The Spirituality of the Cistercians
On the Feast of St Robert de Molesme (Cistercian monk, 1029-1111)
Genesis 12:1-4 and Matthew 19:27-29
It’s not easy for us to imagine a group of 22 men, in the latter half of the 11thcentury, heading into a remote and thickly forested region of France to establish a new monastery. With whatever tools they had brought with them, they began to clear the trees and bushes, and to build small individual huts out of branches. They had little to eat, few possessions, and none of the comforts that we so routinely take for granted. In addition to this, they set for themselves a rigorous daily schedule, based on the Rule of St Benedict: four hours of sleep in the night, followed by four hours of prayer, both private and communal. A meager diet of roots and herbs. Hard manual work during the day, off-set by more worship and periods of reading or study.
Like Abram and like the apostles in our readings tonight, they left everything– homes, families, possessions, livelihoods, friends, one could say even civilization itself – to give their lives (as completely as they knew how) to God. Their leader was a 69 year-old man, Robert de Molesme, who had become a Benedictine monk at the tender age of 15. Not long after having entering the monastery, he began to be recognized for his piety and sanctity, and at a comparably young age, was elected as its prior.
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
“Simplify, simplify, simplify.”
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden.
Rules for a simpler lifestyle cannot be universal rules. We are responsible for their imagination and situation. Nor is a simpler lifestyle a panacea for what ails. But, a simpler lifestyle can be an act of faith as a matter of personal integrity and commitment to a more just distribution of the world’s scarce resources. It can be a resolution against a mindset that calls for overconsumption.
Jesus called his disciples to become simpler like a child. Withdrawal from the often neurotic pressure of our materialistic society can be a response to that call. It can be an act of solidarity with the vast majority of humanity which lacks the range for choices we enjoy.
A simpler lifestyle can be a way to share with those who have less and a way of returning to them what is usurped by unjust social and economic structures. Assuming a stance of under-consumption can be provocative invitation to others into a conversation about affluence, poverty and social justice.