Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram – The Charism of our Order 9/4/22

Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram – The Charism of our Order 9/4/22

+THE CHARISM OF OUR ORDER            Chapter Talk 4 Sep. 2022

This morning I would like to share with you some reflections on the recent letter from our Abbot General Bernardus. As we heard it being read in the refectory I realized there were things he shared with us that demanded deeper thought and closer attentiveness so I would like to share some of them with you.

 Dom Bernardus entitles his letter “Let’s Dream” picking up on a book with the same title that Pope Francis wrote during  the pandemic. In it Francis wrote [a crisis] “is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities—what we value, what we want, what we see—and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of. What I hear at this moment is similar to what Isaiah hears God saying through him: Come, let us talk this over. Let us dare to dream” (Prologue). What Pope Francis and Bernardus are really interested in, is what lies behind our dreams, how they allow us to give expression to or symbolize “the spiritual life of each one of us, that inner space that each of us is called to cultivate and guard, where God manifests himself and often speaks to us“ (Pope Francis, Audience, 126th January 2022).

Here I’m reminded of how St Benedict tells us in his Rule, in the chapter on humility, to always to be in the presence of God, knowing a God who is always ready to speak to us, make his will known in the depths of our hearts.

What Dom Bernardus is interested in is revitalizing our Cistercian charism and quotes from the General Chapter’s 1969 Declaration on Cistercian life. There we are reminded that “our lives are wholly directed to the experience of the living God… We are to be ready to receive from the Spirit the gift of pure and uninterrupted prayer. This search for God animates our whole day.” It seems to me that these words summarize the dream many of us have about our way of life. What we are being called to discern in our dreams is what fosters this “gift of pure and uninterrupted prayer” or what may get in the way of it.

In his letter, Dom Bernardus then gets into the dream the young St Bernard had while he was waiting for the beginning of a celebration of the Night Office one Christmas night which had been delayed. Bernard’s head drooped into a sleep when “it happened that the child Jesus revealed himself in his Holy Nativity to the little boy, awakening in him the beginnings of divine contemplation and increasing his tender faith. Jesus appeared to him like the spouse coming forth from his chamber” (VP II.4). Might this be the reason he later reflected in so many conferences to his monks on the Song of Songs? This event left an indelible mark on the whole life and future of St Bernard. So persuasive was this dream that he remained ever convinced “that he was present at the very moment of the Lord’s birth” (VP II.4). The mystery of the Incarnation became a central theme of his spirituality.

Dom Bernardus gets into the peculiar circumstance in which Bernard had this dream and quoting from Pope Francis, he sees this as a call to develop, quote: “a healthy capacity for silent reflection, places where we find refuge from the tyranny of the urgent. Most of all, we need prayer, to hear the promptings of the Spirit and cultivate dialogue in a community that can hold us and allow us to dream. Thus armed, we can read aright the signs of the times and opt for a way that does us all good” (Pope Francis, Let’s Dream). I think we have been blessed with a community that holds us and allows us to dream.

Here we are, Dom Bernardus tells us, at the heart of the Cistercian charism. “Our life [is] wholly directed to the experience of the Living God.” The incarnation is for St. Bernard nothing other than the experience of the Living God in our human weakness. Pope Benedict XVI summed it up aptly: “For St. Bernard, true knowledge of God consisted in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love. And, dear brothers and sisters, this is true for every Christian: faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more. May this happen to each one of us!” (Audience, 21 October 2009).

Dom Bernardus says that this led him to hope “that if we have the courage to dream today, in the midst of the crisis in our Order, we will discover the Cistercian charism given to each one of us” so as to experience in the depths of our hearts that “we are seen, wanted and loved by God.” Bernardus invites us to “listen to the voice of God inside us. There you will find the Cistercian charism! Share those dreams with each other! That is not an easy task, because it is tempting to say, with the brothers of the patriarch Joseph, ‘Here comes that master dreamer! Come on, let us kill him’ (Gen 37:19-20). I do think that each one of us gathered here has a dream about the life though we may not have taken the time to sit down, to ponder it and write it out.

Let me invite you to do just this, to take the time to put your dream on paper and then we could gather these accounts and share them with one another. I think it could be a wonderful moment of insight and support to the community.