2012 repost. Re-reading this made me ache for a Trappist monastery to hide in for a while.
From my journal kept on retreat at New Melleray Trappist monastery in New Melleray, Iowa in January, 2010:
I’m at 3:30 a.m. Vigils on this Friday morning of my silent retreat. There’s a dim light behind me, but the whole church is enveloped in darkness. The monks are sitting in their choir stalls reflecting on what we just heard.
A monk just read an excerpt from the life of a Trappist monk from Nigeria named Fr. Cyprian. At the age of 61, the story went, he suddenly fell ill (unbeknownst to anyone) with what sounds to me like gangrene in his intestines. After Cyprian failed to show for the communal Divine Office, the Abbot sought him out and found him on the floor of his cell writhing in pain. The Abbot quickly called for an ambulance. As the monks gathered and waited there with him, trying to comfort him, Cyprian said, “Brothers, this is why we are here.”
The reader left off at, “…this is why we are here.” The Abbey church has fallen silent and dark, illumined only by the flickering sanctuary light and the light behind me. We’re left to reflect on those stark words in this stillness. I can hear my breathing.
Why are we here, Cyprian? I imagine him enduring that excruciating pain as a redemptive offering. He surely was keenly aware he stood at the threshold of eternity. I can see him looking into the faces of his compassionate brethren, seeing Christ in those moments of tender and desperate love. All of these could be “why we are here.”
I wonder how one can enter so fully into such deep mystery, discovering in one’s terrible pain unspeakable intimacy with Christ writhing, gasping, dying.
This morning I heard at Mass that Fr. Cyprian is Blessed Cyprian (d. 1964). Wow. This day is his liturgical feast day in the Trappist Order. The Abbot celebrating morning Mass, and shared his reflections on this holy monk:
Vocation defines our life’s meaning. We were first called into existence — our first vocation is to exist — and then our lives unfold as an dramatic story of heeded and unheeded calls from God…if we heed we are, as Mother Teresa put it, pencils in the hand of a writing God, invited write God’s Word with our lives…we meditate on His Word day and night that we might know the divine vocabulary and syntax, that our lives might be well-written…saints are grace writ large, living words, able interpreters of the Word come down from heaven…Cyprian became that living text for us to read with our eyes and proclaim with our lives…for him, the whole way to heaven was heaven, and nothing of life — neither the best nor the worst — is to be excluded from one’s calling to be a faithful scribe of the Kingdom…for Cyprian, life was Christ, death was gain and suffering was the grammar of love…like St. Ignatius of Loyola he vowed to give and not to count the cost…may the Lord remove all obstacles that prevent us from doing the same.
Indeed, Cyprian, this is why we are here. Deo gratias.