O God, in that unutterable kindness by which you dispose all things sweetly and wisely, you gave us clothing, so that a triple benefit might be ours: we are covered with dignity, kept warm and protected in body and soul. Father, pour forth the blessing of your Holy Spirit upon us this morning and upon these clothes which your sons here before us have asked to receive, so that they may serve you faithfully in the Cistercian way of life.
On this past Sunday, November 14 our Brother Justin was clothed in the novice's habit during the weekly Chapter. We rejoice to have him as our brother in community.
Br. Justin, during our recent community discussion, I referred to St. Benedict’s saying, “the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.” So, I shouldn’t have been surprised – though I was a little – when you, the youngest in our community, offered an unexpected comparison – monastic life is like a GPS, used in cars to guide people safely to their destination. I had never thought of the comparison, but I think you are on to something.
But the first thing that is necessary is to enter a destination into the GPS. What would you say is the destination of a monk? Well, you may be aware that St. Benedict was an avid reader of Cassian’s Institutes and Conferences. If we look at his first conference with Abba Moses, I think we will find an answer to the question. Abba Moses says that our destination is twofold: there is an ultimate destination which Cassian and his friend Germanus identify as the kingdom of God, that is, sharing the eternal life of God. But he also says there is a proximate goal or aim that we must constantly keep our eye on if we are to reach our ultimate goal. This proximate goal is purity of heart. All we do in monastic life –vigils, prayers, work – must be done with that goal in mind. We must be like a farmer who tills his soil in every type of weather to bring forth a good harvest, or a merchant who overcomes every obstacle to make a profitable business transaction; or a soldier who bravely faces all battle conditions in order to win military honors. All the more so must monks keep their eye on the goal of purity of heart and do everything with that in mind, since our ultimate end is that much more difficult, namely, to gaze on God as much as possible. This seems to be our Lord Jesus’ injunction when he said in his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
But how can we purify our hearts? They are hidden from us and “more tortuous than all else is the human heart, who can understand it?” Thankfully, God is the one who gives us purity of heart. He “searches the mind and knows the heart.” Purity of heart is his gift. Our task is to accept, cooperate with, and follow the GPS directions that God has established. If we do, Abba Moses says, our heart will become unfettered from useless or evil habits; freed from anger, grudges, and self-pity; ready to accept the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit, or, as St. Paul puts it in Romans, of sanctification in the Spirit. The Apostle is even more explicit in chapter 13 of his letter to the Corinthians: a pure heart is a charitable heart – it is not rude or arrogant; it doesn’t insist on its own way; it is patient and kind, etc. Charity creates a pure heart.
The good news is that we have a GPS that will lead us to this charity and purity of heart. It is the monastic life in its fulness as St. Benedict has mapped out for us. The route this GPS makes us take is not always easy – sometimes through briars, sometimes through bogs – so much so that at times we might think St. Benedict got his directions mixed up, but we have to trust his GPS. We have to live in community and not avoid the irritations of the brothers; we have to keep vigil and the other hours of prayer according to our duty; we have to accept the work assigned to us without looking for ways to get out of it.
Monastic life is a royal road to our ultimate destination, but also a most difficult path with new stumbling blocks – interior and exterior – popping up every day. We have to make mid-stream corrections constantly as the Spirit prompts us and the Rule guides us. We can ignore the GPS – Oh, I know the way; I’ve been there before; I don’t need a GPS – but we are basically choosing another GPS whose ultimate destination is the land of misery and alienation. God has chosen us and formed our hearts to follow the GPS of the Rule with fidelity and thanksgiving, praising the Lord “…for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.”
This is the path set before you today, Br. Justin, to follow the GPS of St. Benedict’s Rule and our Cistercian tradition. They will lead you to your destination. May the good Lord help you to keep your eyes fixed on the goal of purity of heart, doing all things for the sake of love. And one day, through the intercession of St. Benedict, may God mercifully lead you with all your brothers to everlasting life.
Dom Vincent's address to Brother Justin and the community during the Clothing Ceremony.