From e hymn for evening Vespers for the holy founders of Citeaux:
“Bold leader of this vast array, Saint Robert, intercede today. God grant us hearts to dream anew, and strength his kingdom to pursue.
Fond lover of that hallowed place, where brothers lived as one by grace, Saint Alberic, pray we may be one heart, one mind, in unity.
Impassioned master in Christ’s school, Saint Stephen, zealot for our rule, bid God we never build on sand, but firm in faith, on rock we stand.”
You may be aware that these saints are not honored on the Roman liturgical calendar, but revered by the monks and nuns of the Cistercian and Benedictine monasteries, are the three holy founders of Citeaux (near Dijon, France): Saints Robert Molesme (centered in the image), Stephen Harding and Alberic. They began their reform of Benedictine life in 1098. The Cistercian movement is now venerable but when it was started it was very contentious as you might expect –anytime you ask people to change you run against the tide. Think of the Prophets, or in particular, the Prophet Jonah of yesterday’s reading at Mass. Let us pray for our own conversion, and that of the Church. But also for God’s abundant grace to fall on those who have made profession to the charism of Citeaux –monks, nuns, and the laity.
The early Cistercians, impelled by a burning thirst for authenticity, wished to interpret the Rule (of St. Benedict) in the light of its monastic background and to recover its original simplicity. Their life was marked by a real detachment from the world, a love of solitude and silence, poverty and simplicity, austerity and manual labor, prayer and holy reading, all within a cenobitic framework which laid great stress upon the value of fraternal charity in the common life.
There is an attractive genuinity about this reform, which was not merely an archeologizing return to the past, but a recapturing of the primitive monastic ideal and an attempt, largely successful, to express it in structures suitable to the times.
The school of spirituality which the white monks produced, dominated by St. Bernard, is no less notable for its charming huamanity than for its authentically contemplative orientation.
Claude Peifer, O.S.B.