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)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The importance of Lectio Divina

Now all the commissions have finished their work examining the situation of each monastery of the Order, giving the advice and support or decisions needed for each community and superior. This changes the rhythm of the work a bit, from the intense work in the mixed commissions to more plenary sessions and a greater variety in the work we are doing.

We started the day congratulating three superiors with their birthday, the community of Tilburg with their dedication of the Church and the communities of  San Isidro and Huerta with their 12th century abbot who is the saint of the day, St. Martin of Finojosa, who also became a bishop. Fittingly it was the Spanish Region who had prepared the liturgy of the Mass.

Each of the mixed commissions made a report to the assembly about the communities they have studied. Five of the 14 reports were presented this morning. Your see clearly the great differences between the houses, but some common features are also very clear. The importance of Lectio Divina is one of them:
  • Regarding the practice of lectio divina, some communities benefit from doing it in common; in some communities it is eclipsed by the demands of work. For most communities it remains a central value. Where lectio is practiced faithfully, even in tiny, precarious communities, there is a good spirit.
  • Cistercian life can be lived authentically only if the gospel values of forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, unity and consciously cultivated among the members of a community. Lectio divina is important in this conscious appropriation of the Gospel values.
  • It is only by receiving life from God that we can transmit life and only by receiving mercy we can forgive each other. Therefore the lack of lectio divina is disastrous.
  • Many communities have experienced set-backs due to the global economic crisis. The impact of this crisis has put more demands on the time given to work, compromising some monastic practices, in particular lectio divina.
Another feature is the impact of the buildings and the environment of the monastery on the life lived there:
  • We have seen examples of how much the physical environment and the monastic buildings can be a source of renewal for the community. One house literally moved to another location and another has engaged in several years of rebuilding the entire monastery. Both gave witness to the impact this has on the interior life of a community.
  • Two of our monasteries had or will have significant building adaptations, and two others had significant new construction. All find that our monastic buildings and environment have an impact on our monastic life.

How silence is practiced in the community has for years been a recurring theme in visitation reports and house reports. This theme is also surfacing now. The link between silence and dialogue is interesting:
  • The focus has shifted from earlier concerns about communication to more focus on silence and interiority. Most houses mention wanting to keep silence better and struggle to keep a balance between work and lectio and prayer.
  • Our communities mediate Christ and the mercy of God to each other when they enter whole-heartedly into an ongoing process of community dialogue which brings about a deeper understanding of each other. It is then that a community can recognize and own the life-giving qualities of monastic practice and observance, transforming each one in Christ.
  • Some houses who have begun to devote more time to community dialogues are beginning to experience some fruit. This does not happen without pain and struggle.
  • The ambiguity around the value of silence has to be addressed- The Order has changes. From our listening to our House Reports we think that we need to reflect on this important value without guilt and to appreciate that authentic and honest communication and friendship can only emerge from deep interior silence.
  • The two values silence and communication need to be connected, so our practice of silence is more grounded.

The importance of the Father Immediate (the abbot of the mother house or the house taking on paternity for a new monastery, making a visitation every other year) – comes up again and again as very important helping a community to live through difficult times and difficulties:
  • Some communities are unable to face reality, and require help from outside to see their problems. Normally this is the role of the Father Immediate.
  • The role of the superior and the Father immediate struck us as crucial. In several instances it was the Father Immediate’s active support and pastoral concern that led to healing or resolution in some very sensitive situations.
  • Good leadership seem to be an important factor for good and peaceful community life.
  • It was a joy to hear how many communities resolved conflicts and are bringing forth fruit in a life of growth in surrender to the Lord Jesus. This has been brought about by the efforts of the whole community as they learn to listen to one another in love.

A common problem is the overburdening of a few capable people in shrinking, aging communities. Communities that are able to face their difficulties realistically re-discover fundamental Cistercian values.

The importance of prudence in the process of founding a new monastery comes out clearly. In a community that is struggling you may often see that the founding process was irregular. Likewise we see the good results of careful discernment of vocations, and lasting problems when this is lacking.

We will come back to more of these reports as they are presented in the assembly.
Sr. Hanne-Maria of Tautra