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Homily for May 11, 2022 – For the Holy Abbots of Cluny

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO

For the Holy Abbots of Cluny

If you read only the early Cistercians about the monastery of Cluny, you could get a very distorted view of what the life there was like. In fact, today’s feast is a reminder that all of the 10th-century abbots of Cluny are canonized saints, and the abbot at the time of St Bernard was Blessed Peter the Venerable, who is also commemorated today.

The main goal of the Cluniac reform was to guarantee the central role that the Liturgy must have in Christian life. The Cluniac monks devoted themselves with love and great care to the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, to the singing of Psalms, to frequent processions, and above all, to the celebration of the Mass. They promoted sacred music, they wanted architecture and art to contribute to the beauty and solemnity of the rites; they enriched the liturgical calendar with special celebrations such as, for example, at the beginning of November, the Commemoration of All Souls; and they promoted devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Great importance was given to the Liturgy because the monks of Cluny were convinced that it was a participation in the liturgy of heaven, in the presence of the angels. And the monks felt responsible for interceding at the altar of God for the living and the dead, given that large numbers of the faithful were always asking them to be remembered in prayer.

To preserve and foster this atmosphere of prayer, the Cluniac Rule emphasized the importance of silence, a discipline which the monks willingly practiced, because the Benedictine life demands a deep and constant recollection. It’s not surprising that before long the monastery of Cluny gained a reputation for holiness and that many other monastic communities decided to follow its discipline.

These holy Abbots are certainly a great example of monastic holiness. For Blessed Peter the Venerable, the ideal of the monk consists in clinging to Christ, in a cloistered life distinguished by monastic humility and hard work, as well as an atmosphere of silent contemplation and constant praise of God. The first and most important occupation of the monk, according to Blessed Peter the Venerable, is the solemn celebration of the Divine Office, which he calls “a heavenly action and the most useful of all”. That was accompanied by reading, meditation, personal prayer and penance observed with discretion.

In this way the whole of life is pervaded by profound love of God and love of others, a love that is expressed in sincere openness to our neighbor, in forgiveness and in the quest for peace. To sum up, we might say that if this lifestyle, combined with daily work, was the monk’s ideal for St Benedict, it also concerns all of us and can be to a large extent the lifestyle of the Christian who wants to become an authentic disciple of Christ, characterized precisely by clinging to him and by humility, diligence and the capacity for forgiveness and peace.