Solemnity of Three Cistercian Founders:
Sts. Robert, Alberic and Stephen
Sirach 44:1,10-14; Hebrews 11:2,8-26; Mark10:24-30
“Let us praise famous men.” This opening phrase of today’s first reading is calculated to stimulate reflection that takes us deep into the spirit of the Bible. It raises the question, for thoughtful readers as to what makes a person famous. The Jerusalem Bible translates the Greek original (eudokisos) as “illustrious” which certainly is better adapted to these saints of our Order in our days. A person can be famous or renowned for the wrong reason, but only the deserving present e truly shining example of humanity. If we Cistercians honor these three founders of our Order it is surely because they were men who devoted themselves wholeheartedly to union with God. The more we learn about the character and actions of these three founders the more we realize how greatly they differed in personality. At the same time we become aware of the determination with which they dedicated their lives to the service and glory of God. This dedication to God, and the love of Christ is what united them and preserved them in fidelity.
Lively faith in God , the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews affirms, has the paradoxical effect of making the fervent believer a stranger on earth. He describes Abraham and Sarah as strangers and nomads on the earth, while making it clear they were anchored in heaven. Our founders certainly experienced their call into an uncultivated solitude as making them strangers to the society of their time. As did Saint Bernard after them, active as he was in Church politics. He stated as much on one occasion, speaking of himself as a paradox. To live for the coming world where God is all in all is to be sustained by hope, not by the visible world so familiar to our senses. True wisdom is given only to those who willingly acknowledge being a pilgrim on the earth. Abraham ,, the author of this epistle reminds us, was called from his homeland to wander as a stranger in a foreign country.
Saint Mark tells us in the Gospel we have just heard that it is very difficult to possess wealth and to be acceptable to God. These words of Jesus made such an impression on our Founders that it put them at odds with their Benedictine community. Because Saint Alberic affirmed it strongly and persistently he was put in prison by his fellow monks. Poverty was the issue to led to the foundation of Citeaux in a poor and isolated area. They were not satisfied to be poor in spirit but, following Jesus’ own example and teaching, staked their lives on a very real poverty.
May this commemoration of our Saintly Founders, Robert, Alberic, and Stephen strengthen us in our dedication to the monastic life they so courageously founded.