Thoughts on Formation, especially from the perspective of the Superior’s own ongoing formation, from the Mixed Commissions of the General Chapter on September 22, 2011.
“Formation is about teaching to receive life (rather than transmitting life).” Comm. 1
“Stability is especially formative: ‘I will be with this person for the long haul,’ is a realization that forces me to keep learning.” Commission 1
“It is by being abbot or abbess that we learn, and we need to trust in the process of our formation as abbot, and accept that our failures are a part of our formation.” Comm. 2
“The abbot or abbess is BOUND to love each member of the community, to show honor to all, to model genuine love for the community. We cannot show favoritism. We must forgive. It is letting Jesus teach us how to do all this that forms us.” Commission 2
“Transparency with the community when we don’t know what to do can empower them to work towards an answer and foster union.” Commission 2
“Situations that are most demanding and difficult are the ones that teach us most.” Commission 3
“As the superior it is incumbent upon me to live fully the monastic life.” Commission 3
“The love of the brothers/sisters is central to monastic leadership and must hold precedence in my life over work, hospitality, etc.” Commission 3
“It is of the utmost importance to keep some time each day to be alone with God.” Commission 3
“‘My vocation is my salvation.’ This experience is fundamental to true leadership.” Commission 3
“Through our mistakes, our limitations, we experience the gentle compassion of the community.” Commission 5
“We feel how much the community carries us in times of increased material concerns and in moments of personal fatigue or difficulty.” Commission 5
“Talking about the experience of deaths in the community as a moment of grace in which a special gift is given, we spoke of our communion with the saints who have preceded us in our communities.” Commission 5
“One superior shared the following: ‘Meditating on the mystery of Abraham and Isaac, I saw that there was no guarantee that God would intervene, but pure abandon to God’s will. I saw that the ‘Isaac’ that I had to be ready to sacrifice was my conviction that the community had to survive at all costs. Giving up this deeply held conviction, my depression lifted. Let God be God. May his will be done. My task is to help the brothers follow whatever he indicates.’” Commission 5
“If our abandon to the will of God is pure, there will be a gift of life.” Commission 5
“We stressed the importance of following the texts of the liturgy, seeking there for an expression of the will of God here and now, trying to create a bridge to that other word of God made up of everyday events and encounters.” Commission 6
“The superior and his brothers mutually influence one another in their way of living out monastic practices.” Commission 6
“Above all, it is the Community that is formative.” Commission 10
“The liturgy is the spiritual experience of a people on a journey. It is a school of gratuity in a society in which everything is calculated.” Commission 10
“There is no unity in choir without unity with our brothers and sisters.” Commission 10
“There is a risk today of reducing lectio divina to the level of an observance. In order to be lectio (which is to say relationship with God), any approach to Scripture must always be personal.” Commission 10
“One who has relational difficulties with another will also have difficulties with lectio.” Commission 10
“The postulancy is not a time for teaching theory, but an immersion in Community life that should lead to the integration of monastic values.” Commission 10
“To make an effort and to persevere at a task is a formative ascesis.” Commission 10
“It is not what we do that matters, but how we do it.” Commission 10
“To have a sense of Community does not necessarily consist in working with others, but in feeling responsible with regard to others and in truly engaging oneself with and for the Community.” Commission 10
“Formation is not restricted to intellectual studies, however important, but is found in a constant search for wisdom, for that equilibrium and regularity of which the Rule of St Benedict gives us the elements.” Commission 11
“A key element in the formation of superiors is the effort to keep the relationship with the Lord alive.” Commission 13
“Entering into the daily monastic rhythm is very formative and helps us be close to the brothers or sisters.” Commission 13
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DATE: September 23, 2011 MGM
SECRETARY: Stanislaus, Mepkin 4TH COMMISSION
TOPIC STUDIED: Formation as Transmission of Life
We first shared on the way superiors work on their own permanent formation. Some excerpts of this sharing: When elected abbot I experienced it as this is my way of being a monk, a good monk, which is all I want to be. Openness to what happens each day and seeing it as the gift of God. Experiencing the Joy of Life. Taking a day or part of a day each week simply to rest and pray. Reading something that engages me on another level for a half hour each day. Using someone outside the community as a sounding board. Staying with prayer day in and day out. Regarding spiritual, human and intellectual formation – to ask myself, ‘What am I doing to help my intellectual formation? Why have I come to the monastery? What does it mean to be chaste, to be humble…?‘ Doing what the community does, not skipping common exercises because of abbatial duties. Communities don’t really like a perfect superior. Failure is an integral part of formation. Abbatial ministry will bring forth our darkness as well as the light. Yet our own struggles are part of the formative process. There are abbots with communities and there are communities with abbots. To strive to live on the level of being, not on the level of doing.
