Community as a School of Charity

Dom Vianney YAMAGUCHI of Oita

At the time of my entrance, I knew nothing about Cistercian Spirituality and its goals. However, I reflected this way: the monks in this community are living in accordance with the Rule of St. Benedict and they are wise men who transmit the traditions of St. Bernard. Therefore, even if I do not know anything about spirituality and the purpose of this Order and am not completely certain about my motivation or why I am called to the Cistercian life, the monks will teach these things to me and I will learn from them. In fact, what I have thought and longed for was actualized: they taught me and I learned from them. I practiced what I have learned and I became a functional member of the Order living under the Rule of St. Benedict.

More concretely, what they have taught and what I have learned from them is that the distinguishing characteristics of the Cistercian Spirituality is the community as a School of Charity and that we see Christ in the community itself in a unique way. Also have I learned that the goal of the Cistercian life is to fulfill our vows by following the Rule of St. Benedict. In order to reach this goal, we have practiced seeking a balanced life between mind and body as Christians through daily prayers and manual works.

On the other hand, in a society like Japan where the strong tradition of Buddhism is still persistent, even we Christians are not immune to be influenced by the mentality of its cultural surroundings and its heritage. When Buddhist monks enter the priesthood, their motivation and its purpose is very definite. Namely, they try to enter the priesthood hoping that the suffering in this life will be overcome and other sufferings will not arise. In other words, they believe that they are not only able to be released from the sufferings in this world through their own practices in such a way that they can control their own desires by their own will but also to be released from the sufferings in the world to come through their own practices of self denial so as to reach the level of spiritual enlightenment. To attain this goal of spiritual enlightenment, a Buddhist novice spends a lot of time, energy and effort as a pilgrim traveling on foot through the country seeking for a good master. In most cases, the training is initiated and continued on a one to one basis, the disciple and his master. It is in the hand of the master to judge if his disciple has reached the level of the spiritual enlightenment or not. On the other hand, if the disciple is not satisfied with his master, he is free to leave his place in order to look for another master who is even more experienced and deeply spiritually enlightened. No matter whom the disciple chooses as his master, the two of them, the master and his disciple have a community living during periods of spiritual training. In this sense, having community life is common in both the Buddhist and Christian traditions. However, the community life in the Buddhist tradition is different from our Cistercian tradition in the sense that the former is one of the means of spiritual training and the latter is the School of Charity.

In such a milieu influenced by the mentality of Buddhism, we must resist the temptation to look upon our religious life as the place of training or that of releasing ourselves from the sufferings in this world. We, the members of the monastery which was founded rather recently have to keep in mind this point in particular. There are not a few aspirants to enter our monastic life motivated by the desire of purifying themselves and of escaping from the reality of this world. They recognize that they are sinners and they decide to enter just because they want to devote their whole life to the monastic life in order to compensate for their sins. However, our monastic life is not simply a place to struggle with our sufferings. Neither is it a place to train to release ourselves from our sufferings. Monastic life is a community as a School of Charity where each one of us bears our own cross in union with the other members and aspires together to follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

If we do not have a clear idea of this concept, that is, the concept of the community as a School of Charity, we are liable to consider monastic life to be the place for personal training. The more our awareness of our sinfulness increases, the more we are apt to desire to overcome our own sufferings and be broken from the shackles of our sins by means of enduring our sufferings and our spiritual training without any support or assistance from others. Due to this inclination, therefore, personal training is regarded to be more important than anything else and as a result, there is always a danger to lose the balance between prayer and manual work. Such training rooted in a self-centered concept falls into the specific illusion that we do not need to associate with other members of the community. As a result, this yields to a risk to be alienated from the rest of community under a mistaken illusion that we cannot be understood and accepted by the other monks of the community. In such a circumstance, we are liable to shut ourselves within our own selves and, therefore, to become narrow or closed minded.

In order to avoid such a narrow-minded concept of the monastic life, there are some points which we should keep in mind. The most important point is that we should be very clearly aware of the fact that our monastic life abides in the community as a School of Charity. In the community as a School of Charity, each one of us comes to know ourselves as we are. To know oneself is to be accepted by others and by our own selves as we are. We should recognize ourselves as we are and we should accept ourselves as we are. We religious need to encounter our true self in order to be humble. We encounter ourselves not being released from sufferings but struggling with the sufferings. Here, God's grace reveals itself and works through this awareness. For those who recognize themselves as they are, our Rule teaches that our monastic life as a School of Charity has no end; "For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God's commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love. Thus, never departing from His School, but persevering in the monastery according to His teaching until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom." (Prol. 48-50)

For the young monk who has just started his monastic life, observances and fraternal correction may provide a good help to understand that the monastic life abides in the community as a School of Charity. In particular, to observe silence and to practice fasting and abstinence, both considered as typical characteristics of the Cistercian life, offers a good opportunity to follow an example of Christ who retired to the desert and struggled with the temptations by the evil spirit for forty days and nights before He initiated his public life. It is to confirm that we are members of the Church that we religious go to the desert following Him. It is to share in His mission that we try to repeat what He has done in our own lives. One of His missions is to obey His Father completely. This reminds us of constant obedience to our abbot in that whatever we do, we have to do in obedience to the abbot.

To see some objects as they really are is one of the most difficult and troublesome tasks human being can achieve. In order to see, we need a trained and awakened spirit. To see is to love. We can rephrase His words, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself" (Mt. 19:19) as "See your neighbor as you see yourself." Seeing as it is means to see a person, thing and situation, not by the imagination, but to see as they really are. In so doing, we can respond to our brothers appropriately. After entering the monastery, I myself have learned, first of all, to accept myself as I am in the School of Charity. Now, I am making the effort to see and accept my brothers as they are, as I see and accept myself as I am.

This page originates at the Chapter by our Procurator General, Dom Armand Veilleux.
It is maintained by Br. Anthony Weber at The Abbey of the Genesee.

That In All Things God May Be Glorified

Created: 10/07/96 Updated: October 11, 1996