What a Cistercian Loves

The heart of a Cistercian monk or nun is, ultimately, given entirely to the person of Jesus. But monks and nuns over the centuries have learned that certain ways of living support and intensify an intimate relationship with the Lord. We love and actively cultivate these distinctive ways of being human. Below are descriptions of these habits of being under their Greek names by which monks have known them for almost two thousand years.


A person possessing this quality, has no place to call his "home"; no fixed abode upon which he might base a false sense of security. Why should having no place to call "home" be something a monk loves? Because it is the way Jesus Christ lived while he was on earth. As the Lord said of himself, "The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head." Paradoxically, this love of the life of an exile, moves a Cistercian to stay put in his cell which is for him, a place at the outermost edge of this world; the ante-chamber of heaven.



Anachoresis — SOLITUDE

This ancient word refers to one of a nun's greatest loves—solitude. For centuries, nuns have spoken of a very distinctive experience of solitude which they describe as being "alone with the Alone". (The allure exercised by the "Alone" on a nun's heart does not diminish love or acts of love toward her neighbor but actually gives human love a new and vibrant impetus). Along with work and prayer, solitude represents one of the primary obligations of a nun.



This quality is of the essence of the spirituality of monks and nuns. To be sorry for his sins, draws a Cistercian deep into the mystery of his own heart. Learning the truth about himself, the Cistercian becomes more thoughtful; not so ready to trust his own opinions about things; more willing to listen to what others have to say. This does not mean he takes a somber or depressing view of himself. Admitting, at last, the truth of what he has become, he is animated by an amazing new courage and hope inspired by certainty of God's mercy.

Diakrisis — DISCRETION

According to Anthony of Egypt, the "grandfather" of Christian monasticism, discretion is the "mother of all the virtues"; the virtue that enables a person to exercise all the others to one's benefit. Unless they are watched over and guided by discretion, the other virtues, fasting, the practice of prayer, manual labor, study, etc. will go astray and tend to excess.




A nun doesn't worry about things. It is an expression of faith and love to trust that God will provide for us what we really need. A beautiful and ancient expression of this trust for nuns is material poverty, that is, detachment from material possessions, with the belief that God's grace makes us rich.



Hesychia — INNER QUIET

This is the sweet repose experienced in contemplation of God and His mysteries, especially the mystery of His incarnate Son. Inner quiet is the "crown" of a Cistercian's life and a foretaste of heaven. Cistercians tend to say little about this aspect of their life because to do so would call other people's attention to their personal experience of contemplation. Most of us prefer for our intimate prayer to God to be hidden from other people and known only by God.

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