We spoke of every aspect of our life as formative: Our life is a life of faith. How I respond to events is important. I was struck by how the conferences we are hearing at this Chapter have become more personal. It is very liberating to hear. When we have done all we could, to leave the rest to God. There is always a Providence who guides us and the community. When we do something that hurts someone, to pray that God can right it. Every aspect of our life is formative: therefore I try always to be there: at Vigils, at work…. To be an example can be a killer, overwhelming; that is, the job of the abbot never stops. The encounter with Christ never stops. This is a real challenge. This is how the life is formative. The diminishment of the community can be humbling, to see this in the light of faith. In a society that is so secularized it can be very difficult to bring persons to a level of faith. Our community worked on a vision statement with each proposition beginning: We believe. The community is as strong as the pastoral sense of each of its members. To come to the point where we can share with our brothers and sisters what touched us, not just what we thought. Jesus revealed himself to the doubting Thomas within the community, not apart from it. The community helps us to remain faithful to the words of Christ. Truly it is the community who works as the ongoing formation of the superior.Read More »
We have actually finished most of our work. We were given off the last half of the afternoon today. Tomorrow we will probably get the same. This is amazing. But we did put in hard work over the last few days — including all of Sunday. Things just moved a bit more easily.
Some of the significant votes over the last days.
- We redid much of the Statute on Foundations, including a new requirement for at least eight professed before a house can become a major priory. Formerly six was sufficient. We also made it a policy that an experienced monk or nun must live with a community that is being brought into the Order (like Illah recently) for at least a year. We have learned by bitter experience the need for this.
- We have agreed to collaborate with the Common Observance and the Benedictines in petitioning Rome to declare St Gertrude the Great as a Doctor of the Church. Dom Olivier of Citeaux will act as our liaison.
- The nuns’ monastery of Ubexy will be fused with the new community of Val d’Igny (formerly three houses).
- New Melleray was approved as the new motherhouse of Gethsemani.
- We clarified our legislation that the Abbot General must be or have been an abbot in the Order. A titular prior cannot be elected Abbot General. This was a very debated point at the time of the election of Dom Eamon in 2008.
- The foundation of Gedona (Mother Martha’s community in Indonesia) of Macau, an island off the China coast has been approved.
The topic of formation had several papers given at this Chapter, but in fact we never really did much with this theme. We did share in Mixed Commissions on the topic on Sunday and I thought our own commission had an excellent sharing. The minutes for this meeting follow. They need to be read slowly. Most sentences are actually “bullets” — but for space reasons the thoughts were put into two long paragraphs. Below also is another paper with some thoughts from some of the other commissions that I thought very good.
I will also attach the Evaluation (auto-critique) of the Chapter that came from our Commission this morning. We will share these reports from the 13 commissions tomorrow in the aula.
After hearing presentations on the facilities at Lourdes and at Fatima, the Chapter put itself on record that we wish the next General Chapter in 2014 to be held here in Assisi once again. It is a consultative vote, as all the costs from the various places were not known to us. The General and his Council will make the final choice.
86 were in favor of Assisi, 34 in favor of Lourdes and 48 in favor of Fatima.
I am not sure how much access I will have to the internet at Tamié, so I am sending as much as I can now and tomorrow.
My love to each of you. I continue to pray for each by name at the holy places here.
StanRead More »
by Father Kevin
1st rdg Ez 18:25-28 fair/unfair turn from wickedness
Psalm 25 Remember your mercies Lord
2nd rdg Phil 2:1-11 kenosis/encouragement/of same mind/love
Gospel Mt 21:28-32 change of mind/heart/life conversion
Translating the good intention for change, into change is more difficult than we would like to believe. Yet change is at the heart of our readings today, with a definite exhortation to change in the way of godliness.
