As you drive into the precincts of the New Clairvaux Abbey at this time, you will find a flurry of activity in and around the 12th-century Cistercian Chapter-House of Ovila that is constructed next to our current abbey church. That is because the ground is being prepared for what will soon be New Clairvaux's future church. The landscaping company, Melton Design Group based in Chico, is currently working the grounds that surround the medieval building to provide a plaza and walkway to the entrance as well as a parking area. Several trees have been planted to beautify the entry to the grounds and a garden in which guests may stroll through from the church to the winery and tasting-room. The monks of the Abbey of New Clairvaux and all our associates and friends wish to thank our generous donors who make it possible for us to move along with our intended master site plan and building goals. The following prayer was especially composed for our Capital Campaign. We continue to rely upon God to hear our prayer as together we seek to further God's Kingdom and serve each other in charity to the glory of His Name.
Recently besides all the current changes in our landscape outside the church, we also have a new addition of a 107-year old pipe organ that was donated to us by All Saints' Episcopal Church in Redding. Their Vestry, which is the governing body of their parish, joined us for Vespers one evening to witness the re-dedication ceremony. This fine instrument will now serve to accompany the monks' chants on a daily basis to further the praise and glory of our gracious God. Following Vespers, we were treated to a musical recital by the great Dr. David Rothe, an organist and professor emeritus of music at California State University in Chico. He chose to play pieces that reflected the feast day we were celebrating, which was the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Afterwards, the Vestry and Dr. David were invited to join the monks in the monastery refectory for a social. We ended the evening with our ancient Cistercian practice of singing hymn, the Salve Regina, Hail Holy Queen, to Mary.
What does a solemn vow even mean in today's world? For a 21st-century Trappist-Cistercian monk, the finality of his existence comes into sharp relief as he pronounces his vows. In other words, death is made to be a real sign in the monk's life. The image on the left is the white monastic cowl - the traditional habit or clothing of a Cistercian monk. It's a rather coarse white woolen garment with large extended sleeves and a hood. This cowl is a symbol of contemplation. The monastic life is wholly ordered to contemplation and the cowl is a sign of being totally taken up in surrender and adoration of God. So where does the idea death fit into this picture? For those of us who have lived with, cared for and witnessed the last dying moments of a monk who has lived all his life in a monastery, it is a great privilege. But it can also be a harrowing experience because the reality of what we all as human beings will eventually face touches upon our own sense of mortality. And when a monk is buried, he is clothed with the white monastic cowl - most likely he will be buried in the same cowl with which he was clothed when he professed solemn vows. The image you see above is a brand new cowl made for a monk who begins his journey as a solemnly professed monk of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance. And as great a joy as it can be for the monk, his family, and his monastic community, this woolen garment becomes symbolic of his own mortality. A sobering experience when death and life are brought together in his solemn monastic commitment.
But for the monk who is told in the Rule to prefer nothing to Christ, Christ has the final say. And this alone makes life all the more worth living. It is the understanding that although we live solitary lives, we know we are not alone in the monastery; although we are poor and cannot hold on to any material possession when we die, we know that together we do not suffer lack for the basic necessities of life; although human beings even those who dwell in monasteries can appear brutish, we know that a life of service to one's neighbor curbs the nastiness we sometimes feel and turns it into real, genuine charity; and although we know life is indeed short, we also know that life in a monastery can be filled with a satisfying joy because it is a life that is lived not for one's self-glorification, but for God's glory.
Brother Rafael wishes to share with you some of his time with our Benedictine brothers of St. John's in Collegeville, Minnesota. He is currently completing his certificate in monastic studies with the Cistercian Cohort program at St. John's University.
In the past few weeks, God has been gracious to hear our pleas for rain. In this month of April, we at New Clairvaux see the once bare and barren field next to our new church begin to sprout leaves of grass. And all around, signs of new life are bursting forth. All the insects, birds, and ground animals flutter about and run around as the earth beckons them with inviting smells and colorful sights. Perhaps this is how God beckons each of us in the spiritual life. Signs of God's goodness and beauty abound in the world of nature. So, too, our spirits will be drawn to God who is source of all that is true, good and beautiful. If we but pause to listen, we might be granted the grace of beholding God's splendor shining through our befuddled mind and flitting hearts. During times of trial, tragedy and suffering, the vision of God's glory may not be so apparent. Sometimes, however, it is precisely in moments of trial and human suffering that God chooses to reveal God's divinity...not to magically make the pain disappear, but that the greater truth of God's love or charity may abound all the more in the human person.
Now that our festive celebrations of Christmas and New Year's have come and gone, the monks of New Clairvaux continue to pursue our mission by living out the Cistercian monastic life that has been handed down to us from ages past. We pray that in the years to come, we will find a few young men to take up the task of seeking God and serving him through a life of prayer and work in the monastery. Perhaps the rigors of monastic life, a life of early morning vigils, abstinence from meat, and the daily challenge of a life lived in common with other men, can seem a bit daunting to those contemplating such a "calling." But the life of a monk is simply that, a calling by a God who desires to show him much more of the divine life, a life filled with God's peace and God's love. If it were up to the monk's strength, monastic life would altogether have failed a very long time ago. But monastic life endures just as a monk endures only because God has not disappointed him in his hope. And the hope that the monk aspires to is a life that allows God's own glory to break through and allow God's kingdom to come and reign on earth just as it continues to be in heaven.
On this blog you will periodically find articles, links to pertinent websites, reflections, homilies, and images that express our monastic Cistercian life.