Tag Archives: Cistercian

St Bernard of Clairvaux

St BernardI always look forward, for some reason, to the feast day of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Not sure why, but it may have something to do with marking the progress of the summer (just like the Transfiguration and the Assumption does) but also because his youthful calling to serve God in a profound way is a true inspiration.

Of the saint it is said:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

The historians tell us that Bernard, at 22, together with his four  brothers, and 25 friends, joined the relatively new abbey of Citeaux; we also know that his father and another brother joined him.

Early in his monastic life he was called upon to be an abbot founding the Abbey of Clairvaux. In time, his abbey had over 700 monks with 160 daughter houses. Bernard was the one to give the Cistercian reform of Benedictine monasticism its vitality.

His doctrine was clear and straight-forward. His sermons were of the highest quality. His pastoral work included fighting the Albigensian heresy, helping the Second Crusade, ending the schism of anti-Pope Anacletus II, and teaching monks among whom was the future Blessed Pope Eugene III. Bernard was an ardent lover of the Blessed Virgin Mary and called himself “Beatae Mariae cappellane” – the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Chaplain.

Pope Pius VIII called Bernard the “Mellifluous Doctor” for his eloquence and named him a Doctor of the Church

Here is a sermon:

I love because I love, I love that I may love

Love is sufficient of itself, it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love, I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.

The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return. Should not a bride love, and above all, Love’s bride? Could it be that Love not be loved?

Rightly then does she give up all other feelings and give herself wholly to love alone; in giving love back, all she can do is to respond to love. And when she has poured out her whole being in love, what is that in comparison with the unceasing torrent of that original source? Clearly, lover and Love, soul and Word, bride and Bridegroom, creature and Creator do not flow with the same volume; one might as well equate a thirsty man with the fountain.

What then of the bride’s hope, her aching desire, her passionate love, her confident assurance? Is all this to wilt just because she cannot match stride for stride with her giant, any more than she can vie with honey for sweetness, rival the lamb for gentleness, show herself as white as the lily, burn as bright as the sun, be equal in love with him who is Love? No. It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently then is to share the marriage bond; she cannot love so much and not be totally loved, and it is in the perfect union of two hearts that complete and total marriage consists. Or are we to doubt that the soul is loved by the Word first and with a greater love?

Blessed Joseph-Marie Cassant

Bl Joseph-Marie CassantA rather unknown Cistercian monk and Blessed of the Church is Joseph-Marie Cassant (March 6, 1878 – June 17, 1903). He eventually found his vocation with the Cistercian monks of St. Mary of the Desert (France) on December 5, 1894. Solemn vows were professed on May 24, 1900, the feast of the Ascension. Brother Joseph-Marie’s personal charism, developed with the help of his novice master, seems to be based on the contemplation of Jesus in His passion and in the cross which leads to his teaching the love of Christ: this is the way of Jesus’ heart.

In preparing for the priesthood, Brother Joseph-Marie  understood his ministry as totally eucharistic. The young brother was ordained priest on October 12, 1902. Almost immediately he was diagnosed with TB of which his sufferings were kept silent. His abbot, feeling the gravity of the situation, sent Joseph-Marie to be with his family for seven weeks despite his growing weakness. The monastery’s infirmarian was incompetent and likely advanced the effects of TB.

Saint John Paul beatified Father Joseph-Marie on October 3, 2004.

Why is Blessed Joseph-Marie important for us today? I think the summary statements found in a biography give us a deeper move into the heart of the Blessed:

The sheer ordinariness of his life has been noted by some: 16 quiet years at Casseneuil and 9 years of monastic enclosure spent in doing the simplest of things: prayer, studies, work. They are indeed simple things, but lived in an extraordinary way. They were the slightest of deeds, but performed with limitless generosity. Christ imbued his mind, clear as the water that leaps from a spring, with the conviction that God alone is our true and highest happiness and that his kingdom is like a hidden treasure or a pearl of great price.

The message of Fr. Joseph-Marie has great meaning for us today. In a world filled with distrust and often with despair but thirsting for love and kindness, his life can provide an answer, and in a special way to today’s young who seek meaning in their lives. Joseph-Marie was a youth without any standing or worth in the eyes of men. He owed the success of his life to a meeting with Jesus that redefined his very existence. He showed himself a follower of the Lord in the midst of a community of brothers, with the guidance of a spiritual father, who was to him a witness of Christ as well as one who knew to receive and to understand him.

