JANUARY 26, 2012- FOUNDERS OF CITEAUX: SIRACH 44:1,10-15; HEB11:1-2,8-16; MARK 10:24-30
FAITH IS THE CONVICTION OF THINGS NOT SEEN. These words from the Epistle to the Hebrews are aptly chosen to mark this commemoration of our Founding Fathers, Robert, Alberic, and Stephen. They are also well suited to the other occasion we here at
In fact the entire passage that they introduce finds an impressive illustration in the Founding Fathers’ venture of making a new beginning that they at first named The New Monastery. From the start their undertaking was based on that kind of trusting faith that confers assurance based on hope in God’s care. The courage to confront criticism and even violent opposition from their own brothers was severely tested in the early stages of the project. When such opposition grew stronger so did the faith needed to carry through the purpose of establishing a way of life more in keeping with the Rule of Benedict than the observances at Molesme.
The details of these early struggles for a more fervent monastic observance convey rather vividly something of the determined faith of these three Benedictine monks that allowed them to succeed in putting into practice their desire to live their vocation fully. In the face of heavy opposition their efforts eventually resulted in their establishing a new Order in the Church that continues to follow in their footsteps still today, 914 years later. We do well to review the particular struggles involved in the process of pursuing their monastic ideal that eventuated in the establishment of the New Monastery at Citeaux.
Robert twice left the monastery of Molesme to live as a hermit, and twice the Pope ordered him back to his community. During one absence of Robert, the monks of Molesme imprisoned Albéric so that they might prevent the new foundation. In 1093, Robert left again, and Albéric and Stephen Harding left with him. Then the Bishop of Langres commanded Albéric back to Molesme. He returned, tried to reform Molesme but made no headway with the less observant brothers. In 1098 Robert now obtained permission to found a new monastery, and some twenty-one monks left Molesme including, besides Robert, Albéric and Stephen Harding. The community settled on a barely accessible piece of land in the Diocese of Dijon, at a place later known as Citeaux. Robert served as abbot of Citeaux, with Albéric as the prior only for a short time for the monks of Molesme earnestly petitioned Robert to return to them. In response, in the year 1100, Robert left Cîteaux, and Albéric became the new abbot. Under Albéric, the Rule of St. Benedict was made even more austere. He introduced the use of a white cowl to the monks, and, in iconographic art, the white cowl is his emblem. Originally, this date of January 26 was Saint Alberic’s feast day. Only a rather short time ago was it made the feast of all three founders, each of whom served in turn as abbot of Citeaux, Stephen succeeding Alberic when he died in 1108.
The impelling motive for this strenuous effort to live out the Benedictine Rule in its integrity was not some abstract spiritual ideal, but rather the desire to be poor with the poor Christ. It was Saint Bernard, who had entered Citeaux in its early stage of struggle a few years after Stephen had succeeded Alberic, who gave fuller expression to the deepest energizing force that had assured the growth and spread of Citeaux. His subsequent sermons on the Canticle of Canticles captured in words replete with expansive affect the loving and trusting faith that conferred the force needed for the bold venture of Citeaux to come to realization and perdure through the centuries. In fact, the personal love that marked our early Fathers’ dedication inspired Bernard to attain to a new level of human personality through a loving knowledge of the Word of God become man. Prayer as he experienced it was a source of heightened humanity and transcended the affective not be suppressing the human but elevating it to the life of God.
This is the vocation and spirituality we have inherited and are challenged to live by in our own world today. Nothing is more badly needed in our times and our country as in the whole modern world. May our celebration of this Feast of our Founding Fathers at this mass obtain for us and all our Order, as well as our many friends and associates some share in that same loving, trusting faith in Jesus, the Beloved Son of our heavenly Father. &