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 22, 2011

When the earthquake and tsunami hit

We are again on the theme on formation. This far we have listened to voices from Rome/Ireland, The Democratic Republic of Congo, The Philippines, France, Brazil and Japan. Formation as transmission of life was the theme today:

Mother Cecilia of Tenshien used the experience of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, March 11, as basis for her reflections, and how the radio immediately gave instructions to people about what to do and what was happening: “Within ten minutes there will be a giant tsunami; escape to high ground as quickly as possible.”
  • My talk on “protecting and transmitting life” will be a modest sharing on what I felt and what I learned during the course of that time when Japan was particularly desperate to “protect life and to transmit life”: What is this life that we transmit? The life we pass on is the life of Christ. Beyond our limitations, weakness and misery, the pure grace of God dwells within us, i.e. the deathless and imperishable life of a child of God. It is the life of God dwelling within the body of clay of the human person made in the image of God, and this is the life that we protect, nurture and pass on.
  • During the last disaster I learned that there is nothing that can destroy the truth that man has been created in the image of God, and as such, is protected by the hand of God. 

She talked about how this reaffirmed the pure grace of God, and also about the excellence of human beings in the experience of how people cared and supported one another. Mutual trust is necessary for obedience, so the person can be able to listen and obey. The superior is the first one who must listen to God: 
  • To nurture life means to search for God’s will, and to repeatedly listen to Him and follow His will. We reaffirm the latent energy within the redeemed person, however distorted by sin: The solemn presence of God’s image, the supernatural power inherent in a child of God is released. This is the conviction we are to transmit.

Dom Bernardo of Novo Mundo in Brazil talked about handing on what he himself has received, as St. Paul says to the Corinthians:
  • The absolute that the monastery possesses and passes on is the unsearchable riches of Christ, to know Christ as the living Son of the living God. This is what the monastery said to me from the first moment when I entered the guesthouse door: “Christ is God.”
  • The monastery by being itself gave me the Kingdom of God on earth. It revealed itself as the locus of beauty, holiness, struggle for fidelity, and an environment of human love.

He spoke about how everything was demanded of him in his formation, and how this was the central experience of his novitiate, having reached the end of his strength, he was asked to keep going:
  • In one interview with the abbot, I was asked, “What is the greatest sacrifice God could ask of you?” When I told him “My intellect”, he answered: “After we finish talking, go before the Blessed Sacrament and offer your intellect to God.” I did not experience this as inhumanity, but rather as an immense honor. I was being asked to be a man, and a Christian. At the same time, I was constantly aware by discrete words, gestures, silence of the monks that to the extent I couldn’t carry myself, I was being carried by the community.

Dom Bernardo talked about honesty in letting doubt be doubt, and in the doing before the understanding. This is a way that the vocation reveals itself:
  • My doubt was the way that brought me to peace and faith. When I felt my theological world was collapsing, and elder monk said to me.” Well, you’re a theologian, aren’t you? Every five years, it’s all going to come apart, and God will build it up again.”

Dom Vedaste of Mokoto in The Democratic Republic of Congo touched in his conference Tuesday on the challenge of modern culture in monastic formation:
  • For a long time, one spoke in Africa about adaptation and enculturation of the Gospel message, and the enculturation of monasticism. At the time there was a sense of the necessity of deepening our faith by trying to make the Gospel take on certain traditional values. At present many people are fearful of being left behind if they refuse to play the game. We are currently living in a pluralistic, multicultural world. In the name of secularity a certain form of ideologically dominant globalization is about to level humanity down to the lowest common denominator: We should like everyone to be like everyone else and to live like everyone else.

Dom Vedaste warned about what he called the information highway running around the world, calling monks and nuns to great discernment in use of modern communication:
  • The young people we recruit today are products of this environment, fascinated by a new global culture, a culture that develops a dizzying speed.  What kind of formation may we offer these young people while remaining faithful to our Cistercian charism? Faced with the steamroller of a new global ethics, tending towards secularism, are we sufficiently well armed to safeguard our Cistercian identity?

Dom Patrick of Sept Fonts in France made a point of a clear vision in a community as an important basis for formation:
  • A community must know what it is and what it wants in order to form its members, and this must express itself in a practice. There must be a clear sense of priorities, so the brothers will develop a capacity for judgment which distinguishes the persons from their views.

He talked about the importance of having a team of formators, so not only the abbot, novice master and sub master work in unity, but also the teachers, so there is a unity of thought and action. Spiritual formation is mainly in contact with an “elder”. The intellectual formation should not be disconnected from real life:
  • The human formation is more necessary and more delicate today than in the past. The young brothers are more marked by the absence of framework outside the monastery, often because they come from a chaotic family life. The discernment must take time. 
  • By giving the brothers professional formation and means of acquiring competence, one assist at the birth of a solid general equilibrium of the personality.

Dom Patrick emphasized that the formation depends a lot on our relationship to memory and to its transmission. Many of the young brothers who present themselves at the monastery today do not know what they are because they do not know where they come from, he said.

Sr. Hanne-Maria of Tautra