JANUARY 26, 2014

SIRAC 44:1,10-15; HEB 11:1-2,8-16

The three readings just presented to us here this Sunday morning are impressively suited to this Eucharistic sacrifice offered in honor of the three founders of our Cistercian way of life, saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen.   Like so many passages of Scripture these texts open their message to us the more impressively as we pause to consider their message with focused attention.  They yield deeper levels of meaning if only we penetrate beneath the surface and listen with the attention of our deeper self.  As revealing as each of these passages is of certain teachings impressive in their own right, yet each of them implies far more than is apparent at a first hearing.

Consider the text from the Old Testament, that of Ben Sirac.  This inspired author was a man of unusually broad experience and learning, who was formed not only by the world of business and studious scholarship and meditation, but also by wide travel and exposure to hardship and danger.  He was not afraid to take risks, a disposition that qualified him to provide insights that enable us to understand with appreciation such persons as our founders.   They were men who risked much, even their good name, in order to follow the inner voice of the Spirit who led them in the way of solitude giving primacy to life with God.  Ben Sirac's words imply far more than they explicitly state when he exclaims: "Let us praise men of renown and our fathers who begot us.  The Lord has wrought great glory for himself through them. . . .They gave counsel with understanding . . . wise were the words of instruction."   If this text is set before us today it is to stimulate us to cultivate the same understanding and insight our Founders displayed through prayer and meditation as well as spiritual reading.  These monks proved to be courageous and prudent, they were practical as well as dedicated to interior prayer, so they devised a way of life that they were able to pass on to their followers.   The wisdom they sought, as St. Bernard taught a generation later, is the fruit of an inner transformation.  A radical change of what we develop a taste for.  By entering into the hidden reality of our own self and of the created world in which we are enmeshed, we can give new flavor to the things that constitute the world we live in.  By faith we can encounter the living God and through growing understanding of His character and nature, we find increasing satisfaction in God Himself.   Sapiens (the wise one), the abbot of Citeaux explains, derives from the word sapidus (tasty).  True wisdom grows in the form of an interior taste for the God who made us that we might love him through coming to live what he is.  If, wise were these abbots' words of instruction, it was because they themselves were formed through their dedication to seeking God in the lifestyle they devised.

Even more pertinent to appreciating these men of dedication to God's service is the stress on faith that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews so searchingly presents for our reflection.  "Faith gives substance to what we hope for; it is proof for the invisible world."   We are reminded by these words that study and reason can bring us to the threshold of understanding the meaning of existence, but do not suffice to introduce us into the world where God is all in all. The inspired author is concerned here with sharing his keen awareness of what faith can do for us, as his lengthy series of patriarchs and prophets, who lived by trusting faith, makes clear.  For these men and women displayed in act what power living faith confers on those who put their trust in God.  To live by faith includes not only belief but a loving trust that enables us to put into practice the truth God reveals to us.  This is the faith that enabled our fathers of Citeaux to win out in the face of opposition and then trustingly to persevere as they met with resistance to their purpose.  Those who refused to turn back and return to the monastery whence they had come made the choice to trust in the conviction based on faith that God called them to the solitude and poverty that they experienced in all its rigor.

May the grace of this Eucharist enable us to prove worthy of these men who remain our inspiration through their ardent love and dedication to the Lord who comes to strengthen our faith as we honor their memory with gratitude.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger