October 25, 1995

 

 

 

 

 

Dear sister, dear brother,

 

 

 

A few words to introduce myself and my paper; a justification, up to a point, of my presumption to intrude on your time and space.

I'm a monk of Santa Marķa de Miraflores, a monastery of our order located in a quiet, sunny corner of our "global village", Chile.

In my country  --and in my continent--  cistercian monastic life has a very short history; the founding generation is still living among us, active and vigorous, and is still a fundamental support of our communities.

For my part, I haven't yet completed a decade in monastic life, and am only now four years solemn professed. So I have very little to teach and very much to learn.

My only justification, then, in this work is obedience. I've been asked to do it, and I obeyed. There could be another reason, secondary but important, for my obedience: I'm very happy and content with our vocation.

In that sense, this paper has given me an opportunity, for which I'm very grateful, to share a testimony of the joy and the enthusiasm of the Kingdom, in the concrete manner in which the Lord has called us to live and express it: our monastic, cistercian calling.

May Mary, the Virgin Mother of God and Queen of Cīteaux, renew us in the Cistercian grace, which is also hers: the grace of brotherly and sisterly communion in the seal of the Spirit of God, in which we attain blessing, life for ever.

This work  --in spite of appearances--  is quite simple. It has two parts which are linked or related between themselves. I've called the first "Reconciliation with God in One Body", and the second, which depends on the first, "Font of Communion and Contemplation".

For us, then, "Reconciliation with God in One Body" is "Font of Communion and Contemplation".

 

"Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone  --He is the foundation--  and we too, in him, like living stones, are being built up into a dwelling-place of God in the Spirit."

 

There you have one key for understanding and reading. If you find other keys, this work will be as much yours as mine.

 

And there you have, as well, an emergency exit that will save you the trouble of reading this paper. Maybe not, sorry to say, the trouble of hearing it read.

 

With love,

 

Your brother,

 

 

 

                                                      Pedro Alejandro, OCSO

Monk of Santa Marķa de Miraflores


 

           Reconciliation with God in One Body

 

 

 

I would like to share with you, first of all, an encounter with the Word of God in Lectio. In the Word we find the light that reveals the mystery of our vocation and of our life

of faith.

 

One text that has always impressed me,  --that helps me to approach Christ Jesus, my Lord, in his mission, and that I can experience as an invitation to participate in his work and his passion for the Kingdom--  is that reflection and synthesis that John makes in his Gospel: "He [Caiaphas] did not speak in his own person, but as high priest of that year he was prophesying that Jesus was to die for the nation --and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the scattered children of God." [1].

 

Jesus died, gave his life, to make one the children of God that were "scattered".

 

The Letter to the Ephesians gives us a description of this mission of Jesus in terms of  peace: "For he is the peace between us, and has made the two into one entity and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart, by destroying in his own person [in his own body of flesh and blood] the hostility, that is, the Law of commandments with its decrees. His purpose in this was, by restoring peace, to create a single New Man out of the two of them, and through the cross, to reconcile them both to God in one Body; in his own person he killed the hostility. He came to bring the good news of peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. Through  him, then, we both in the one Spirit have free access to the Father." [2]

 

It is in the perspective of this lectio  --before my Lord in his self-giving and his work--  that I would like to situate myself, in order to understand the mystery of community.

 

Christ Jesus is our peace. Of all the peoples that were scattered He makes one people; he makes the many one.

 

He does this by destroying the barrier that separates them, the hostility, the hatred. He accomplishes this not by proclamations and fine speeches, not by imposing a plan of action and good will. He does it "by destroying in his own body of flesh and blood... the Law of commandments with its decrees."

 

He destroys in his own body of flesh and blood  --that "same body of flesh and blood as any sinner" in which the Father sent "his own Son... to be a sacrifice for sin,  condemning sin in that body of flesh and blood." [3] He destroys the Law; that Law which oppressed the poor and sinners; which has been changed because of the weakness of the flesh from being an instrument for seeking and serving God, into a tool of segregation and a symbol of everything that oppresses men and women.

 


In his flesh  --that is to say, in his existence as body in time--  he brings to completion the profound intentionality of the Law: "justice, mercy, good faith," [4] that unites with God. Living in depth what the love of God towards men and women requires of him, he faces  --even to its tragic extreme--  the resistance of the human being who, walled up in self, uses the Law to close self off to God and neighbor.

 

Thus Christ Jesus assumed the curse  --in respect to the Law--  for our sake, to redeem us from the curse of the Law: [5]  "For our sake he made the sinless one be sin, so that in him we might become the uprightness of God." [6]

 

By his own blood, by the sacrifice of his own person  --"because even in the face of death he did not cling to life-- [7]  he has broken down the barrier  --the hostility--  that separated peoples one from another; the wall of prejudice, self-sufficiency and mistrust, that separates each one of us from the rest; that impedes us from building true communion.

 

He makes peace, and in his own self  --that mysterious, uncontainable and inescapable in Christ--  creates "a single New Man."

 

The peace of Jesus, the peace of the Kingdom, is a peace which the world cannot give; it is something radically new, because "for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old order is gone and a new being is there to see.  It is all God's

work." [8]

 

Here we are beyond the level of sociology; we're on the theological plane. In Christ God creates a communion that is beyond the possibilities of our nature in itself  --even though that nature is constitutively social and gregarious; it is also beyond our aspirations and deepest desires, since "no eye has seen and no ear has heard, ..the mind of man cannot visualize... all that God has prepared for those who love him." [9]

 

"Glory be to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen." [10]

 

But the advance in our first text of Ephesians doesn't stop in this deep and supernatural reconciliation between humans; that reconciliation which Christ obtained by his cross, assuming in his body of flesh and blood all the forces of dispersion and disintegration with which sin has marked our body of flesh and blood.

 

Because the text goes on to say: "His purpose... was..., through the cross, to reconcile them both [that is, both Israel and the uncircumcised] to God in one Body; in his own person he killed the hostility." [11]

 

Let's go into this word more deeply. Both peoples  --reconciled--  form one single Body. That is the adequate name for the new reality, the new creation of which we are speaking.

 


At this point I hear an echo in my memory of those numerous texts in which Paul develops this idea of Body; the way he unites it  --by means of the liturgical experience--  with the personal body of Christ and with the reality of the Church. What I find really moving in this precise text (Ep 2,26) is the nearness of the cross, of the bodily sacrifice of Jesus on it   --the body of Jesus, his humanity as "sacrifice for reconciliation" [12]

 

From another side I hear that text, with its stirring and challenging depths, which tells me that in Christ "in bodily form, lives divinity in all its fullness, and  --very simply--  in him you too find fulfillment"; [13]  the fullness of the Divinity, and the fullness of Corporality; the fullness of our reality of being and of possessing a body, the fullness of being possessed by the Divinity.

 

And Christ  --in his Body--  reconciled us with God, by means of the cross, destroying in himself the hostility: the hostility; of which the hostility, the hatred, that imposes a barrier between us, is just a reflection, a painful sign, and a bitter fruit.  

 

This hostility, patterned on Genesis 3, sinks its roots in the disordered appetites of life and submerges us, as the most bitter of consequences, in the fear of death; fear, in the end, which held us enslaved all our lives to him who held the power of death. [14]

 

The text we are savoring (Ep 2,16) suggests with force that our reconciliation with God  --in Christ--  happens in our condition of one single Body, in as much as we are members of this new reality which is the Body, and which we have to understand as the Body of Christ. We are not reconciled in an individual or isolated way.

 

It's not a question here of chronological or logical precedence; rather this is something simultaneous: the verb reconcile has two objects on an equal plane: it's a case of reconciling  --both of them--  with God, and at the same time reconciling  --both of them--  in one single Body.

 

We are talking, then, about reconciliation-with-God-in-one-single-Body, as if these seven words of our language were just one, which would express  --in all its complexity and richness--  what is just one single movement or act.

 

It follows from this that the building up of the Body is the expression and manifestation of reconciliation with God. In other words, communion with brothers and sisters expresses our communion with God, in as much as  --please catch the full weight of the words--  there is question precisely of communion with God in the communion with the brothers and sisters.

 

For we are speaking about the Body of Christ, that is, about the fullness of Divinity in bodily form; where Divinity and Corporality are inseparable, where Divinity takes on  historical dimension and presence in Corporality; for only corporality occurs and moves in the time and space of our historical condition. It is the magnificent manifestation and consequence of the eternal purpose of the Incarnation, which also is "made once and for all". [15]

 

Let us not forget, however, that in our present situation, our communion with God is restored communion; is essentially reconciliation and work of reconciliation. In the same way, our communion of brothers and sisters  --how could we overlook it or forget it!--  is fundamentally communion that is restored and in continual restoration; it is a task of reconciliation. And of course here too our reconciliation with God is worked out in our fidelity to the task of reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.

 


This is what Paul tells us in those words which I take up again and fully make my own: "So for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old order is gone and a new being is there to see. It is all God's work; he reconciles us to himself through Christ and he gave us the ministry of reconciliation. I mean, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself..." [16]

 

What, then, does this ministry of reconciliation that God has entrusted to us through Christ mean, if not the ministry of peace and unity, which is service and care for the Body  --this Body which is, and is called to be, a sign of reconciliation with God through Christ; a sign of the encounter and reunion in peace of all men and women, nations and peoples?

 

God has reconciled us to himself in Christ, and has entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation:  "The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same." [17]  "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you... Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven." [18]

 

The mission of Christians  --and of monks among them--  is to participate in this mission of Christ, our Lord, of reconciliation of humans with God; and the first way of doing so is to build all together the community of the reconciled who give witness to Mercy.

 

But let's take up again the train of thought of the Letter to the Ephesians. The author seems to repeat himself, saying: "He came to bring the good news of peace: peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near." [19]

 

Citing Isaiah (57,19) he seems to give the broad lines of a canticle of praise and thanksgiving, thus anticipating in a way the peak of his contemplation.

 

Because the final development of all this work of reconciliation bursts forth in the following verse into expressions that are clearly trinitarian, or perhaps better, doxological: "Through him, then, we both in the one Spirit have free access to the Father." [20]

 

In no more than fifteen words he touches the essential elements of the life of the Church: free access to the Father in the Holy Spirit  --through him, that is, through the work of Christ; the gathering together of all  -both-  in the one Spirit: "There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God." [21]

 

We are brought together in free and shared access to the Father; to what end? For love's exchange: "You will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of man." [22]  "To sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light." [23]

 


We can attempt now to synthesize what we have covered, and the Good News that we have savored in this shared lectio, saying that basically the work of Christ is the creation of a New Man, through the reconciliation  --by means of the cross--  of all peoples with God, gathering them together into one Body. In this manner God becomes Father, and the multitude of peoples and races becomes Body of Christ, "divinity in all its fullness, in bodily form." [24]

 

In other words what is said is that the reconciliation of all humans with God, brought to effect by means of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is inseparable from their constitution in one Body, inseparable from the divine-human project of communion  --free access to the Father as foundation of communion, and communion as expression and concretization of free access to the Father, of reconciliation-with-God-in-one-single-Body.

 

 

 

 

          Font of Communion and Contemplation

 

 

 

Gathered together in the "free access to the Father in the one Spirit": we are speaking about contemplation and community life. This is the moment to consider the content, the reality of those terms. What is contemplation? What is contemplative or mystical life? What community life are we talking about? What are the elements that compose it? What is its meaning?

 

We will try to approach an answer starting from the Word of God.

 

The beatitude given pride of place by the Desert Fathers and by the whole of monastic tradition after them is that of the pure in heart: "Blessed are the pure in heart: they shall see God." [25]

 

Cassian sums up for the West the whole content and aim of the ascetic teaching of the Fathers of the Desert in the term "purity of heart". That was the purpose of the labors of the monk and nun: to obtain purity of heart, and thus become disposed to enjoy the vision  --vivifying, sanctifying and divinizing--  of God, already in this life, in the chiaroscuro of faith, in a fleeting and partial way.

 

This component is essential to the monastic vocation; without this longing to see, to experience God already in this life  --without this desire for God--  it is hard to speak of an authentic monastic vocation. And inevitably this deep desire of God brings with it the desire, or at least the acceptance of purification, of ascesis, of the necessary renunciations of  monastic life.

 

But christian life is woven of tensions and apparent contradictions; of equilibriums that try to integrate things that are apparently incompatible. The Word of God  --which in some way reflects that life and is at its service--  also presents these tensions.

 

This is why we read in the First Letter of John: "No one has ever seen God, but as long as we love each other God remains in us and his love comes to its perfection in us." [26]

 


It wouldn't be too hard to try to harmonize those two places  --the Beatitude of Matthew 5 and the affirmation of 1 Jn 4--  on the basis of the different tenses of the verbs that are used; the Beatitude seems to be a promise of the Lord Jesus for the future: "the pure in heart... shall see God"; whereas the statement of John seems to refer to the present, and even to the past: "No one has ever seen God".

 

But I doubt that the matter is that simple; rather I think that, taken together or separately, both statements bear the mark of the paradox and tension of christian escatology: that "already now" and "not yet", which don't let us rest in a present that is just filling out time, completely separated from the future realization of the Kingdom.

 

As monastics we not only wait for the Lord's Coming, we don't simply live for Life after death. Before all else, we bear witness to the Lord's Coming  --a witness destined for this world, for the present life and for men and women who live in history.

 

It is to this that the words of John point. Our testimony before humans and the present life are to be a symbol, concrete and visible, that manifests an invisible reality: in the visible communion of brothers and sisters, in concrete, incarnate charity, the Lord's presence, the Lord's visit and Coming has to be manifested: "It is by your love for one another that everyone will recognise you as my disciples." [27]

 

John's word doesn't deny the possibility of contemplating God; it just puts the emphasis on the essential reality of brotherly-sisterly love; it approaches and characterizes contemplation from the side of this community dimension of christian love of God. Because of the polemic which is the background of this Letter, the author is telling us: it is of little use to speak about contemplation of God and love of God, if it is not verified in our daily life, in our love of brothers and sisters, in our community living.

 

It's clear that for John contemplation,  --which occurs in the midst of a certain darkness, since "no one has ever seen God"--  is expressed and verified in the lived experience of the love of brothers and sisters that builds community.

 

Notice that in this phrase of John the "love of God" and his presence or his "remaining in us" become synonymous with "seeing God": "No one has ever seen God, but as long as we love each other God remains in us and his love comes to its perfection in us." [28]

 

This clearly specifies the idea John has of authentic christian contemplation. It is not a vision of the divine essence  --as the gnostics whom John was opposing in his Letter would have had it--  but rather an experience, in love, of God's presence in us, an experience of the love of God. Love itself is knowing  --and seeing--  William of St. Thierry would say.

 

Notice at the same time the fine imprecision or ambiguity of the term love of God in the greek. Is it God's love for humans, the love that comes from God? Or is it our love towards God, which then we would better translate as love for God?

 

Taking inspiration from the teaching of our own patrimony  --which in this case also is especially clear in William of St. Thierry--  I believe we can accept the ambiguity as such; it is then a question of that Love by which God loves himself in us, that is, of the Holy spirit, love of God which, poured into our hearts, makes us capable of loving God "with that same love with which he loves himself"  --the only way of loving him that is really worthy of God. This is the fullness of divinity living in our corporality, fullness of eternity in our temporality.

 


Is it not the culminating experience of this Presence that which constitutes authentic christian contemplation? Isn't christian contemplation itself a mysterious testimony of the mysterious being of the christian, of every christian: being in Christ, life in the Spirit?

 

In this way then, for John love of brothers and sisters that builds community is now not only the manifestation and the verification of the vision or contemplation of God, but also its foundation; since it is mutual love of brothers and sisters that which allows God to remain in us; and his love, the gift of his Holy Spirit, comes to its fullness in us. Of that fullness contemplation is a privileged flowering and testimony.

 

Therefore we can characterize our monastic life by saying that it is cenobitic just as much and as justly as we characterize it as contemplative, since both qualifications flow from the same reality of communion, which is the nucleus and root of our christian life.

 

We seek, and are presented with, a community of evangelical life as a means to our seeking God, as a matrix where we aspire to contemplation and become disposed to receive it; also as a means of expressing and living our mystical experience.

 

Our conversatio is, then, cenobitic. But we know that our conversatio "is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transfigure the wretched experience of ours  --our knowing in faith--  into the mold of his glorious experience. [29]

 

We reiterate here that our cenobitic condition, without ceasing to be true communion and human, felt, brotherly-sisterly living, is before all else community of those baptized and called together, faith communion.

