On the Solemnity of Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, our Brother Christopher Cheney professed his Solemn Vows as a monk at the Abbey of New Clairvaux. Brother Christopher is clothed in the white cowl as a sign of his call to the Cistercian monastic life. The cowl is distinctively shaped in the form of the cross. And it is a cross that the Cisterician monk joyfully carries to be in closer union to Christ for the glory of God.
From the Rule of Benedict, Chapter 58
"When he is to be received, he comes before the whole community in the oratory and promises stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience. This is done in the presence of God and his saints to impress on the novice that if he ever acts otherwise, he will surely be condemned by the one he mocks. He states his promise in a document drawn up in the name of the saints whose relics are there, and of the abbot, who is present."
Corpus Christi Sunday is seen here with the traditional procession of the Blessed Sacrament around the cloister. It is our custom at the monastery for the monks to spend the day in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and contemplate this most sacred mystery.
From the Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict
"Therefore we intend to establish a school for the Lord's service. In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love. Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love."
The monks of New Clairvaux welcomed Brother Francis Pham into the rank of the Solemnly Professed, a permanent member of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. By solemn profession, Brother Francis promises the 3 monastic vows of Obedience, Fidelity to the Monastic Life, and Stability. Solemn profession marks the final commitment that a monk makes at the end of several years of training and discipline in monastic formation. But while solemn vows does indeed signify the end of a monk's initial formation, the true test of perseverance and fidelity may have only begun for him who has vowed to live as a monk for the rest of his life on earth. By ancient Cistercian rites of profession and monastic consecration, the ritual of being clothed with a cowl and being received by the elder brothers of the community, Brother Francis has taken that step, much like a man and a woman taking the step forward in the Sacrament of Matrimony, to become one with Christ in God the Father and in the unity of God's holy Spirit.
Our Brother Francis Pham prepares to receive the Cistercian cowl, which is a sign of a monk's solemn consecration and perpetual commitment to God to live as a monk for the rest of his life here at the Trappist-Cistercian Abbey of New Clairvaux. Brother Francis is seen here taking a new cowl and placing it on the altar at the beginning of the Divine Office of Vespers. On Pentecost Sunday (May 27), Brother Francis pronounced his vows in public during Mass before our Abbot, the monastic community and the entire gathered assembly of the faithful.
The monks of New Clairvaux spent the day on Lake Almanor which is about a two-hour drive northeast from the monastery. The relaxed pace and stunning scenery for the day were a welcome change for monks who have vowed stability. Of course, the time together and also the moments of quiet solitude provided opportunities to strengthen bonds not only to each other, but also to God.