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 24, 2011

”Thank you very much”

The spirit of thankfulness and praise has been evident in today’s plenary session, although we have dealt with many difficult matters. The work of the commissions of abbots and those of abbesses has been completed, and their reports are being presented to the whole Chapter. Many of these reports are confidential, as they deal with delicate matters.

What I can report on is the spirit in which we deal with these questions, and the refrain from the moderator, Dom Daniel of Zundert: “Thank you very much for this thorough work on a very difficult situation. “ – “Thank for a very a very clear report.” And: “Thank you very much, Dom Juan Javier, for this very concise report”. Big applaud followed: The report was the shortest of this General Chapter this far – one single sentence:
  • The 8th Commission of the General Chapter of Abbots examined the acts of the Abbot General and his Council and declares its agreement with and gratitude for the work accomplished.
I can give some general impressions from our work this morning: Some matters deal with the request of abbesses or abbots to resign as they have reached 75 years of age. The considerations made are about the situation of the community, the possibility of eligible candidates for an election, and the health and situation of the abbot or abbess. No votes have been made this far, only the reports from the commissions who have studied the matter. Sometimes they suggest granting the request, other times not to do so, but to wait a year or two or three, in view of somebody who may be eligible to become superior then. 

More painful are the questions concerning communities in great difficulties where there seem to be no viable future. One community of old monks has unanimously asked that their monastery be suppressed. Before coming this far there has been a long road to go, accompanied by a commission of aid from the Order, and the voting of another community who is willing to receive them as part of their own. This community is willing to make them an annex house, so they can continue to live where they have spent their whole monastic life, and can continue to be a presence of prayer at that particular place.

Another community faces openly its fragile situation and has made a decision to stay where they are as long as they can, with their Father Immediate supporting them.
In a situation when more monasteries has not received stable vocations for many years and seem to be dying, the question of Father Immediate also has to be resolved – finding new communities who can take on the paternity when the Mother House (the community of the Father Immediate) no longer can exercise its paternity. I will quote from a report dealing with such a situation:
  • In spite of the aging of the community asked, they have accepted paternity because it seemed to the brothers that they could not refuse to pass on life to a young community. After this generous act of faith, six candidates presented themselves to this community, who already has a large filiation.
  • One cannot rejoice over the death of a father, but the community of the younger house has accepted the change of paternity after the good experience of the delegation of paternity to the abbot who is willing to be the new Father Immediate.
It is not easy to let go of the dream about transmitting our life to new generations, and it is painful for everybody when a community is getting too weak, and especially when they cannot face the situation. In the spirit of thankfulness and loving care we see how much patience, listening, trying to find solutions, giving help from other monasteries and keeping an open dialogue with the community that is given into each situation. But there may come a point when the General Chapter has to say stop, we have done this and this and that, and now we don’t see any other solution. 

Often the first radical action is to suspend the right to receive aspirants into the Novitiate. It is like a woman reaching menu pause without having children: The dream of bearing a child was only a dream. Some communities can see their situation clearly enough and do not need this act imposed. Seen from the Order at large there is a great concern for the responsibility for candidates that they can really receive a good formation and are formed to a living community, not a community that may have died out by the time the newcomer is able to make solemn profession. Suspension of the right to receive novices may help a community to face reality and to prepare its future in a peaceful way.

We do start to see the end of the General Chapter: There is a list up about when who is leaving, so travels to the airport can be coordinated. All travel expenses are evened out so everybody pays the same, no matter how short or how long a journey they have to make. The general booklets don’t look new anymore. We have got our second service of our laundry, the next will be at home. Every day there are more faces and names you know than the day before, but you come to a point when you hardly have the energy to meet somebody you haven’t already met. Yet, if you change your steps and your route through the aula or the refectory a bit, you always see new faces. At the same time you have to hurry up a bit to get time to see those you have to see…

The regions are on the second round in responsibility for the liturgy of the Mass, and yet there are new surprises. This morning it was the Region of Central Europe, and we heard the Gospel read in the Check language. Still – with the Latin of our common tradition we can all sing familiar songs and sense the strength of thankfulness and praise.

This afternoon several votes were taken, and the following communities were raised to the rank of an abbey: Matatum, Miraflores and Novo Dvur. These communities were raised to the rank of major priory: Abakaliki and Boschi. Great applause for these communities.

Dom Armand was elected as liaison between the Order and the Coordinating Committee of the International Lay Cistercian Association.

The report of the ad hoc Finance Committee was full of praise, including this: 
  • We wish to thank all who work with the finances of the Order and the different Commissions. These monks and nuns are doing a very vital and worthwhile ministry and we are deeply grateful to them. Thank you.
Sr. Hanne-Maria of Tautra