 

It has that plus, in relation to what is just a human communion, that makes it supernatural. We can recall what Paul said about the New Creation and the Body of Christ. Our cenobitic condition includes, structurally, so to speak, a mystical dimension, from which our own personal contemplation is nourished. It is that Fullness of divinity in bodily form in which we find (touch, experience) fulfillment. [30]

 

Thus our conversion to monastic Conversatio  --chief duty of monastics and task of a life-time, not just of the initial stages--  is conversion to community living, to the life of brothers and sisters; this is in itself openness to the contemplative or mystical dimension of our vocation.

 

This is the Cistercian way to contemplation. This is the substance of the ascetic and mystical teaching of our Fathers.

 

According to them, the experience of brotherly, sisterly living is what opens us directly to contemplation. We can say in truth that in the teaching of Bernard the lived experience of community is the nerve center of the spiritual life of the monastic as of the christian, to which all individual ascesis is ordered  --including the twelve steps of humility of the Rule of St. Benedict--  and in which it is to be clothed; at the same time it is from community that we are raised to contemplating God, and to community that we return.

 

Our community life is the matrix,  --it is the Mother--  in which we live and move and are. It does not imprison us in itself, but rather is constantly nourishing our roots, opening us up to, and pushing us on towards the Father, in Christ.

 


      In community, ascesis is not, and simply cannot be, the search for one's own perfection, in an individual relation with my calling and my God. In community, personal ascesis  --always necessary--  is a good safeguard against eccentricity and nonsense. More than on the denial of self, it puts the accent on fraternal or sisterly affirmation, something just as crucifying, sanctifying and liberating as, or even more than, any individual, ascetical gymnastics.

 

On the other hand, there is room  --and we should protect it--  in community living for silence, renunciation, and solitude, for personal prayer, but only in so far as these are at the service of growth in our openness to God and neighbor, that is to say, at the service of piety and mercy, which are never separated. Both  --piety and mercy--  constitute the two foundations and the two dimensions of our common life.

 

One might say that this is an incarnational, immanent, historical perspective of our faith and spiritual experience, but what other perspective can we take? It is the perspective of John the apostle in reference to the love and contemplation of God as we reflected on these before: "No one has ever seen God, but as long as we love each other God remains in us and his love comes to its perfection in us." [31]  And again: "Whoever does not love the brother whom he can see cannot love God whom he has not seen." [32]

 

For Bernard then,  --and for us Cistercians after him--  humility is the capital virtue of monastics not so much because it gives us an exact knowledge of ourselves, but rather in as much as that self-knowledge opens us up to the truth of our neighbor  --who becomes our brother or sister--  and therefore to the possibility of going out of ourselves to the encounter with the other; it is only by this experience of mercy and service that we open ourselves, bit by bit, and broaden our capacity to desire and receive God.

 

So let us be mindful that in the mystical teaching of St. Bernard there is question not so much of an elevation to God which would leave behind, even if only for a moment, our incarnate, community condition, but rather of receiving the visit of the Word, there where we are  --before, during and following the visit--, in the midst of our brothers, from whom and with whom we have learned the way to the Father, --the art of arts, the art of loving.

 

 

                                            Br. Pedro Alejandro ZOLEZZI CID

                                                                 Miraflores

 



     [1] Jn 11,51-53

     [2] Ep 2,14-18

     [3] Rm 8,3

     [4] Mt 23,23

     [5] See Ga 3,13

     [6] 2 Co 5,21

     [7] See Rv 12,11

     [8] 2 Co 5,17. See Jn 14,27

     [9] 1 Co 2,9

     [10] Ep 3,20-21

     [11] Ep 2,16

     [12] Rm 3,25

     [13] Col 2,9-10

     [14] See Heb 2,14-15

     [15] Heb 10,10

     [16] 2 Co 5,17-19

     [17] Col 3,13

     [18] Jn 20,21-23

     [19] Ep 2,17

     [20] Ep 2,18

     [21] Ep 4,4

     [22] Jn 1,51

     [23] 1 P 2,9

     [24] Col 2,9

     [25] Mt 5,8

     [26] 1 Jn 4,12

     [27] Jn 13,35

     [28] See 1 Jn 4,12

     [29] See Ph 3,20-21

     [30] See Col 2,9-10

     [31] 1 Jn 4,12

     [32] 1 Jn 4,20