Category Archives: Chapter Talk

Chapter talk by Fr Michael

The Trinity and Our Prayer Life                     Chapter Talk  11 June, 2017

This morning I would like to touch on the mystery of the Trinity and our life of prayer. Today is a Solemnity and we can see it as just one more such feasts in the Church year, a great mystery to be celebrated but not having a lot to do with our everyday lives. Our early Cistercian Fathers saw it as having far more significance, a mystery we are living with the whole of our lives, touching them deeply by what is there revealed to us.

What I see William of St Thierry and St Bernard doing as well as the more modern writer Catherine LaCugna in her book, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian life, is turning our celebration of this mystery from being an abstract and hidden doctrine into an expression that is close to home, expressing our own and others’ inner experience of God.

The great danger, as the Benedictine Odo Brooke brings out is:

“that we think of the Trinity too exclusively in terms of the Processions within themselves and of the speculative theological problems arising from the mystery of three persons in  one identical nature. However important this is for theology, if the Trinity is viewed almost entirely from this angle, it will inevitable appear remote from the lives of the faithful. The perspective is changed once it is realized that Revelation presents the Trinity first of all as the intervention of the [three] persons for our salvation, according to the relationship ‘from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit to the Father.’ ..In Scripture and in the Liturgy, the Trinity is presented not only with an emphasis on the intervention in the history of salvation, but also on the persons in their distinct relationship rather than on their unity of nature. ”

Once we begin to focus on the relationship of the three person of the Holy Trinity it is not long before we see the value of this relationship in our own lives and in all of our contacts with others. We come to see as Odo Brooke goes on to say that:

“the spiritual life at its deepest level is seen as an experience of the Trinitatian life of the  Holy Spirit. Mysticism is here shown to us not primarily as an advance in states of prayer to be analyzed and charted. It is shown as the ultimate meaning of the human being, and that meaning is to be found in the Trinity.”

What William of St Thierry and other early Cistercians saw was that the image of God in us is the very basis of our relationship and ascent to God. We have the imprint of the Trinity in our very makeup, in our very nature. As Brooke points out the whole trend of William’s thought “is to portray the image [of  God in us] as a dynamic force, impelling the soul towards its perfection in the likeness [of God]… towards union with the Trinity.”

William goes so far as to say in his work Aenigma Fidei that “those to whom the Father and the Son reveal each other know exactly as the Father and the Son know each other.” About this Odo Brooke adds:

“This knowledge is from the Holy Spirit; more, it is a share in the very life of the Spirit. It comes wholly from within the Spirit; and it is a stage of transition from faith to sight. It is an anticipation, however remote, of the final vision of God.”

Our life as Christians, as monks is to make us ever more attentive and attuned to this life of the Spirit, to the realization that nothing escapes the movement of grace in our daily lives. Wherever we may be, whether in our rooms, in Choir, at our places of work, in the kitchen, we are in God’s presence, in the presence of a God who deeply loves us and is continually inviting us to share in the very life of the Trinity itself.

 

Chapter Talk by Fr Michael April 23rd

+THE ART OF AFFIRMATION              Chapter Talk-23 April 2017

Some months ago I was sent a copy of a book called The Art of Affirmation by a Dr Robert Furey, the new president of Consultation Center in St Louis where I went some years ago to be with other priests and religious dealing with issues in their personal lives. When I did my final session there this past March, I had a chance to meet and speak with this Robert Furey and found him giving witness to the Art he writes about. So I thought to share some of his ideas and how they have particular relevance for our own lives.

Let me begin with a clarification of what the Robert Furey means by affirmation. “Affirmation,” he writes, “is the sincere expression of appreciation for a person’s remarkable qualities. It is through this recognition and appreciation that these abilities emerge and grow. Affirmation is a universal need. It is essential for human growth and happiness.” We have all heard or read of young people who, having been affirmed early in life, develop into gifted and mature human beings. To affirm someone is not just about telling them you are a wonderful person and are doing great. It is a real and heartfelt appreciation of the person’s gifts and potential for growth.

Reflecting on this and on our own Cistercian spirituality, I became more aware of how much of St Bernard’s theology is based on an affirmation drawn from Scripture where we are told of our being made in God’s image and likeness. Our likeness to God has been lost through sin but the image of God in us is ever present. It continually beckons us to regain our divine likeness by recognizing our pride.  Through the practice of humility, we then allow grace to once again govern our lives.

How this idea of affirmation resides deep in our own tradition again came home to me as I read through the sermon of Bl Guerric of Igny that we heard yesterday morning. He tells us: “Thanks be to God who has given us the victory both over sin and over death, through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Wholly innocent of sin and therefore free from the debt of death, he yet paid it, dying of his own will on our behalf; and rising he has set us free from sin. For as St Paul says, ‘Christ died for our sins and rose for our justification.’ By dying he underwent the punishment due to our sins, and by rising he established for us the form and the cause of everlasting justification.” In so far as we come into a living awareness of what Christ had done for us, we are affirm for our greatest potential.

The demands of our way of life become much easier to embrace as we recognize this divine initiative, realize how much grace is at work in us  as we learn to trust in God’s loving support. And as we see grace at work in our lives, we more easily see it at work in the lives of all those with whom we live.

To quote from Robert Furey again: “As you get better at seeing people’s special gifts, the world becomes more beautiful. You see more and more the valuable qualities that people offer. Your journey in life becomes more scenic when you recognize the beauty in people.” There are times I wonder whether we realize how privileged we are living among brothers who are so highly motivated amid whatever personal failings they may have. Sometimes we have occasion to really get to know one or other of our brethren and see the beauty of their lives and usually because of the recognition of the beauty in our own lives.

There are times then we think so and so has been greatly blessed, he doesn’t need affirmation. Dr Furey admits as much about himself when he writes: “I once believed that successful people didn’t need affirmation. I just thought there were some individuals who already knew how valued they were and thus didn’t need to hear it. I know now this isn’t true. Over the years I’ve met many accomplished people who yearn to know that they are appreciated. The lesson is simple: we all need affirmation.

A bit further on he writes: “..There’s an unfortunate myth about the relationship between affirmation and arrogance. According to this misconception, if I acknowledge your positive traits, I will contribute to your conceit, grandiosity, and naricissim. In other words, the human ego is so prone to extremes that encouragement is likely to make someone feel superior. This myth has killed many kind words.

Here lies an interesting twist [he says]: real affirmation does not typically lead to inflated egos. In fact, it more often produces humility. Affirmation is an expression of gratitude. Where there is gratitude there is humility. Good affirmation guides us to feel grateful for what we have been given.”

So much of our life, it seems to me, is learning to live with gratitude, to learn to give thanks in all circumstances as St Paul tells us, knowing that God’s grace is ever at work in us. Learning to affirm, which is a real art, helps those around us to live humbly as the Rule calls us to do. It enables us to live in an abiding sense of divine grace ever at work at the center of our being.