The Divine Office is not a performance but our worship of God. We represent the whole Church, Christ’s Body, who, as God’s creatures, offer to our Creator our worship, praise and thanksgiving. We express our needs and the needs of those around us confident of his provident care for creation. He even calls us his children, wanting us to grow in his divine life welling up within us, to make him truly like himself. This is what Jesus taught us, that we might one with him in the Father; this is God’s purpose for the entire human race. Christians in the world today are called to spread this message to everyone.
There are some who are called to devote themselves exclusively to living in God–as is possible in this world. We are monks– from the Greek word, monos, “alone” or apart from the world’s ways. And also monos, “one” with all people and all creation, growing in union with God. We express this by the monastic way of life dedicated to God and, particularly, by that part of our life spent in worship together as a community, as well as our personal prayer. As Cistercians following the Rule of St. Benedict, we understand that we do this together, not in isolation, as our commitment to this Rule requires. Any monk separating himself from the rest of his community is separating himself from Christ, from Christ’s Body–and to the harm of the entire community. There are, indeed, hermits, whom the Church blesses, whom God calls to live the solitary witness that God is alone in all; and those called to that life has the grace of his vocation to live it faithfully. But God calls others to live apart from the world’s absorption as a group. Those who have the grace of this calling from God grow in the pure love of God through Love and support of the group God has joined them to, as Christ’s Body. Ecclesiola or “little Church”, our Cistercian fathers called our monasteries.
Just as the solitary or hermit suffers trials and temptations from the devil to destroy his vocation. So too does the cenobite suffer unavoidable trials and temptations which God permits to deepen the purity of his love of God and his brothers, burning off his selfish love to love, instead, fully and freely. Of course, God allows the monk’s brothers to be a natural occasion of this suffering and thwarting of his self-gratification (even if the gratification is subtly cloaked in “seeking God”). St. Bernard made no bones about the fact that we seek God for our own sake. But God continually invites us to seek him for God’s own sake, without any spiritual satisfaction for ourselves. We can’t do that on our own. It’s not humanly possible, no more than I can stop breathing by force of will; the body would just take over, as it should. Similarly, no one could can make himself free of self gratification on the spiritual level. This needs God’s work, and what is at hand for God’s work is our community.
We know well enough that our brothers thwart and frustrate us. Yet God wastes nothing and never hesitates to use that frustration to speed the purification of our love both for himself and for those who cross our path–or even cross us. This is where Wisdom is needed. As Jesus said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, You foolish men! Didn’t you realize that this was necessary? This is the very foolishness of God that proves to be true Wisdom in the long run.
It is not unusual that in community prayer, in the time we offer God as our worship, that a monks finds most of his frustration with his brothers or feels he is thwarted. And how hard it is to accept this! At those times, God’s Wisdom seems foolish indeed. But this is the royal road to freedom in love. How much time we can waste kicking against the goad of spiritual purification! But as Wisdom gradually permeates our understanding and our will embraces what we come to recognize as God’s gift, we will learn the delight of spiritual freedom. We will accept and value what God is accomplishing in us, no longer blaming those God uses to hasten our purification. We come to appreciate what the Lord accomplishes in us. This is how the final prayer of St. Benedict will come true: Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ. And may he bring us all together to everlasting life.
From a Chapter Talk of Abbot Robert