At fixed times all the abbots/abbesses come together. They discuss there the salvation of their own souls and of those committed to them. They take measures regarding the observance of the Holy Rule and of the Order where there is something that needs to be corrected or added. They foster anew among themselves the benefit of peace and charity. They devote themselves to maintaining the patrimony of the Order and safeguarding and increasing its unity. (C.77)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The big challenge is to love one another

Living a Christian witness of community now is most important, finding happiness in living our vocation in the circumstances we find ourselves, with the brothers or sisters God has gathered together: This is Christian love and this spirit needs to inform what we do otherwise we labor in vain,  said Dom Eamon Fitzgerald, the abbot general in his presentation of the situation of the Order today, given at the second day of the Mixed General Chapter on the feast of the Birth of Our Lady.

Dom Eamon gave a brief look at statistics for the development of the Order the last 50 years, with an increase in number of monasteries (from 117 in 1960 to 169 today) more widely spread over 44 countries, but with a decrease in the number of monks and nuns in the houses of Europe, North America, Japan and Israel, and a growing number of members in Africa, parts of Asia and Latin America. A few of the European houses do not experience a decrease, notably the monasteries of  Sept-Fons and Vitorchiano. The latter has stayed a community of 70-80 sisters during this period, even though they have made 7 foundations.

About half of the monks and nuns of the Order live in Europe, while only one third of those in initial formation belong to the European communities. At the same time there is an increasing number of elderly monks and nuns in these communities.

It was three years since Dom Eamon’s election as abbot general, and his views were given from the impressions of his visits to 90 of the monasteries over these years.

He spoke of the difficulties and challenges of the different kinds in Europe and Northern America with the need to care for the elderly and infirm, an overload of work and difficulties of finding suitable persons for the different responsibilities in a monastery. The situation can lead to a morale sapping for some and anxiety generating with a lack of discernment in accepting newcomers and keeping them. The challenges are different in the Oriens, Africa and Latin America. In the Oriens and Africa they enjoy good recruitment, but many places the Christian and Catholic faith is in minority. In the African countries life and hope is shown in the face of poverty and much suffering. Many enter the monastery, and many leave. There is great need of teachers who witness to a life faithful to the Cistercian charism and are able to teach and transmit it.

-       The monasteries reflect cultures where a sense of God and the world of the spirit are deeply embedded but there is much work to be done in integrating and confronting this world with the demands of our monastic and evangelical calling, said Dom Eamon: - The Latin American monastic scene is in a strongly Catholic ethos but one which is being confronted with the march of progress and the inroads that secularism and globalization are making. The monastic world here is marked by vitality, enthusiasm and Catholic tradition.

He spoke about how the present world effects the monastic daily life in different ways with the new instant communication. The rapid changes in the society leads many to anxiety about the future: 
- These issues are not going to go away. Change is here to stay… This is not an environment conducive to solitude and silence, though it may be very much in need of both.

Many communities have done much in learning how to dialogue and work together, and have acquired skills which have improved the quality of their lives as community. But this is not enough, the abbot general said:

-         The foundation of our love as Christian monks and nuns is our faith and hope in God. Our love of others need to be rooted in this faith. God has spoken to us, the Creator of all, revealing to us that we, and all people, are his children, he is our Father, we and all that he has made have future and a hope.We have a value and a dignity given us by God. In Jesus he has shown what God’s love is like in a human being. Faith in God offers us a new way of looking at reality, a call to see things as God sees them, turning upside down our view of reality, a change in our thinking, our affections and our actions.

-        He pointed out how love has to do with bearing rather than doing things for others, being a life-giving presence to others. But if our faith and hope in God is weak, then it is no surprise that we have trouble in loving one another as he has loved us.

The second day of the MGM was mainly held as plenary sessions, still waiting for several superiors from Spain to arrive – Spain has also had strikes with effects for travelers. Several of the reports of the regions were presented, an important background for the work on the House Reports.

Sr. Hanne-Maria of Tautra