Homily for the Solemnity of the Cistercian Founders, Sts Robert, Alberic and Stephen by Fr. Gerard Jonas 26 January 2021
Prov 4, 7-13; Col 3,12-17; Mt 23,8-12
Today, we Cistercians celebrate the Solemnity of our Founders- Sts Robert, Alberic and Stephen. Inspired to live out more fully the monastic life as envisioned by St Benedict in his Monastic Rule, they founded the new monastery in Citeaux. We glorify God for giving their example of fidelity to the monastic life, their fidelity to God.
Studies show that the coronavirus that has plagued the world for already a year now can spread in the air we breathe. Thus, social distancing and the wearing of face cover have become part of the norms to curtail its further spread.
Like this deadly virus, reform in the religious life was in the air in the medieval period. Famous was the Cluniac reform of the 10th century. The spirit of going back to the basics has also caught up in the Benedictine monastery of Molesme towards the end of the 11th century. Our Holy Founders, Robert, Alberic, and Stephen, along with some monks, numbering 21, set out for Citeaux. And the rest, as they say, was history.
From 1098, the air of the Cistercian monastic life has lingered to this day. And in the serenity of Mepkin, not only the monks thrive in breathing this in. Since more than 40 years ago, we have welcomed monastic guests to share in our community life of prayer, study, and work. In 2018, we expanded our affiliate programs with the Monastic Institute and the Monastic Residency. Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, we opened yet another program last year, the Institute for Regenerative Agriculture.
The monastery is not a museum, the way live oaks here at Mepkin are not static artifacts of the past. We are a living community that continues to breathe in and are enlivened by the air of the Cistercian monastic life as envisioned and lived by our holy founders Saints Robert, Alberic, and Stephen who resolved to live the Monastic Rule of St Benedict more fully. It is a contemplative manner of life ordered according to the Gospel of Christ. Thus, we trace back our origins beyond 1098 in the founding of Citeaux, beyond the Benedictine Rule of the 6th century. Indeed, we only have one teacher, Christ our Lord. We only emulate how St Benedict and our Cistercian Founders have responded to follow him in a cenobitic life of faith, love, and service, dedicated solely to Christ, ordered to be with Christ as Christ is with the Father.
Now, it’s our time. It’s our turn to keep the school of charity not only thriving but vibrantly alive. Through the example and intercession of our monastic founders and forebears, we continue to be receptive to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who breathes in life and renewal into our monastic life. As God continues to call and send people to Mepkin, we welcome men who join our vowed life and men and women affiliates who share in our life for a period of time.
Unlike with the coronavirus that needed to be contained with social distancing and protective covers, we offer our monastic tradition to all seekers of God and his grace of peace and solitude. We hand down not only the monastic tradition per se, but we share the monastic tradition of receiving and abiding by the Good News of God’s Kingdom. Indeed, we keep and guard the wisdom of this tradition. This life is God’s gift to the Church and the world at large. Our fidelity to this life is our gift from the world both to God and to the Church.
As St Paul exhorted the Colossians, we breathe in the culture of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, and bearing with one another. Through the monastic rule, we embrace the rule of Christ’s love and peace as one harmonious community. Yes, whatever we do, in word or deed, we strive to “do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father thru Him,” as did our Holy Founders, Robert, Alberic, and Stephen.
May God bless our efforts through their intercession and especially that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Citeaux, and of Mepkin. May we continue to grow in faith and in our monastic of life.