"Our order means learning to be silent, to fast, to keep watch, to pray, to work with our hands, and above all to cling to that most excellent way which is love."
- Bernard of Clairvaux
Our way of life can be described by considering its various aspects, which combine like facets of a diamond to create a uniquely beautiful whole.
Cistercian life is cenobitic
Cenobitic life is life in community. It has been said that the human being is a social being, and togetherness can bring out the best in us: cooperation, compassion, tolerance and mutual care. On the other hand, togetherness can also bring out the worst: anger, dissention, factions and violence. But in good times and bad, the blessing of communion, however imperfectly realized, is infinitely preferable to the curse of isolation. In the monastery we choose to commit ourselves to a stable community which is a school of mutual love, because we want to be of one heart and one mind, holding all things in common. We take courage in our struggle to bear one another's burdens from the promise of Jesus, "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20), and we hope that our efforts to live together in peace will bear fruit in our world, which is so much in need of peace.
"Here is my sin standing before me -
this lack of oblative love for my brothers."
- Christophe Lebreton, OCSO
Cistercian life is mystical
Mysticism is about the experience of God. It does not have to mean extraordinary experiences such as visions or levitations. More often it is as simple and humble as an inner awareness of a presence too subtle to grasp or comprehend, but real - perhaps more real than anything else. This presence creeps into ordinary daily awareness in the kitchen or on the train or at the grocery store or in the woods or in church. And it brings with it the certainty that this is truly God's world and I am truly God's child. If you have ever felt, however fleetingly, that you could "see," "hear," "touch," "smell," or "taste" God, then you know something about mystical experience. In the monastery we seek to cultivate receptivity to such awareness, and we do this through disciplining the outer senses so that the inner senses can develop. By embracing solitude and silence we seek to open ourselves to God's whispering voice in every circumstance of our lives. We feed our spirits on the Word of God day in and day out, so that it may become our own and transform us from the inside out into the likeness of Christ.
Cistercian life is ascetical
Asceticism means the struggle to be a better person. We would like to be less self-centered, less divided within ourselves, less prone to inconsistency between our values and our behavior. We would like to be free from being (if we are really honest) "naked, insufficient, disgruntled and malicious" (Thomas Merton). So how can we be unified, simplified and purified? Only by cooperating with God's grace offered at every moment. In the monastery we choose the way of poverty and simplicity, humility and obedience, vigils and fasting, hard work and the hidden life. There can be no mysticism without asceticism, just as there is no true asceticism that is not open to mysticism.
"Self-denial and renunciation involve a basic shift from seeing life as a gift received to seeing it as a gift-to-be-offered. It means acting out of the knowledge that life flows abundantly when it is surrendered. Those who break free from their own center discover a center that has no bounds."
- Bernardo Oliveira, OCSO
Cistercian life is in the Church and for the world
The monastery, or the "Church of the desert," is one with the "Church of the world." We strive to remain in harmony with the people of God, actively desiring the unity of all Christians and the salvation of the whole human race. We welcome any and all fellow-pilgrims to share in our place of prayer and peace. But ours is a hidden mode of apostolic fruitfulness, not apparent in external works such as schools or hospitals, and mostly hidden from ourselves as well. This demands faith in the particular form of service to the Church and the world to which God has called us, and fidelity to all that this way of life asks of us. Over time, we grow in a felt sense of solidarity, coming to know deeply that the wounds of the world are my wounds; my own wounds are not separate from theirs: all are the wounds of Christ.
"Although [s]he may seem to be free from the activity and building up of the world, the monk is in fact deeply concerned with it. H[er] choice of life brings her immediately to that place where the world must be brought to birth in the presence of God. [Sh]e is inspired by that immense and ever-active yearning which runs through all creation, and strives to bring about the transformation of the Universe."
- Andre Louf, OCSO
Cistercian life is consecrated to Mary
Each community of the Order and all the nuns are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Like much of our Cistercian life, our devotion to Mary is simple, but profound, and often obscure. This is expressed in our practice of naming monasteries and individual sisters after her, though this is often hidden in ordinary speech (E.g. Mount Saint Mary's Abbey, but (Our Lady of) St Joseph's Abbey; Sr Mariann, but Sr (Mary) Jennifer). Mary is like a fragrance one catches upon entering a room, as if someone has recently passed through, or is perhaps hiding somewhere within. She is mother, friend and companion, image of what we are to become. Like her we are called to become life-givers, bearers of the world and all people. She is all God's and so all ours, everywhere, always.
"The blessed Fruit of your womb, O Holy Mother, left you pregnant with inexhaustible tenderness."
- Guerric of Igny
Cistercian life is centered on Christ
Jesus Christ is the reason for our life. Following him is our deepest desire, and as we come to know him more intimately, his cross becomes our joy and we yearn to be one with him in laying down our lives as bread for the life of the world.
"Only if the sisters prefer nothing whatever to Christ will they be happy to persevere in a life that is ordinary, obscure and laborious."
- OCSO Constitutions, 3.5