Cistercian Vocation to the Congregation of Zirc
|"Ardere et lucere"|
Where shall I go?
Would you like to be a creative man? A writer, scientist, engineer, doctor, technician, inventor, organizer? Would you like to have a happy married and family life? A sweet, understanding wife, cheerful, lively children? Would you like independent security? Your own house, suitable job and remuneration, appreciation and good health? Do you wish to have great freedom? Want to travel, see the world, experience, learn, achieve your ideals, thoughts, ventures? All of this could be nice, splendid, and according to the designs of God, but it is not easy to achieve any of them. If you do reach your goal, even then you will be happy only if you accept that: "I have got everything from God and He could take them from me." Think of the words of apostle Paul: "What is there that you have not been given?" (1 Cor 4:7)
Is there something that is even nicer than these, much grander?! Could it be that the Lord is calling you to that? To come very close to God who is the source of all truth, beauty and goodness, creator and provider of everything. To learn to pray progressively better, that is to converse with him, to discover more and more his ways, plans, love and purpose. To be close to the only truly great fire, to be in the service of the greatest Lord. Living with him and in him to understand more your life, the world, people, the past, present and the future - and to pass on to others this understanding with apostolic responsibility and eager love. In all this the Cistercian Order's Abbey of Zirc assists those young people who apply for acceptance into its community, and whose personality is suited to the Cistercian monastic vocation. It provides for them those circumstances of living that are necessary for the development of a prayerful life:
Prayerful brotherly community,
Order in life and order in daily activities,
Deeper understanding of the Bible and the truths of God entrusted to the Church,
Silence and a certain confinement that protects one from the noise, intrusion and temptations of the world,
Appropriate leaders in the spiritual life and the advancement of one's studies.
First you need to study theology so that later you can actively contribute to the building of Christ's Church. The specific sphere of work of the Abbey of Zirc is to educate the youth at secondary school level. For this reason the monks are trained first of all as teachers. You can train in other professions for which the community has a need, and you have aptitude. After you qualify, the abbot will try to place you in work commensurate with your abilities and training. Naturally, one must consider the interests of the abbey, so you must accept those tasks, too, that may seem unusual to you. Whatever your task, you will perform it for Christ, so that you may serve and love Christ in every person. The Cistercian monk lives for Christ, His people and His Church. He proclaims with his life that God loves us, he created every person for eternal happiness. He gladly abandons everything that hinders him in his love and gratitude toward God. He bears witness to the fact that only the acceptance of God's reign gives true and lasting happiness. The realization of His reign will be the coming promised happy kingdom to which we are all invited, where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).
When can I say 'yes' to the calling?
- If my bodily health is appropriate for community living, for successful work and for priestly service.
- If I am not very demanding with regard to material possessions and meals.
- If I have the readiness to learn and acquire all that is necessary for monastic living, for the work of a priest and the tasks that need to be performed in the community.
- If I have the basic personal character and abilities for living a monastic life.
If I trust God that he will give me everything that is really necessary.
If my personality brings peace and not arguments, discord.
If it is not only an escape from the world that leads me, but the joy of meeting the Lord, the happiness of serving Him.
If it is not performance and glittering that I want but to serve the people of Jesus in humility and faithfulness.
If I am community oriented and can fit in with the ways of others.
- If I can accept the hardships with humour.
- If I freely undertake the diligent search for God, the following of Jesus Christ, and am ready to persevere in this.
If the love of Jesus fills my heart and I want to reciprocate with all my strength. If I can serve gladly his people, his Church, and pass on the good news, the Gospel.
