Christ has a saying in this morning’s Gospel which we can easily overlook. He says, “Gather the fragments left over”, meaning that when we have a spiritual grace given to us, we have a duty to cultivate and care for it “so that nothing will be wasted”. The crowds in the Gospel had this miraculously made bread given to them, but they had to make use of the ordinary means to preserve the supernatural gift.
Like every vocation, the monastic vocation is a gift given to us by a deeply personal call from God. And if we are Cistercian monks, we have the spirit of our Founders given as a patrimony to us, but we have to take care of this gift. We have to use wisely and not waste the grace of a monastic vocation, this Bread of God that came down from heaven. Otherwise that grace of God will not nourish your monastic life. You have to provide the basket in which to carry the fragments left over from the grace of your monastic profession.
Otherwise you may stand hungry in the very midst of the monastery, when all around you there is bread enough and to spare, to nourish each generation of Cistercian monks. What Christ says to us this morning is: Be watchful stewards of that great gift of a Cistercian patrimony, the food of your souls as monks, which was given to you by the miracle of your vocation.
There are perhaps three ways in which we can gather the unused fragments left over from the grace of our monastic profession. First, there has to be a diligent use of the grace given. We are responsible for making full use of the grace of our profession in our day-to-day lives as monks. We nourish our vocation by spending time in private prayer, by making time for reading monastic literature, by doing manual labor and other jobs for the community, and by making our own particular contribution to the life of the community. One reason why some monks leave the monastery is because they are not really working at responding to the grace they received at their profession.
The second thing which is essential for this kind of stewardship of our vocation is to guard it from whatever would weaken it. That means limiting our contacts with those outside the monastery (which shouldn’t be too difficult in a time of pandemic), keeping watch over our thought patterns, and generally doing those ascetic practices that monks have always done as part of their vocation. None of the anxieties or pleasure of life should take such a large place in our hearts that we prefer them to Christ.
Finally, a monk is someone with a strong desire for God, and this desire can grow. The basket that we carry, this recipient heart of ours, is elastic. The desire for more of God’s grace will stretch its capacity, and a larger Christ will fill the larger room of my poor heart. So let us gather each day something of the grace left over from our profession, so that nothing of that initial grace gets wasted, but that in all things, in all of our days, in life and in death, God may be glorified.