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The Plan of Life for Lay Cistercians parallels elements that are characteristic of Cistercian monastic life. However, it is understood that persons who follow this guide are immersed in the cares and concerns of life in the secular world. By living their lives according to these guidelines, they would give a contemplative witness where they reside, work, pray, and share community.
Adopting the Plan of Life demonstrates a commitment to daily prayer, lectio, study, and time for silence. It also suggests that a person develop a disposition that is conducive to contemplative spirituality, as well as engage in some form of service or ministry in one's community. The Plan suggests the minimum commitment a person would make. The four major elements of the Plan of Life are:
Prayer is essential for spiritual growth. Prayer must be valued as an expression of our relationship with God, a relationship that is nurtured by a transformed consciousness of the presence of God in our inner depths. Our private contemplative prayer and participation in liturgical worship should be mutually supportive. One should include the following types of prayer in their daily/weekly prayer experiences:
One should prepare for and more attentively enter into the celebration of Sunday Eucharistic liturgy. Previewing and studying the Scripture readings for Sunday liturgy is recommended. (Note: For those Christians who are not Catholic but are interested in adopting the CLC Plan of Life, it would be expected that they participate in the Sunday public worship service of their primary faith community.)
Liturgy of the Hours
The celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Hours) has been a part of monastic liturgical tradition. The reforms of Vatican II have encouraged the restoration of the Liturgy of the Hours for all faithful as public prayer of the entire Church. It is not necessary that the hours be prayed in common. However, it should be understood that when The Hours are prayed, it is from the stance that the entire Church is praying. The minimum recommendation is that Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers) be prayed. The monastic/clerical form of the Office is not appropriate for everyone. A simpler version, consisting of a couple of psalms, a Scripture reading, and a prayer of petition or thanksgiving is sufficient.
Lectio Divina is the prayerful and reflective reading of Scripture or any inspired writing with a view of letting God speak to us in and through the Word (divine reading). In lectio divina God speaks to and addresses each person individually. It requires a discipline which allows us to enter our own heart, that place where we can truly hear and welcome the Word of God. Lectio is an effort to place ourselves in the presence of God. We must free our minds and hearts for this encounter so that God can draw near to us and we can hear his word.
At least a half hour a day should be spent in quiet prayer and meditation. It is suggested that this time be divided between morning and evening. This is the time to make a conscientious effort of quieting and centering oneself in prayer so as to celebrate God's presence within.
It is recommended that a person spend time each week reading and studying Sacred Scripture and engaging in spiritual reading. This activity is an integral part of one's spiritual development. Scriptural and spiritual reading support one's prayer experience.
There are several biblical commentaries and study guides available for use in studying Scripture. Particular attention should be given to the Gospels.
There are numerous spiritual writers, both classical and contemporary, whose topics include methods of prayer, spirituality, elements of spiritual growth, the contemplative experience, etc., who are sources for spiritual reading. The writings of the Cistercian fathers and mothers should especially be considered.
One should also consider resources such as media, workshops, and lectures that treat relevant spiritual topics.
Manual labor has always been a valued part of Cistercian monastic life. Early Cistercian writers developed a theology of work whereby they considered human persons as co-creators when engaged in authentic work activity. Although manual labor is not always possible for everyone, it should be the attitude of one to engage willingly in productive manual labor when the opportunity is available. Work should be approached with a sense of dedication, praise, and thanksgiving. One should perform his or her work duties as best as possible.
IV. MODIFICATION OF LIFESTYLE (CONVERSION OF MANNERS)
Those who feel they have received the gift of the Cistercian charism and have been called to live a contemplative lifestyle according to the suggestions of the Plan of Life are not attempting to escape the realities of secular life. While recognizing the responsibilities of marriage, family and employment, they are embracing these commitments from a contemplative stance, integrating silence, solitude, simplicity, stability and service into their lives.
From one's inner self a person is able to connect with others and become more open and responsive to their brokenness and poverty. From this disposition one would be expected to share oneself, both spiritually and materially, with others in a spirit of building community. It is the task of the contemplative to build authentic human relationships.
One should make a genuine effort spend time in silence during the day. The amount of time will vary given one's availability. Silence will allow one to be more centered and to discover one's inner depths.
Likewise, one should also regularly spend time alone that allows for deeper reflections and meditation.
A natural outcome of growth in the spiritual life is a desire to live more simply. Moderation and discretion with respect to food, clothing, entertainment and material goods are suggested. Simplicity is a virtue that is difficult to acquire in our materialistic culture. The virtue of simplicity is very prominent in early Cistercian writings.
A sense of stability keeps us grounded and committed to the spiritual path we have chosen. It also enhances our disposition to be faithful to our vocation in life and our love of God in all things.
Living the Christian life to its fullness should challenge one to serve others. This is how Gospel values of Christian love and justice are demonstrated. A person who grows in the contemplative life is sensitive to the needs of others and is moved to serve. Therefore, engaging in ministry and/or community service is expected.
The following suggestions supplement the Plan of Life for Lay Cistercians:
It is recommended that one spend a few days annually on a spiritual retreat. An occasional day of reflection or prayer is also suggested. During these times it is important to assess one's spiritual growth.
A vital aspect of Cistercian spirituality is forming a trusting relationship with a spiritual mentor or guide. One should be open to receive spiritual guidance or direction.
It is also recommended that one seek out others (spiritual friends) with whom to walk the spiritual journey. These relationships offer opportunities for mutual sharing of personal experiences, spiritual insights, and challenges to spiritual growth