Readings: Genesis 12, 1-4; Acts 4:32-35; Mark 10:17-30
In the year 1098 of the Incarnation of our Lord, Robert of blessed memory, the first abbot of the monastery of Molesme, and brothers Alberic, Odo, John, Stephen, Letald and Peter and others numbering twenty-one in all, eagerly set out for the solitude of Citeaux…After the monks who had remained at Molesme petitioned Pope Urban for the return of their former abbot Robert to Molesme, the community of Citeaux, deprived of its shepherd, elected brother Alberic to be its abbot, for he was learned in both divine and human letters and a lover of the Rule and of the brothers. Abbot Alberic obtained from the Pope the Roman Privilege as a protection of their new monastery from external attacks. The letter of recommendation from Archbishop Hugh of Lyons to the Pope declared “These are the poor men of Christ; they have no defenses through riches or power against their enemies but place all their hope in God’s mercy and yours.”…The man of God, Alberic, after he had served faithfully for nine and a half years, went home to the Lord, full of glory for his faith and virtues. His successor was a certain brother by the name of Stephen Harding, a lover of the Rule and the place. And now it came about that, by the mercy of God which inspired His chosen ones to form a spiritual army, He did not fail them but brought great increase to their ranks, through the example of their perseverance…From that time forward, under the Lord’s rich and powerful blessing, the community succeeded in establishing numerous abbeys in the surrounding lands where God led them.
These are the exact words of the earliest document of our Order, called the Exordium Parvum, which left for posterity the beginnings of the monastery of Citeaux; and how in God’s providence it developed and spread into the Cistercian Order. I have read these excerpts to you this morning for an obvious reason, brothers. Look around you. Look at me! We see fragility. We see our poverty of numbers and even of health. It is this human poverty and fragility that calls down upon us God’s mercy. Our place is to do what our fathers of Citeaux did–to wait upon the Lord and to persevere in faith and fidelity. Alberic persevered as his fledgling community diminished. When Alberic died, he died as Abraham had died, seeing only Isaac yet believing in God’s promise od progeny to him.
In imitation of the first believers gathered with the apostles and sharing all they had in common, the founders of Citeaux depended on the mercy of God–not on any human skills or talents. The Holy Spirit worked through the unlettered apostles for God’s purposes. The Spirit worked through the poor men of Citeaux. Jesus gazed at the rich young man and loved him, the Gospel tells us. Jesus has looked upon each one of us here and loves us. Go forth from your past, leave behind anything that you would claim as yours, come and follow me. Follow me upon the way of the Gospel. Live fully according to the school of charity to which I have called you. And then, far as you can in faith and hope, leave the rest to me.
Just as in the twelfth century our first fathers were called to live by the Spirit, in order to lay a solid foundation of monastic humility for Christ our cornerstone to build upon, so are we today in the twenty-first century called by the Holy Spirit to live. Without riches, without power, in spiritual poverty and humility of heart, without security or illusion of control, for Christ to do as he intends. with us. As today’s Magnificat Antiphon proclaims: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a search for rare gems; once it is found all else is forsaken.
Would any of us here wish to turn away from our Lord sad because I felt he was asking too much of me? Rather, shall we receive with joy his call to us? My brothers, just as our fathers before us, let us place all our hope in God’s mercy. His wisdom is foolishness only to the worldly minded. Like our fathers before us, we are called to be the poor men of Christ: we must seek no empty security, from riches or from power. For we have placed all our hope in him who, from our mother’s womb, has looked upon us with love and has called each one to this place. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a search for rare gems; once it is found all else is forsaken. Amen.