Introduction: One may first ask: “For What Have You Come?”
Our members and friends are moved by varying ways to inquire about the lay Cistercian charism. A nascent sense of need for a change of heart or way of life, that “something more is out there”, that the work-a-day world needs greater sustenance of spirit. Or, merely by browsing and “luck.” Whatever, we have gathered in LCG from a spirit calling us toward the monastic life–and deftly offering some ways to achieve in our lives as laypersons the stability and prayerfulness of the Cistercian charism.
For those not able to join with us as members in our local communities we offer the following suggested path whereby you can savor and approach the life of a lay Cistercian.
Unit 1. Developing the Candidate’s Journey
First: read the LCG Plan of Life.
Second: Personal Assessment. After reading and pondering, it would be helpful to take pencil and paper to write what most insterests you, in which areas you would like to enhance your spirit, and set out a map for your journey of spirit–some plans and goals. You will be asked to return to this “map” over the next weeks and months–to affirm your path, make adjustments, and sense comity with God’s will.
Unit 2. Rule of Benedict. The Cisterican monastic life is rooted in the 1500 year old Rule of Benedict, a brief work, setting out the life plan of the monastery. A visitor notes the monastic life is framed by the daily liturgical hours. The Rule, Chapter 16: How the Work of God Is to Be Performed During the Day
“Seven times in the day,” says the Prophet,
“I have rendered praise to You” (Ps. 118:164).
Now that sacred number of seven will be fulfilled by us
if we perform the Offices of our service
at the time of the Morning Office,
of Prime, of Terce, of Sext, of None,
of Vespers and of Compline,
since it was of these day Hours that he said,
“Seven times in the day I have rendered praise to You.”
For as to the Night Office the same Prophet says,
“In the middle of the night I arose to glorify You” (Ps. 118:62).
Let us therefore bring our tribute of praise to our Creator
“for the judgments of His justice” (Ps. 118:164)
at these times:
the Morning Office, Prime, Terce, Sext, None,
Vespers and Compline;
and in the night let us arise to glorify Him.
As you thumb through the Rule you might note comment and direction about organization of life in the monastery, the Abbot, and important elements in the Cistercian life such as obedience, stability, and silence.
We suggest you look more carefully into the Rule with the aid of wonderful books of introduction such as:
Rule of Benedict by Joan Chittister
Unit 3. Lectio Divina—prayer and contemplation.
The Cistercian life is devoted to prayer and meditation, to closely and slowly reading and digesting a sacred text (as a cow chewing cud, one might offer!) There are some good books about this slow reading, called lectio divina, which is the work of monks for notable portions of each day. You might try:
Sacred Reading by Michael Casey
Sunlit Absence or Into the Great Silence by Martin Laird
Unit 4. Cistercian History and Charism
Perhaps the best introduction to the Cistercians is a ten unit compilation of Cistercian history and monastic way of life, the Exordium, written by a monk to note the 900th anniversary of the founding of the Cistercian Order. We suggest you visit this material written by Michael Casey which is available on the web at: Exordium Read over an extended period of weeks.
Read about foundation of Gethsemani Abbey in a book by Thomas Merton, The Waters of Siloe.
Unit 5. Become Acquainted with the Charism. Now that you have touched on the foundation, elements, and history of the Cistercians we suggest you more deeply learn the ways of a monk’s life. It is through awareness of the Rule, Cistercian history, and the life of a monk we laypeople begin to sense ways whereby we can adopt/adapt the monastic way into our daily life.
Read The Cistercian Way by Andre Louf or The Way of Simplicity by Esther De Waal
Unit 6. Psalms and the Cistercians
Recall in Unit 2 we noted the pulse of the monastery, a heartbeat of the liturgical hours. As we look more deeply at the Opus Dei (the work of God) we are led more deeply into the importance of the Psalms in the life of a monk. The daily prayers visit the Psalms and the lectio divina can often return to the Psalms. We are encouraged to delve more deeply and suggest the following helpful books:
Read Praying the Psalms by Thomas Merton
Reflection on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis
Unit 7. Integrating the Cistercian life into the candidate’s life—apply the charism in our lives.
Recall, during our Introduction we read the LCG Plan of Life. We prepared a journey map for us to guide our path. We now suggest you take some time to return and reread (in lectio style) the LCG Plan of Life.
Also, at this time take time to read Fr. Michal Casagram Towards the Formation of LCG Members to see how to integrate the Cistercian monastic way into your lay life.
Finally, look at the IALCC Identity Document. Prepared by lay Cisercians in 2008 it affirms a common understanding and life shared by lay Cistercians around the world. Do you find your own identify is somewhat congruent with the Identity expressed by our sisters and brothers?
Unit 8. Application of the charism in the life of the LCG community
LCG Promises on becoming a Member
Participation in the life of the LCG Local Community
Continuing formation in community.
Unit 9. Reflection and Prayer
Looking again at the early plans and any revisions: how has the formation process developed?
Identify areas where progress has been made.
Identify areas for continued application.