Saturday, January 25, 2020

Solemnity of the Founders of Our Order

Beginning with First Vespers this evening, we celebrate the three founders of the Cistercian Order, Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen. Their ideal was a more authentic monastic simplicity and evangelical poverty. On 21 March in 1098, Robert, abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Molesme, France set out with twenty-one of his monks to the wilderness of CĂ®teaux to begin a new reformed monastery. By 1100 Robert had been called back to Molesme and Alberic was made abbot. We are told that Alberic had a tender devotion to Our Lady and received the Cistercians’ characteristic white cowl from her. Stephen Harding, an Englishman, succeeded Alberic as abbot and composed the Carta Caritatis, a kind of constitution which binds all the monasteries of our Order to a common observance of rules and customs. These early monks of our Order wanted to be “poor with the poor Christ” and are said to have been “lovers of the brethren and the place.” We pray that we may be true to their example and beg their prayerful intercession as we strive to persevere in this place.

The Cistercian scholar Father Michael Casey often reminds us that we must let go of "the myth of the golden age," a cherished fantasy period when the Founders and the early generations of our Order enjoyed some ideal monastic life, when everything ran like clockwork, smooth and neat. Probably Citeaux, like our founding houses in Nova Scotia, Rhode Island and like our own monastery here in Spencer, was full of men like us, wounded sinners trying with all their hearts to follow the poor Christ. Perhaps then we can most fittingly honor the memory of our Holy Founders, if we go with them to the low place of humility in the shadow of the cross, to rest in its shade and remember that we are, as they were, sinners, absolutely dependent on the tender mercy of our God.

 Icon of the Holy Founders with Our Lady of Citeaux written by Brother Terence. During this Solemnity the icon is enthroned in the transept of the Abbey church adorned with candles and flowers.