All this may seem too much, you are left in uncertainty about one or other points. Don't lose heart on that account, your character is still developing. The Lord will help you to overcome your weaknesses. Before you make your decision your priest or the person appointed by the abbot will also assist so that you can clarify your calling. Then you can boldly say, like young Samuel did with the guidance of Eli: "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." (1 Sam 1:10)
The doubts of modern man
Can I commit myself for my whole life? I can't say in advance how my personality will develop. If something might attract me later that I now plan to leave behind. It is undeniable that you can venture to commit yourself for life only if you trust in the grace of God. If you readily follow his word that calls you, he will help you to be faithful and to persevere. Your life will be hinged on fulfilment on the Day of the Lord. You will witness to the world that the temporary is soon overtaken by the eternal, the earthly exile by the happy homecoming. None of us can tell how long we have still ahead of us on this earth. Don't forget that a trial year (noviciate) and a temporary vow precedes your final decision. Are you concerned perhaps about the difficulty of fitting in with the monastic brothers? True, the shared ideals might bring about a spiritual unity, but each person brings with himself a different upbringing, customs, expectations, and these can not be changed easily. If you approach them humbly enough, the Lord will help you to accept and put up with their differences, together with their weaknesses, and bear yourself towards them with respect and love. Remember that the others will have to adjust to you, too. Maybe the strong dependence also makes you indecisive. You have to obey rules, superiors, procedures. You have to give up your personal career, your "self-fulfilment". But note well, if you are seeking your own self, you are seeking for nothing because you cannot create happiness for yourself. Those people are fulfilled who do not seek for self, but live for others, who are serving the good of their brothers and in them Jesus Christ. If you are seeking God, if you trust in his love and faithfulness, he will present you with happiness. Even in the midst of your trials the Kingdom of God is yours (cf. Mt 5:3-10)
Cistercians belong to the monks whose father and master is Saint Benedict. Other orders also follow his rules, among them the Benedictines and the Cistercians. St Benedict formed the monastic community on the style of the family. The head of each monastery is its father, the abbot, whom the monks choose for life, or at least for a lengthy period of time. They look upon one another as brothers, and each tries to outdo the others in attention and love, and to perform his own task well in the interest of the community. The abbot, head of the family, follows his sons' spirituality and development with loving attention and provision. His main concern is the creation and guidance of a truly family community. For the monks the community is "a school for the service of the Lord" (Prologue to the Rule No 45) in which the good deeds, and love bring them closer and closer to God. They obey their abbot as their father, regard him as the representative of Christ (Rule 2,2). Neither in the monastery nor in any outside work do they seek personal success, but in all their words and actions they represent and build the community, even if temporarily they have to live and work away from the community. The family spirit rooted in Christ, the "one heart one spirit" community where "nobody holds anything for his own, but everything is shared", this is what the Cistercians regard as their particular characteristic and mission (cf. Acts 4:32). The most important part of St Benedict's monastic life are prayer, the liturgy, that is praise of God, the service of God (opus Dei, divinum officium): holy mass together, the Liturgy of the Hours said together in the name of the Church and for the upbuilding of the Church. The Cistercian monk is already practising here on earth that which in the life to come will be his vocation and happiness: the praise of God, the glorification of the Lord in the community of the saints. He knows that joint prayer in which the hearts beat united in brotherly love is particularly dear to the Lord. Joint praise of God forms the regular activities of the day, it is the corner portion. Joint holy mass, the daily Eucharist, the Divine Office said or sung together with Christ and the brothers, these are the axis to which everything is hinged, from which all gets light and strength. The Cistercians' praise of God is, in its outer appearance, a striving after noble simplicity, in its inner essence a search for depth and devotion. Through prayer, silence, composed and orderly life, the monastery is especially suited for experiencing the presence of God. Communal prayer is brought to life and deepened by the monks' personal spiritual and mental nourishment, the lectio. Reading and praying the Bible he endeavours more and more to recognize the Lord's word. Studying, reflecting upon and mentally taking in the writings of the Fathers of the Church, Christian writers, council documents and the apostolic letters of the Pope the monk feels and thinks more and more jointly with the mystical body of Christ, the