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.
If God was on Facebook, what would his Face look like? Where would I even begin to search? And whose name would he appear under? God might decide to surprise me with the picture he decides to post of himself. Might I recognize him even if he did? But what about his timeline? Where would it end? More interestingly, where would it begin? Would I get to view any pictures or videos of creation? And where exactly would that appear under "Location"? I guess if I found God on Facebook, he could just tell me whatever I needed to know about anyone ... and everything for that matter. Maybe he would make some humorous comment and I'd get a chuckle. Maybe God does LOL after all.
But I am a Cistercian monk. What business do I have being on Facebook anyway? A monk seeks the face of God. The monk seeks a deeper, more intimate contact with God. That is his sole occupation. It's about a relationship. To seek God's face is to be in a relationship with God. The monk does so in an abbey of quiet solitude and meditative reading. He does it by a disciplined life of prayer and manual work. And he does it through simplicity and humble obedience. Does the monk ever find God? The 12th century Cistercian monk, William of St. Thierry, wrote of his search for God: "Thus, O desire of my eyes, my face seeks you meanwhile. I seek your face and, I implore you, do not turn it from me. Teach me, O eternal Wisdom, by the illumination of your countenance, what is that face of yours, and what is mine" (From the Meditations). For William, knowing God also means coming to know yourself. And you know yourself also through your connections to others. In other words, you know yourself through your friends. Another Cistercian monk of the 12th century, Saint Aelred, in his treatise on Spiritual Friendship uses the words of the letter of St. John and says, "God is friendship ... The one who remains in friendship remains in God, and God in him." And thus for this monk in the 21st century, I continue down this same ancient path, well-trodden by my early Cistercian forefathers, and emboldened by their example, I continue to seek God today and maintain the bond of relationships forged out of the desire to seek God's one true Face and all the many Facebook friends out there in whose faces I see the face of God.
Brother Christopher is our new Vocations Director.
Dear Blog readers,
We are honored by your interest in our life here at New Clairvaux Abbey and hope to make our digital hospitality even more welcome by extending to each one of you an invitation to take part in the GRAND RE-OPENING of Facebook page at www.facebook.com/newclairvaux.abbey. We hope that this page can be a friendly meeting place where we can share with you the monastic vocation that we love so much! Look to see more new posts, comments, features, videos and links, especially on our “Facebook Fridays”. And if you have any suggestions or topics that you are particularly interested in our curious about, please let us know! Let’s be Facebook Friends!
Assuring all of our prayers and love in Our Lord and Lady,
+Br. Christopher and the monks of New Clairvaux Abbey
Dr. Rozanne is a professor of medieval history and director for the Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies at Western Michigan University.
Who was Christ for the early Cistercian monks living in the 12th century? To help explore this question, visiting professor, Dr. Rozanne Elder from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, gave a week-long course to our student monks at New Clairvaux Abbey this past week. She focused on the Christology of one of our early Cistercian fathers, William of St. Thierry.
William was a monk of great desire to seek the Face of God. And he wrote tomes that delve into what constitutes the human person - the soul. From there he strove to attain to the heights of spiritual perfection. For what he sought so strongly in the beginning of his life as a monk, he found that only a loving Creator could bring the soul to Himself. And for the soul through willing only what God wills, God bestows the heavenly kiss which is between the Father and the Son. The human soul, therefore, was made to share in the divine life of the Trinity.
The class thanks Dr. Rozanne for guiding us through William's writings and sharing her deep insights into the nature and dignity of love.