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Homily for February 17, 2022 – The 6th Thursday in Ordinary Time

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO

The 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 poor.

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 afterward 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.