Monday in the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: 1 Kg 17:17-24; Mt 5:1-12] at Mississippi Abbey
As you know, Sisters, I recently returned from a visit to four men’s abbeys: Mt St Bernard in England, Quarr on the Isle of Wight, and Roscrea and Mt Melleray in Ireland. I also visited Benedictine Sisters at Stanbrook, and St. Cecilia’s Abbey at Ryde on the Isle. We visited the Bernadine Cistercian Sisters at Our Lady and St. Bernard Monastery in Brownhill and, of course, Glen Carin. The women’s communities had new, young members. The men’s communities were not doing so wellâ€¦ and they are quite concerned. This is an important time to remember that religious life was founded for mission, not for self-preservation.
The Christian mission is Love. It is to perpetuate the life of Christ in His mission of prayer, preaching, and care for the marginalized. A religious is in mission by virtue of her consecration and according to the purpose of her Order. The Cistercian monastic mission is contemplation. Our way of living that mission is prayer and kenosis (self-emptying). The kenosis is lived through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Seven of today’s Beatitudes emphasize positive, interior attitudes central to the heart of love. They take us through three levels of happiness. They do this by carrying us from things of the senses, to active community living, to contemplation.
The first three beatitudes teach us not to seek happiness exclusively through things of the senses. Such things content us with valuing things by their effect on us. That dulls our ability to find inherent and enduring value in things such as virtue, principle, and goodness. Eventually that dulls our ability to find value in God Himself. So these beatitudes along with the counsels teach us to renounce riches, honors, and self-indulgence as means to happiness. Instead, we seek to be poor in spirit, delighting only in the presence of God and willing to endure the loss of all else. In meekness we are protected from unruly and disordered emergency passions such as anger. And in mourning the Spirit saves us from preferring lesser goods to higher goods. To find that attractive one must be gifted with an extravagant love. Living it out becomes one’s mission.
Next, one is directed to happiness in relation to neighbor, which is to community. We are to thirst after justice and to be merciful. In this forgetfulness of self we pursue the good of the other. That is love.
Finally, to prepare us for contemplation, for seeing God, we are to become clean of heart in regard to the things of sense and peacemakers in our communities.
When we are centered on this mission of love, we find preservation of monastic life takes care of itself. Our focus is on preserving the presence of Chris tin the world.
While in England and Ireland I saw the ruins of many medieval monasteries such as Rievaulx and Fountains. If the primary purpose of those communities were self-preservation, if it had been about self, individually or corporately, there would have been reason for discouragement and abandonment of the monastic project. But they had a sense of mission.
If our focus is on mission our legacy as today’s monastics is what our forbearers have always left behind: the next generation of believers.