Come away to a lonely place all by yourselves and rest awhile.
Mark 6: 31
Psalm 42: 2
Psalm 96: 12
Psalm 46: 10
Matthew 6: 6
I arrived to find the monastery blanketed in snow. It seemed as if even nature itself wanted to observe silence in that place. It is an all-penetrating silence; it has seeped into the stones of the buildings, into the very ground they stand upon. It is a silence you can almost hear.
It is the sound of prayer, the song of peace. If you are fortunate, it is a small, still voice, somewhere near your heart. If you really listen, you might find out something you need to know.
I entered the monastery not quite knowing what I was looking for. I wondered, and I prayed. Chances are, I prayed for you. When you have hours to devote to prayer, you find yourself praying for everyone and everything. I do, anyway. That is the easy part. It's a lead-in to the real questions: " Who do you say that I am?" and "Who am I?"
And you pray until your soul is rubbed raw, and you realize that, in the main, your life has been a failure and a fraud. Almost every day, you have failed to live the Gospel; almost every day, you have lived the worst sort of lies, the ones you tell to yourself.
And then you find mercy and grace. It was not you who chose me; it was I who chose you. Before you were born, I called you by name. It is almost impossible to communicate anything about grace to another person. It is not, after all, a thing in the usual sense. It is the very spirit of God acting within us.
Still, I would say that grace begins with the capacity to believe ourselves loved. Only then can we even begin to shine forth the Divine love on those around us. Be merciful, and you shall find mercy. And the mercy of God is far beyond human understanding. The Hebrew word chesed, which we translate as "mercy," encompasses much more than compassion. It is strength, fidelity, love, sanctity and more.
When a man enters a Cistercian monastery, he is asked a ritual question: What do you seek? The answer is: The mercy of God and of the Order. Perhaps that is what I was looking for too. Perhaps it was what I needed to find. God knows.
Trappist monks seem severe from a distance. They often appear to ignore both you and the other monks. They usually pass in a swish of robes, eyes down. It is in their rule. Should you catch a glimpse of their faces, though, you will find something else. Even the most elderly monk has the eyes of a child and a radiant smile. He has found what he was seeking.
What do you seek?