- The Abbey of the Genesee - https://www.geneseeabbey.org -

February 20,. 2020

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO

6th Thursday in Ordinary Time

An important part of the Cistercian spirit is to be what our Fathers called pauperes
cum paupere Christo, poor with the poor Christ. The reason for our voluntary poverty
is given by St James in the first reading: “God chose those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom that he promised to those who love him”.

To be poor in the way that Christ was poor means that we place our treasure, not in
anything that can be bought, but in God’s love for us. There is our true wealth, and
there is no limit to it. When we are rich in this faith, then our heart is rightly
orientated by it; we become detached from earthly goods and all that money can buy.
Our wealth is in our faith that we are in God’s hand and heirs to his Kingdom, and
therefore we can rely totally on him and expect everything from him: our daily bread,
our daily grace, our daily forgiveness. That was the way that Christ taught us to be

However, the early Cistercians went further than this, just as St James does. In the
same passage in which he speaks about the poor, he says, “fulfill the royal law
according to the Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. With the same
kind of realism, our Fathers also linked poverty to brotherly love: the place in which
we are poor with the poor Christ is the monastery, the school of charity. If we are to
be poor, it is so that we can love and help the poor and the weak in our community,
every one of whom bears the face of the poor Christ. The meaning of Christ and the
intimate meaning of poverty are linked together, and neither one can be understood
unless the way we think is not as human beings do, but as God does.

That is the striking fact about Cistercian life. The poor Christ comes to us through the
poor monks. In an important passage in the Gospel of St Matthew, Christ solemnly
declares that he is identified with the poor, that our attitude towards them reflects our
attitude to him. He says, “I was hungry and you fed me, sick and you took care of
me….Whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine,
you did it for me!”

The poor and the weak, our brothers, are thus consecrated as the
sacraments of Christ. Every day they make up in their own bodies what is lacking to
the sufferings of Christ for his body, the Church. Each of our poor brothers is a living
paschal mystery, destined to suffer greatly, to submit to death, and afterwards to rise
again. God chose each of them to be the poor Christ in this monastery, and if what we
say to the least of them, we say to Christ, then we can speak up like Peter and truly
say to each of them, “You are the Christ” – perhaps hidden under the form of
weakness, but still the Christ.

Then let us glorify the Lord in this place where the poor Christ dwells. Let us look
towards him in the bread and the wine and be radiant. For when Christ the poor man
called, we heard him in our brother, and rescued him from all his distress. And
Christ’s praise, like his Body and Blood, shall be always on our lips.