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

January 26, 2020

Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO 

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Solemnity of the Founders of the Cistercian Order
Si 44:1, 10-15; He 11:1-2, 8-16; Mk 10:24b-30

About half an hour from where I grew up there was a State Hospital. That’s where people with Downs Syndrome and other severe disabilities were kept. At times they would take the more mobile ones on outings. I remember seeing them all lined up in their wheelchairs and stuff watching the Veterans’ Day Parade.

In July of 1986, my mother was interviewed as part of a local history series. The following story is from that interview and took place before I and my next brother up were born. My mother relates:

They used to have rodeos out at the Rocky Hill Arena. It was fun. The Porterville Saddle Club, or whatever they called them, put them on. We took the children. I think this was sometime in the late ‘fifties. We had all of our eight children. We filed in and sat on the bleachers and enjoyed it. We thought maybe we had better leave before the traffic crush — they were down to about the last bronco or whatever they were doing. So we started to file down the steps toward the bottom of the stand. Just as we got down opposite the section where the mentally retarded from the State Hospital were, the announcer over across the field said, “We are so pleased to have the State Hospital people as our guests. Will they please all stand up.” And here we were right in the front! I thought that was so funny!!

Today we celebrate the founders of our Cistercian Order: Sts. Robert, Alberic, and Stephen. Now, you may be wondering what my mother’s story has to do today’s feast. So I want to make it very clear that I was NOT inferring that living with the monks of Genesee is like being surrounded by a bunch of retarded people! But I WOULD like to draw from the story that we are identified with the company we keep. In fact, I would go even further and say that we are INFLUENCED by the people and things that we surround ourselves with. That means that we have to choose our friends and surroundings well.

I think our founding fathers realized this well when in 1098 the little group of 21 monks broke away from the Abbey of Molesme and settled in Citeaux. They were on fire with enthusiasm and fervor and wanted to follow the Rule of Benedict in all its purity. The watered down version of the Rule that was being followed at Molesme was distasteful to them. They knew if they didn’t make a break they would eventually become lax like the other people in that environment.

And I think this was one of the main things that occurred to me when I felt the call to monastic life. I realized that I was easily influenced by the things around me. It seemed like inside a monastery the majority of things were pulling me TOWARD God, whereas, outside the monastery the majority of things were pulling me AWAY from God. It just made a lot of sense to surround myself with GOOD influences.

Say that you’re making a pot of stew. Potatoes don’t have a lot of flavor in themselves. But depending on what other things are in that pot, they’re going to have a lot of influence on the flavor and coloring of those potatoes when they’re ladled out into a bowl.

And following on this metaphor, eating healthy will greatly increase our chances of BEING healthy. You are what you eat. Or, as the computer saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” If we eat junk food all the time, it will eventually catch up with us.

Well, in the same way that we should be careful about what we feed our body, we should be careful about what we feed our soul or spirit. Too much of a diet of worldly things will make us worldly. In the same way that a well-disciplined athlete monitors what he nourishes his body with and the amount of sleep he gets, someone serious about his spiritual life needs to have the self-discipline to make time for prayer everyday, do spiritual reading, and try to make it to weekday Mass sometimes.

We are what we read. Our souls are influenced by our diet. What kind of books do we read? What kind of magazines or newspapers? What things catch our eyes as we surf the internet? At the end of a week, if we added up all the minutes we spent reading, what portion of those minutes would be nourishing for our souls? A little bit of diversion and entertainment is fine, but if it’s crowding out our spiritual life, then something is awry.

We need to choose our friends well. Parents always worry as their kids go away to school that they will fall in with the wrong crowd. If the people we find ourselves associating with on a regular basis are negative or gossipers, don’t be surprised if their attitudes start rubbing off on us.

Today, maybe we can take stock of which direction our life is drifting, and, like a ship, determine what harbor we would like to arrive at, and make the necessary adjustments.