Martyrs of Viaceli

Father PioAngelo Cardinal Amato, SDB, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints presented to Pope Francis a degree regarding the martyrdom of the Servants of God Pio Heredia and 17 Companions, monks and nuns of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance (Trappists) and of the Congregation of San Bernard. The designation of martyr means that a determination was made that they were killed in hatred of the faith during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

The beatification is Saturday, October 3, 2015 in the cathedral of Santander, Cantabria, Spain.

The Cistercians consider the martyrdom of their brothers as a testimony to the Sermon on the Mount where our Lord, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Their death is a great witness “To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” And, they did so in silence.

The beatification cause of the Cistercian Mother María Micaela Baldoví Trull, 67 and Mother María Natividad Medes Ferris, 56, Monastery of Fons Salutis, in Algemesí

Father Pio and the monks were professed at the Monasterio de Santa María de Viaceli. Here is the list of the monks:

Father Pío Heredia Zubía, 61 years
Father Amadeo García Rodríguez, 31 years
Father  Valeriano Rodríguez García, 30 years
Father Juan Bautista Ferris Llopis, 31 years
Father Eugenio García Pampliega, 33 years
Father Vicente Pastor Garrido, 31 years
Brother Álvaro González López, 21 years
Brother Marcelino Martín Rubio, 23 years
Brother Antonio Delgado González, 21 years
Brother Eustaquio García Chicote, 45 years
Brother Ángel de la Vega González, 68 years
Brother Ezequiel Álvaro de la Fuente, 19 years
Brother Eulogio Álvarez López, 20 years
Brother Bienvenido Mata Ubierna, 28 years
Brother Leandro Gómez Gil, 21 years.

Sainted Cistercian founders: Robert Molesme, Stephen Harding and Alberic

Holy Fathers of Citteaux

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.

Monastic Spirituality
Claude Peifer, O.S.B.

Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi

Cyprian Michael Iwene TansiToday is the Feast Day of Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi. In the USA we don’t liturgically have Blessed Cyprian on the calendar, but we ought to know about him and follow his example. First a secular priest and then a Trappist monk Tansi has a unique vocation of looking at both the interior life and the apostolate with new eyes. He is Nigeria’s patron saint.

Born to non-Christian parents in September 1903, Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi was born in Aguleri, Anambra State, Nigeria. In 1909, he was sent to live with his uncle who was a Christian gave him an education. He was baptised 3 years later by Irish missionaries. Tansi was a diligent student with a precocious personality and deep piety. He worked as a teacher for 3 years and later served as a headmaster of St. Joseph’s school for one year in Aguleri.

In 1925 against the wishes of his family, he entered St. Paul’s Seminary in Igbariam and was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of Onitsha on 19 December 1937.

For a time Tansi worked tirelessly in the parishes of Nnewi, Dunukofia, Akpu/Ajali before discerning vocation to be a Cistercian monk at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, Leicester, England. He lived this vocation at the abbey for 14 years. He was in the process of discerning becoming the novice master in a new Cistercian foundation in Cameroon, a few months after the founders left for Africa.

Father Tansi used to say, “if you are going to be a Christian at all, you might as well live entirely for God”.

He died on 20 January 1964 and was beatified on 22 March 1998 by Saint John Paul in Nigeria. The Pope said of Father Cyprian:

He was first of all a man of God: his long hours before the Blessed Sacrament filled his heart with generous and courageous love. Those who knew him testify to his great love of God. Everyone who met him was touched by his personal goodness. He was then a man of the people: he always put others before himself, and was especially attentive to the pastoral needs of families. He took great care to prepare couples well for Holy Matrimony and preached the importance of chastity. He tried in every way to promote the dignity of women. In a special way, the education of young people was precious to him.

A prayer to the Blessed:

Blessed Cyprian, during your life on earth you showed your great faith and love  in giving yourself to your people and by the hidden life of prayer and contemplation. Look upon us now in our needs, and intercede for us with the Lord. May he grant us the favour we ask through our prayers. Amen.

A few resources to consult on Blessed Cyrpian:

Fr. Gregory Wareing, A New Life of Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi (Coalville, Leicester LE6 3UL: Mt. St. Bernard Abbey. 1994). Father Gregory was Blessed Cyprian’s Novice Master.

Veronica Onyedika Chidi Umegakwe, Footprints of Father Tansi: The Tomb is not his Goal (Awhum, Nigeria: Our Lady of Calvary Monastery, 1993). The life of Blessed Cyprian is here presented in a five act play by the chief coordinator of the Father Tansi Lay Contemplative Prayer Movement.

Elisabeth Isichei, Entirely for God. The life of Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Studies Series 43, 1980 and 2000).

Dom John Moakler, “Some Thoughts about Blessed Cyprian Tansi” in Hallel 25 (2000), pp.79-93.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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