another.  As Jesus in the Gospel today exhorts us to be servants, what greater service can we offer than like Mary, to make Christ available for everyone to encounter.

And so today we pray that through the intercession of Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen, we may never cease to grow as children of God ever nourished by his Living Word.