This weekend the Lay Cistercians of Holy Cross Abbey are in our Retreat House for their annual retreat. As they do each year, they re-affirm their commitment to their order of life formed in Cistercian Spirituality. The intrepid group meets here once a month on the third Saturday of each month and it takes a major blizzard or a ‘flu epidemic in their ranks to prevent that! They daily pray for each member of the Holy Cross Abbey community and for our Observers and vocations in discernment and have many contacts, formal and informal, with us throughout the year.
As far as anyone of us could recall, this was the first time that their annual retreat on the Memorial Day weekend fell on Corpus Christi. As they do each year, they sang First Vespers of the Sunday celebration with us Saturday evening; it’s encouraging, year to year, to hear their contribution growing in confidence and volume. It’s a good feeling that they feel at home with us.
This year’s sojourn was particularly significant: it marks the tenth anniversary of their official acceptance by the Holy Cross Abbey community as our Lay Cistercians. The Lay Cistercian movement grew up spontaneously around our monasteries all over the globe in the 1980’s and ’90’s without any prompting from the Order. People who are close to our communities decided that they wished to share more deeply in the Cistercian patrimony and enjoy a spiritual bond with particular communities. The Order, wisely I believe, allowed them their autonomy–no two groups have to be alike and each group formulates their own constitutions and govern themselves.
Our groups present Dean, Maryle Ashley, was one of the original group identifying themselves with our community. Abbot Mark Delery encouraged their interest and after their initial proposal and presentation to the community, he recommended that they rework their proposed constitutions with some input from the monks. When these were resubmitted, the Chapter (the solemnly professed members of the community) of Holy Cross voted to acknowledge this group as our Lay Cistercians. Fr. Joseph Wittstock became their spiritual guide and liaison with the community and helped them through the growing pains of those first years. He has continued in that responsibility all these years. On 22 May, 2006 their original members, having completed their novitiate, professed their commitment for the first time in our Abbey’s history.
As they reaffirmed their commitment this Saturday after Midday Prayer, it was a recommitment on the part of the monastic community, to pray daily for each of them and encourage them, as each of us may, to deepen their call.