Dedication of the Church at Mississippi Abbey

This morning at Vigils we had Ps 46 (47) which begins with the words “All peoples, clap your hands/ cry to God with shouts of joy” and I thought of you and how this Psalm would be so fitting for the anniversary of the dedication of a church. Now, we don’t usually clap our hands and shout in church but we do express our joy by singing and chanting the Psalms.

When you think of the predominant mode of expression in this church it is music.  Often on Sunday when I am here you have a special entrance hymn. I am back by the presider’s chair and you are up by the organ and I can see you, I can see the concentration, the dedication the absorption in the music and not only is the music beautiful but you are too. When you sing together this way you sort of lose your individual identity and become one united whole. I see an innocence and certain tenderness in all of you and what is so nice is that I don’t think you are aware of it. Tenderness is important to Cistercian spirituality.

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of this church. The reading reminds us of how throughout history certain places were dedicated to the Lord and in the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that the place itself is not enough it is the spirit too that counts. And this is what you the community bring to this sacred building. There is an objective holiness here and a subjective one. Objectively this is the house of God, the Tabernacle of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic bread and subjectively in each of you as a tabernacle of the real presence – Jesus living in you and present to you in the depths of your heart. We need both in our liturgy to worship in spirit and in truth. I love that quote from St. Bernard’s 45th sermon on the canticle where he says, “The Word is a Spirit/ and the soul is a spirit/ they posses their own/mode of speech/and presence/ in accord with their nature.” Our mode of speech is silence and singing the Office, the work of God. It is worship in spirit and truth.

I mentioned tenderness as part of our Cistercian spirituality. It is expressed in words like dulcis – sweetness, and affetus for affection. It is especially evident in our Cistercian devotion to Mary, the star of the sea and in friendship as expressed in the writings of St. Allred.

There is a line in a poem by Sylvia Plath where she says, “I would so like to believe in tenderness.” Such a sad line. Tenderness, affection, kindness and gentleness are so necessary for a full life. In the Psalms these feelings are sanctified along we many other emotions and feelings. I like to think that at Vigils when we have such gutsy Psalms, that we are praying and asking God to heal all the sin and degradation that people go through in life. We make it our own in the Psalms and plead for the world.

All this takes place in this church. I have a nephew who recently wrote to me and said, “I have finally found a place I belong.” He is in his 50s and has had a terrible time with alcoholism. He has never found where he belongs. Now he has. We have too. We belong in this monastery in this church in this house of worship in this community of saints and sinners all blessed by God.