Solemnity of the Founders of Citeaux and Solemn Profession of Br. Jonah
[Scripture Readings: Sir 3:17-24; 1 Cor 12:31-13:13; Mt 22:34-40]
The Liturgy today is all about beginnings. The beginning of our Cistercian order, and the beginning of your life, Jonah, as a solemnly professed monk of New Melleray. All religious congregations were advised to go back to their beginnings and from that pristine place start the process of renewal. For us that means to our founders in the year 1098. The further we go back in history the harder it is to determine how a movement, such as the Cistercians, began. There are multiple interpretations on what exactly Robert and Alberic and Stephen and their eighteen companions set out to achieve by moving from Molesme to Citeaux.
We do know that in the Golden Age of the Order our Cistercian Fathers called the monastery a school of love. They wrote eloquently on the art of love. Jonah, in the readings you chose for your profession day, this theme of love is prominent. In the Gospel Jesus tells us love sums up the law and the prophets, in other words the whole Scriptures. Paul goes so far as to say faith and hope will end but love never ends. It is the one thing that crosses over with us to the other shore.
Love never ends. Can we ask, when does it begin? Can anyone here remember when love began for them? Perhaps someone can pinpoint a given moment when they fell in love, but falling in love is more like an awakening than a beginning. When did love begin for you? I don’t think any of us knows. This question comes out of an experience I had recently of watching a young couple around their new born infant. The love is pouring out of the parents for their new daughter.She will not remember a thing of her early months of life, and yet, she is receiving love and will be able to give love in return. Somewhere in her little psyche, I like to think of it as the core of her being, in her heart, love is being imprinted. This place is deeper than her memory. What happens here in the depth of the being will never be forgotten . We might say that love begins for us with our parents, but then when did it begin for them? If we trace it back to its origins we have to conclude that love begins with God because God is love. No one is born without a spark of God’s love in them. It is what we call being created in the image and likeness of God.
The paradox is that we possess this ability to love but often forget where it came from. There are a couple of powerful images in the readings Jonah chose that are based on sight but really refer to our lack of spiritual awareness. One represents those who are totally out of it the other the rest of us. To the clueless, Sirach says they are like an eye with no pupil: “When the pupil of the eye is missing there is no light,”. He is not referring to physical blindness but the type of blindness Helen Keller spoke of when she said it is a terrible thing to be born blind but it is altogether worse to have eyes and not see. An eye without a pupil is a heart without love, a human being without the awareness of who they are.
The other image applies to all of us. St Paul says that even the most aware perceive spiritual things in a confused manner: “We see indistinctly as in a mirror,”. He says this because we can go through life blinded to what is really important. Love is to the monastic life what the pupil is to the eye. In everything we do, Paul says, we have to be motivated by love otherwise we are nothing but clanging cymbals and noisy gongs.
Br. Jonah you are entering the school of love. You once told me you made a resolution to always respond to whatever is asked of you for community service. Your model is the Lord Himself who came among us to serve and not to be served. Humble service is a form of love, it leads to spiritual awareness. Humble service is perhaps the most difficult success to achieve. It brings a knowledge and a wisdom not of this world.
St. Benedict and the Fathers speak of the spiritual senses, the ears of the heart, the eyes of the soul. They are referring to a type of spiritual awareness that is beyond our control. It is a gift. It comes after years of fidelity or after years of loving service in the church. The eye of the soul lets the light of Christ illumine our whole being. For the monk the pupil of this eye is love expressed in humble service to the community.
The self giving you are about to express in your vows Br. Jonah, will be lived out in your daily monastic life of service. In your initial years with us you have proven yourself true. My prayer is that the Lord will complete the good work he has begun in you.