Our community could not exist without the gift of the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit of the Father and the Son can make communion possible among us: "being of the same mind…united in heart, thinking the same thing.” The Lord has called us to a special charism in the Church: forty-five men of all ages and backgrounds, living and working together day in and day out, without wives and children, at all hours of the night and day in church, obedient to a Rule and an abbot – this charism is impossible without the Holy Spirit. It is all too easy to see what happens in the absence of the Spirit – community life dissolves, discipline is non-existent, a monastery becomes a home for numerous groups of sarabites whose law is to do whatever pleases them. Only the Holy Spirit can keep this from happening.
That is why Our Lord’s appearance to the disciples on Easter night is so important for us. It is the final act of Jesus’ hour, St. John’s version of Pentecost, in which the Spirit is given to the disciples to overcome fear and create communion. The Lord’s glorification on the cross culminates in this pouring out of the Spirit on his first little community. He continued to pour it out on our Fathers of Citeaux, and he does the same for us today. The Spirit reminds us of our charism as a cenobitic, Cistercian community. As the Father has loved the Son; as the Son has handed all things over to the Father; as the Spirit continues this divine exchange among us, so now the Spirit draws us into this ever-deepening communion of self-emptying.
What else does Jesus reveal to us about our charism of communion? First of all, it is a grace that enables us to live in peace, even in the midst of the hardships and obscurity of Cistercian life. “Peace to you,” the Risen Lord says, breathing out his Spirit. The Spirit casts out that false peace that the world gives and which the prophet speaks about, “‘Peace, peace,’ they say when there is no peace.” The Spirit convicts the world – and us – when we give a false peace, but he gives the fruit of righteousness to those who sow and cultivate true peace. We are to cultivate this peace by laying down our lives for our brothers.
Jesus then showed the disciples his hands and his side. In this gesture the Spirit is reminding us of our special calling to contemplate the Lord’s mission. Everything else must be at the service of this. He labored with his hands and only completed his labors when his hands were nailed to a tree. He bore within his heart his undying adherence to his Father’s will until that heart was pierced for us so that his faithfulness could be poured out on us. In our own humble way in the daily tasks of our common life, we are to allow the Spirit to use our hands and our heart to build communion.
Finally, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Our charism includes being sent forth as Jesus was. The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert for forty days. He has sent us as a community into the desert for a lifetime. It can feel like a wasteland of howling desert where acedia abounds, where demons prowl, “Until the spirit from on high is poured out on us. And the wilderness becomes a garden land and the garden land is deemed a forest.” Jesus sends us out where the Spirit can complete his work of purification and sanctification. The silence and solitude of the desert is meant to become the home of men and angels for the sake of the whole Church and mankind.
How earnestly we must thank God for the gift of the Spirit! Just as the disciples without the Spirit were unable to set out and proclaim God’s communion with humankind, so we could never persevere in our common life without the breath of the Spirit. Come, O Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of this community, and enkindle in us the fire of your love.
Gnadenstuhl, Blutenburg Chapel, Munich, 1491, by Johannes Polonus. Photographs by Father Emmanuel. This morning's homily by Abbot Vincent.