Tag Archives: Cistercian

Christ’s voice heard through Cistercian nuns in Syria

The Cistercian nuns of the Monastery of Blessed Mary of Font of Peace (in Arabic, Dier al Adrha Yanbu’a-s-Salam) Azeir, Syria are speaking out:

The people are straining their eyes and ears in front of the television: all they’re waiting for is a word from Obama!

A word from Obama? Will the Nobel Peace Prize winner drop his sentence of war onto us? Despite all justice, all common sense, all mercy, all humility, all wisdom?

The Pope has spoken up, patriarchs and bishops have spoken up, numberless witnesses have spoken up, analysts and people of experience have spoken up, even the opponents of the regime have spoken up…. Yet here we all are, waiting for just one word from the great Obama? And if it weren’t him, it would be someone else. It isn’t he who is “the great one,” it is the Evil One who these days is really acting up.

(excerpt from 29 August 2013 letter, the full text is here)

This is a matter of faith and the public order. These voices need to be heard and prudent action needs to be taken up. Killing more people to save face is not the Christian way.

Typically, you don’t hear from Cistercians in this way. They are now speaking up for justice and peace at a time when another World War is possible. Following the 6th century Rule of Benedict and the Constitutions of the venerable order of Citeaux. You may say, the small group of nuns of Blessed Mary of Font of Peace have as their key work to pray for peace and to work on their conversion.

The monastery is located in Syria, on the boarder with Lebanon in a village of Maronite Catholic. Historians will note that the intuition of the Cistercian nuns coheres well with the context in which they find themselves: at the crossroads with East and West, where Christianity began, and where culture flourished.  From where the nuns are located, you can see the Good News sent abroad to Asia Minor, Greece, France, Rome, Armenia, India, China. The nuns, too, rely on the intercession of saints like Afraate, Ephraim, Cyrus, Simeon the Protostilite, Maron, John Maron, Isaac of Niniveh, John Chrysostom, John of Damascus, Rafka, and countless others who followed Jesus Christ.

Our Lady of Peace, and all Syrian and Cistercian saints, pray for us.

The freshness of Saint Bernard

Saint Bernard was the brother of Saint Humbeline. At 22, he and four of his blood brothers with 25 friends, entered the new form of monastic life at Citeaux; at some point later, another brother and his father joined him. The monks at the Abbey of Citeaux were reformed Benedictines. In a short time Bernard became the abbot of Clairvaux with a constituency of nearly 700. One of his spiritual sons became Blessed Eugene III, pope.

Bernard (+1153), Cistercian abbot, saint, and Doctor of the Church, is no easy thinker to face alone. You really do need God’s grace to help you get through his works. Challenging is a good word when thinking of Saint Bernard.

History credits Bernard with the foundation of no fewer than 163 monasteries in his lifetime. When Bernard died, historians labeled the Cistercians as the first true Order in the Church with nearly 343 communities. He singularly did more than any other for the Cistercian order than any.

As one Benedictine nun said of Saint Bernard, he was angry a lot of the time, a brilliant writer even when he nothing to say, at odds with Abelard, condemned for preaching the Second Crusade, and kind to Jews at a time when no one was kind to Jews (we know of a German rabbi saying his community received help and protection from the holy abbot).

Bernard’s love of family, affection for others, and capabilities are well-known, but so are his limitations. One of the power-broker churchmen of the time, Cardinal Haimeric, thought that Bernard was meddling in matters above above his competence. The Cardinal cleverly said, “It is not fitting that noisy and troublesome frogs should come out of their marshes to trouble the Holy See and the cardinals.”

And Bernard’s response, “”Forbid those noisy troublesome frogs to come out of their holes, to leave their marshes . . . Then your friend will no longer be exposed to the accusations of pride and presumption.”

One of the theological positions Bernard held was not holding to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This doesn’t make Bernard a questionable man of the Church because the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not defined until the 19th century. And yet, he sang eloquently of the Virgin Mary.

Questions of the parameters of justification John Calvin to quote Bernard in his heretical teaching. Bernard was a solid theologian that led Pope Pius VIII to name him a Doctor of the Church and the “last of the Fathers.”

