After the first day of autumn, we finally had a good drench of rain throughout the night and a better part of the day. Even though the lingering warmth of the sun can still be felt in the air, it seemed as if the thirsty land soaked up all the moisture like a sponge. The fall equinox marks the point when due to the earth's tilt and axis, we start to experience the lengthening of the night and decreasing hours of daylight. Here at the Abbey of New Clairvaux, we too tend to shift gears as we bring the summer harvest to a close. The changing season also indicates a time to pause and to be grateful for the blessing of warm summer nights and bright sunny days. We certainly are grateful that we have each other to celebrate the many wonders we experience in creation.
A person who enters the monastery today will ultimately ask, "For what have I come here?" At times the monk or nun can become lost in the midst of his or her search for God. Even in the monastery, there are a great many distractions. While here at a Trappist-Cistercian monastery, there won't be any network cable television, no private ownership, and most certainly no late-nights out in the town or local bars, but there can be available other means of diversions such as whatever entertainment one can find on the Internet, pet hobbies, and nosing around the guest quarters where Saint Benedict in his Rule says that no monk "is to speak or associate with guests unless he is bidden" (Rule of Benedict, Chapter 53). But I often wonder how will monastic life appeal to a younger generation who grow up with entertainment readily available at the tip of his fingers, or intellectual, artistic, musical, athletic or whatever combination of pursuits children are motivated now to excel in, and electronic interaction through a plethora of social media platforms available. We might as well tell them to stare at a blank wall all day if we want them to consider monastic life. While there is nothing wrong in pursuing one's passion or using social media, there is however something else to consider if we wish to seek a more excellent way. Saint Benedict in his Rule addresses the newcomer by having him stay at the guest quarters for a few days and not granting him an easy entrance. But by the time we are ready to open the gates to the newcomer, we will have found that he has gone home. And so I ask, does monastic life have to rise above the din and clamor for attention in our busy, media-saturated, techno-savvy world just to get interested members to our gates?
In a recent study done for our monastery, statistics show that 15 years from now, there will be 11 monks ... assuming that no one will enter and no one leaves except for those who are advanced in age, in which case they will depart for their heavenly home. We are currently 21 monks living here in Vina. With our current building projects, winery and vineyard expansions, and orchard renewal, we are planning for a monastery that thrives and not one that just barely survives. But how can 11 over-burdened, over-worked monks thrive in such a state of affairs? But before we are ready to throw in the towel, as they say, is there some measure of consolation, some spark of life that will set the tinder going to build upon what our forefathers passed on to us as our legacy? What of the atmosphere of serenity and calm that so many experience as soon as they step on monastery grounds? What of that circle of quiet and stillness where one can find clarity of mind and heart that sets our souls free from whatever burdens we carried with us to begin with? Does our world still need places where the beauty of God is expressed through lives dedicated to simple manual work, prayer at intervals throughout the day, and keeping watch vigil starting at 3:30 in the dark early mornings?
One monk does not have all the answers. At least not this one monk-blogger. Saint Benedict in his Rule which has been a guide for monks since the 6th century speaks about perfection and that his Rule is only a beginning. What we have in the monastery are steps of a ladder that expands the monk's heart toward God's deifying light. And whatever light whether that light comes from the sun or moon, or from flat screens and smartphone screens, nothing compares to that light from within, Christ, who radiates life and peace in his resurrected glory. As monks, we are reminded throughout the day to re-direct our eyes to God. And the way we do it is through love.
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.
Last month, Dom Juan Javier Martin Hernandez, abbot of San Isidro de Duenas in Spain along with Brother Angel Luis, also a monk of San Isidro, made a brief visit to New Clairvaux. The Abbey of San Isidro is located north of Madrid, Spain. Dom Juan Javier was chosen as abbot to lead the community of 30 monks last year in March. Both he and Brother Angel had the opportunity to share about their monastery to the monks of Vina. It was especially interesting to hear about San Rafael Baron, a monk of their monastery who was canonized in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. We thank Dom Juan Javier and Brother Angel.
Throughout the harvest season last summer, documentary film producer, John Beck, came to film the monks as they worked in the vineyard. But he also filmed other dimensions of monastic life as it is lived here at New Clairvaux Abbey. This year, John will debut his film on the monks at the Napa Valley Film Festival. Check out the trailer at the following: http://vimeo.com/73789909
Promoting a short video on the life of the monks of the Abbey of New Clairvaux.