Memorial of Holy Abbots of Cluny at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Acts 13:13-25; Jn 13:16-20

Today we remember the Holy Abbots of Cluny. That designation “Holy” would seem to distinguish them from others of their time. “Holy” does mean “different” or “separate.” These abbots were reformers. They renewed the boundaries that gave monastic life its focus, its devotion, its singleness of purpose.

As we have talked about before, a community is formed around a shared affection. This is its primary purpose around which everything else is organized. But as a shared affection it is much more than an organizational principle; it is a point of identification and thus of bonding. If shared affection for One Thing is not the bonding element, then mere political correctness or “being cool” will replace it.

It is very important to admire the separateness or difference of the holy; otherwise resentment creeps into a community. In resentment we disparage higher values and those who represent them. In doing so, we elevate lower values, such as being cool. In my own community the “separate” ones I have admired included Fr. Thaddeus and Fr. Kenneth. Some may see them as eccentric, but I believe they are the recipients of special grace.

Holiness fundamentally refers to God who is completely other and Who is goodness itself. By extension it can be said of relationship to that source. Because relationship to the Holy is necessary, just “being a good person” is not the same as being holy.

Notre Dame’s Lawrence Cunningham tells us that the Bible understands three kinds of holiness. These are nt discrete categories where you are in one and not the others. One can move among them as God sees fit. The first is the separateness we’ve mentioned. A second one he terms Prophetic. These emphasize the relationship between worship, social justice, and conversion of heart. This would seem to be the kind of holiness exemplified by the Holy Abbots of Cluny in their work of reforming.

A third kind he calls sapiential holiness. Here the emphasis is on individual integrity as it develops under the eye of God. Most of us might identify with this. Our Holy Rule was written to facilitate it. Such a person is able to admire and learn from the other two and this distinguishes her from the politically correct.

In all three of these the guiding principle would seem to be humility as the art of being human when the human is clear about what matters most. It would be living in the truth. We must notice these about one another and appreciate their contribution to our primary purpose. Thus, the turn to holiness involves individual decisions, but they are lived out in a community. As Lumen Gentium points out, the call to holiness is to the church. It is not just for an “elect.” Holiness is not an ornament; it is essential to humans and their communities. That is why identification is so important to the formation of spiritual communities and their members. Can we identify with that lifting of the heart we experienced the first time we visited the community? Can we identify with the decision we made, however awkwardly, at difficult times when we realized “He must increase, I must decrease”? Can we identify with the affection that moved us at such times? This identification is absolutely essential because each of us will find ourselves in various circumstances of life for which our histories prior to coming here have well or ill prepared us. We must remember that our call to holiness is rooted in the bedrock of charity: the call to love God and others for His sake.

Let us remember the meditation of Guigo I: “What God did not love in His friends and relatives—money, power, status—you are not to love in yours.”