Blessed Guerric of Igny

I am reminded by my own heart that the the early morning is a particularly good time of the day to be clothed in a special silence, but there are time at dusk that the discipline of silence is helpful. This is an essential part of spiritual maturity, an adult faith in Divine Providence. Listening and speaking to the Trinity is done when the heart and mind are slowed, even word-less. Knowing and following God’s will is only possible if we give a certain amount of day to quiet, that is, silence. Not a punishing silence, not a hopeless silence, but a manner of being that helps us to see ourselves in action: the manifestation of the virtues of faith, hope, charity, justice, peace, perseverance, etc.

Blessed Guerric in his 28th sermon says,

“As the Christ-child in the womb advanced toward birth in a long, deep silence, so does the discipline of silence nourish, form and strengthen a person’s spirit, and produce growth which is the safer and more wholesome for being the more hidden.”

Silence, therefore, is a gift that allows us to enter more deeply into the revealed Word of God, the biblical narrative through the practice of lectio divina, the practice of prayerfully reading the sacred Scripture. It is, I am convinced, the new springtime of the Church as Benedict XVI said, proposing once again the ancient Christian practice. Most often we when we hear the words lectio divina we think of monastic reading where the person is immersed in God’s holy word with the distinct desire to seek the face of God, thus making a home for that Word in his heart.

The famous Cistercian father Blessed Guerric of Igny (c. 1070/80-1157) was influenced by Origen and whose formation was under Saint Bernard was quite insightful on many things when it came to liturgical theology and the monasteric life.

If you are inclined to read more about what this Cistercian father taught, you may want to pick up a copy of John Morson’s Christ the Way: the Christology of Guerric of Igny (Liturgical Press). But his liturgical sermons are worth every effort; they are published by Liturgical Press, too.

Blessed Guerric taught the following to his brothers lectio divina:

Search the Scripture.  For you are not mistaken in thinking that you find life in them, you who seek nothing else in them but Christ, to whom the Scriptures bear witness.  Blessed indeed are they who search his testimonies, seek them out with all their heart.  Therefore you who walk about in the gardens of the Scriptures do not pass by heedlessly and idly, but searching each and every word like busy bees gathering homey from flowers, reap the Spirit from the words. (Sermon 54)

Sr Teresita, 105 and 86 years in the monastery, dies

teresita.jpgA nun dies at 105 years old. Likely to be the oldest. She was the nun of 10 popes.

At 19 years old Sister Teresita made the decision to be a Cistercian nun in the Monastery of Buenafuente. That was 1927. She once said that “even if I had married a prince, I would not be happier than I am now,” to the Correo.
The news in Spanish.
We can be grateful for Sister’s perseverance in the monastic way of life. Moreover, her joy seems to have been overflowing.
May Our Lady, Mother of the Cistercians with Saints Benedict and Bernard lead Sister Teresita to the Lord.

Trappistine nuns in Syria

Trappistines Syria.jpg

The mostly Italian group of Trappistine nuns forming a monastic colony in Syria are not moving, even in the face of violence.

Since 2005, Mother Marta Luisa Fagnani and the other nuns have committed themselves to prayer and work in a country in crisis. Their witness at the Monastery of Blessed Mary of Font of Peace (in Arabic, Dier al Adrha Yanbu’a-s-Salam), is a foundation of the Valserena Monastery in Guardistallo, Italy.

They write a blog, Ora pro Siria, in Italian and not frequently updated, but you can get a sense of their witness there. BUT, the monastic project of the nuns is explained here, which also asks the reader to help with prayer, friendship and money.

Yesterday, the daily Il Sussidiario published an English translation of an interview with one of the nuns.

Two years ago today, Traces magazine published a story, “The Sisters of Syria,” where the nuns talk about their call to make a monastic foundation in Syria, what freedom, the Encounter with the Lord and others and silence means. Few know, for example, that the Middle East had 11 monasteries of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (the Trappists) but dissolved due to the Islamic invasion. This is something to think and pray about. Do you have the same commitment to the Lord and to missionary zeal as these nuns?

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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