OCTOBER 24, 2012 - DEDICATION OF ABBEY CHURCH

Luke 19:1-10

Abbey Church

"TODAY'S FEAST, BROTHERS, SHOULD BE THE MORE DEVOUTLY OBSERVED AS IT IS THE MORE PERSONAL.  Other solemnities of the saints we have in common with other churches, however, this one is proper to us, so that if we do not celebrate it, no one will."  With these words Saint Bernard opened the first of his six extant sermons on the feast of the dedication of the first Church at his monastery of Clairvaux.   From the tone and the whole content of his various talks to his community on this feast it is evident that the yearly liturgical memorial of the dedication of the community Church engaged the abbot and monks not only spiritually but also affectively.   For, as Bernard goes on to point out, this celebration has as its theme not only the walls of the Church building and the sanctity attaching to them as a result of their original consecration.   More significantly, as he states the matter:   "So your souls are holy because of the dwelling of the Spirit of God in you; your bodies are holy because of your souls; the building is holy because of your bodies. . .  God is marvelous in his saints, not only in heavenly ones, but also in those on earth., beatifying the ones in heaven, sanctifying those on earth."   This statement of Saint Bernard sums up well the views and attitudes of our Cistercian regarding the Dedication Feast as a celebration in gratitude for community life.

Bernard interrupts his description of the feast to address a possible objection to his saying that this feast of the Dedication is ours because it is concerned with us.    "Perhaps", he observes, "You are surprised and even embarrassed to be celebrating a feast about yourself.   "Do not", he playfully advises, "be like a horse and a mule that have no understanding.   What holiness could these stones have that we should celebrate them with a feast? They are indeed holy, but because of your bodies."   Fortunately this symbolism of the stones that the abbot so strikingly interprets resonates forcibly in the case of the fabric of our own church walls.   For the stones that form the walls of this structure are particularly suited to serve as symbols both of the individual members of our community and of the Catholic Church as it exists through the ages.   They were collected by the hands of our monks from our own monastic lands where they were carried from hundreds of miles.   Finally they were deposited here by the melting of the great glacier that formed this valley some 29,000 years ago, changing, with its movements the course of the Genesee River to its present channel.   The granite stones themselves are a witness to "God's Providential care of our world. A visiting archeologist from Harvard after observing the walls told me some were one billion years old, others three billion so that these walls witness to a process of history that continues into our times fittingly reflecting the power and wisdom of God in time.   In this respect the Church serves as a symbol of Christ himself who is, as Saint Paul wrote, "the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24.) and active in creation of the universe.

Running all through Cistercian spirituality in the high period of its early expression especially in the twelfth century, was a keen awareness of the blessings of community life.   Bernard and other Cistercian abbots and monks lived a lifestyle that included a great deal of solitude, but at the same time was marked by a strong sense of fraternity, of belonging together in the same cause and same way of achieving their stated goal of union with God, Our community, then, like the walls of this building, is an expression of the Whole Christ as he exists through the ages and continues to grow and develop into a fullness destined for eternity.   Formed into one by faith and charity, bonded with all those who are joined in a transcendent mysterious union with our Head and Savior, we witness to the God of history and of creation, through our presence in this placed and in this Church.   This is the heart of what we celebrate today.   Again Saint Bernard expresses with enthusiasm the meaning of our active presence to celebrate this memorial Eucharist.   What he says here applies not only to monks but to those brothers and sisters united with us in our common faith "Yours, therefore, dearest brothers, yours is today's festivity.   You are dedicated to the Lord.   He has chosen you and taken you for his own."   By this Eucharist we give thanks to our God for the mercy He shows us in the gift of our communion in the Lord Jesus. Amen.


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger