Our prayer in common is our vocation as Cistercians, members of the Benedictine monastic family. This is our witness of the value of praying together in Christ, our witness to all the faithful in the Church. This is also our great blessing from God, being such a rich source of grace for each of us in seeking communion with God whether individually or communally. The danger for every community that prays together is letting the various frictions and unharmonious aspects of our contrasting personalities disrupt our prayerfulness together. We can lose our focus and our purpose. This is why our personal prayer nurtured within throughout the day is essential for our prayer together. We will always be beset in choir by a real struggle with the devil, dragging us away from our spiritual focus.
The easiest way the Evil One can achieve this purpose is to persuade us to seek our own spiritual gratification, our own pleasure, and forget our dedication to God’s worship. This would be loving God for my sake (what God can do for me), as St. Bernard cautions us, rather than seeking God for God’s sake–a pure love free of self-gratification.
Beginning in the days of the Apostles and during the subsequent two centuries of persecution and martyrdom up to the Edict of Milan from Emperor Constantine, the first Christians prayed together as they could, often in secret, in private homes. With the freedom for public worship granted them, the great churches were built. Two of them, still standing today, could be taken to represent them all. Haghia Sophia, built as the Church of the Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) is no longer a Christian house of worship but a monument to the Christian past. In Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore, was built in the Fifth Century. Both opened enormous space to the faithful to gather and celebrate the sacraments together. With the freedom of the Church emerged monasticism in the East–in Egypt, Palestine, Cappadocia. The age of martyrs matured into the age of monks. They prayed in the solitude of the cell and as congregations in the synaxes, as attested by the writings of John Cassian, who also witnesses to the spread of monasticism to the West. St. Benedict’s Rule for monasteries became the enduring witness those past fifteen-hundred years to the desire to seek God in the monastic life. This involves living in God’s constant presence, offering worship to God in common, preferring nothing to Christ and to the work of God. That is a desire both on the part of each and on the part of the community. It is a also a desire that can view each member of the community as a collaborator and not as competition or as an obstacle. This is fed by constant renewal through the centuries, with a peak in the Twelfth Century and even on into the Twenty-first Century: the monastic vocation of witness to God continues.
from a Chapter Talk by Abbot Robert, 27 October, 2015