Church. He looks with deep respect on the Blessed Virgin, the Grand Lady of our Order and our churches, who accomplished to perfection the love toward God, and whose life of humility, sacrifice, simplicity of obedience, her peace that is attentive to the Holy Spirit, and her joy are brilliant examples for the monastic life. This is the way in which the Kingdom of God: truth, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17) could begin within us also. The Rules of St Benedict organised the monastic life in such a way that prayer, work and rest should alternate proportionately every day in accord with human nature. It did not prescribe what kind of work the monks should be performing. In the middle ages they endeavoured to produce and make by their own hands everything that they needed for their living. This became more and more unsuitable due to the differentiation of product lines. During the past three centuries their livelihood was secured through working either in a branch of manufacturing (food production, printing, bookbinding, gardening, etc.) or activity in the spiritual and mental enrichment of people: leading retreats, priestly duties, education and teaching. From 1814 the Hungarian Cistercians committed themselves primarily to the education and training of young people in the secondary school age group. They accepted responsibility for provision and upkeep of three grammar schools to start with, then four, and from 1912 five schools (Eger, Székesfehérvár, Pécs, Baja, Budepest). In 1948 they lost all of these due to expropriation by the State, and after 1950 they were not even allowed to accept those young people who wanted training for the monastic life. Forty years later, when the Order is permitted to function again in Hungary, the monks are turning once more to the secondary school age group, trying to serve by the teaching of catechism on the one hand, and the reinforcement of educators on the other hand. They are preparing the ground for those young brothers who are now studying to be able gradually to engage in the education and training of the youth. The monks take their share in priestly duties also, first of all at those parishes that are in the care of the abbey of Zirc: Zirc and surroundings, and at Buda, too. Those monks who follow in the footsteps of St Benedict summarize their life's ambitions in the motto: Pray and work (Ora et labora). The Cistercians, based on the ideals of St Bernard, converted it as follows: Glow and shine (Ardere et lucere). Today this means that the inner life nourished through communal and private prayer is linked to the apostolic activities of spiritual service and Christian education.
The steps of acceptance
Those who apply for acceptance into the community of the abbey of Zirc have a personal interview with the abbot or his representative in order to clarify their calling. If the abbot accepts their application they will spend a few weeks or months, as candidate, in the study house. This is followed by their dressing into the habit and the start of the trial year, the noviciate. During this the novice becomes closer acquainted with the life of the Order. If he holds out by his decision, at the end of the noviciate he can make a temporary vow for a three year period, which he later repeats. Meantime he completes his studies in theology, after which he can make a ceremonial final vow which enables him to become a member of the community with full rights. This is followed by his ordination into the priesthood. Meantime he starts, then continues his specific studies which, according to Hungarian traditions will be directed mostly toward obtaining qualification as a teacher at secondary school level. The three components of our monastic vow, according to the ancient formular are: steadfastness (stabilitas), turning toward God (conversio) and obedience (obedientia). With the vow of steadfastness the monk becomes a member of the community of the abbey of Zirc. He is built into this monastic family and will persevere in it to the end. He shares with his brothers all his goods and benefits, spiritual and mental treasures, he prays and works with them, tries together with them to display the love that Christ taught us. For the monk the meaning of turning toward God is attained by following fully and living out the three evangelical advices: chastity, poverty and obedience. His undertaking to live on earth a celibate life in total continence through chastity will be a holy sign in the world of eternal life. Poverty is a close following of Christ who became poor for us so that he could make us rich. A Cistercian monk calls nothing his own, everything belongs to the community according to the directions of the abbot, including that which he brought with him and that which he obtains through his work. His superiors, however, take care of his provisions and supply the necessary tools for his work. Obedience means the humble, devoted acceptance of and compliance with the Rules of St Benedict and the detailed regulations of the Congregation of Zirc, the willing performance of the instructions of the abbot.
"Thirst for a single object,
your only concern should be: where is Christ,
and serve him in countless brothers,
for Christ lives in them - in many different ways."
(Isaac de Stella, Cistercian writer of the 12th century)
* photos by Veronika, Cistercian sister