We all marvel at the poetry of Paul’s letter to the Philippians which so wonderfully captures Jesus’ kenotic movement to embrace our humanity in order that we might be restored to the dignity God has always intended for us. Perhaps we marvel all the more that the thing we possibly fear most – self emptying – is the very vehicle God uses to come to meet us and at the same time the invitation God extends to us to transcend our finite state. Love that cannot give is neither love nor is it godly. Today we are celebrating God giving to us the fullness of Himself that we may discover who we really are.
So the spousal imagery of the Song of Songs (commented on so wonderfully by Saint Bernard), an imagery found as well in the NT, becomes a means for us to consider that the giving of oneself in love is not diminishment (that may lead to the nothingness one’s fears) but quite the opposite it is completion, it is transcendence, it is salvation. Our God desires a spousal relationship with us to be lived in fidelity and in expectation of the new life yet to be.
Conquering one’s fear, overcoming the condition of limitation are frequent themes in scripture. This Benedictine spirituality we embrace each day of our lives is all about living the humility demonstrated by Jesus in Paul’s beautiful hymn – for he did not cling to equality with God, but came to us as one of us – “emptying himself to take the form of a slave.”
Our Cistercian vow of conversatio morum requires of us that we live deliberately always turning to God. So our ears perk up as Ezekiel speaks to us today of turning from wickedness and sin to embrace the life of God and the fullness of life that follows. The theme of change is developed in Jesus’ teaching in today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel. Jesus offers us two sons who each change, but it is the direction toward which each turns that illumines the point Jesus is making. Which one turns toward godliness and which one turns toward selfishness? In drawing attention to their decisions, Jesus invites us to reflect on our relationship with God. Where are we turning? Do our behaviors speak the godliness our words of godd intention are saying?
As we feast on Jesus giving himself to us in the Eucharist, we ask to become more self-giving, patterning that self-giving on Jesus’ example. Here we pray in the truth of belonging to the much larger church that knows that the oneness God wishes for us entails the remarkable individuality God has given to each of us. God is asking us not to betray that individuality but to find our unity in responding to God’s love and in loving God. Paul so clearly is asking us to be a church of encouragement, of building up the body of Christ. Let our words to one another and our actions with one another be encouraging. And for the community beginning retreat this evening, may our time together in retreat bring us to be more engaged in that emptying of self which allows us to be receptive to the gift we are about to receive and to live more fully as bearers of Jesus’ presence to one another.Read More »
Sunday, September 25, 2011
From Unity in Disobedience To Unity in Obedience in Joy “Mira la Estrella, invoca Maria…Mira la Estrella, invoca Maria.”
You could hear people continue singing St.Bernard’s invocations to Mary as we left our chapel heading for the refectory for breakfast this morning. You can recognize a dear song even in a foreign language and with a different melody. The music of the Spanish/Portuguese liturgy brought out the joy of a new Sunday, a new celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord.
Joy was also a point in the homily of Dom Bernardo of Novo Mundo, as he spoke about the two brothers in the Gospel parable this morning, both of them being disobedient, and we being like both of them – in the lack of joy in our obedience:
* Wherever life and their individual decisions may lead these two, they will always remain brothers, their father’s offspring and the dearest object of his love, the mirror and the completion of one another. Both of them are disobedient, even if each one disobeys in his particular way. The first brother has what we in our mixed commission called “un temperament fort” – a difficult character. When his father asks him to go to work in the vineyard, he immediately responds, “No, I’m not going.” It’s a primordial disobedience, it’s his standard response to authority, his “no” to the call to self-transcendence. “Grow, my son!” says the father. “Forget it”, answers the son.
* The second is also disobedient. He says yes, without having any intention of doing what he promised. Or maybe through cowardice and a lazy desire to please: he knows that life with father will be easier if he says yes than if he says no, and later he decides that his father should be satisfied with his good intentions, even if they are never carried out. Or he habitually acts out of mediocrity: Sometimes he goes to work in the vineyard, sometimes not. It depends on his mood, – or the phase of the moon. Or maybe this brother says yes and indeed goes to work every day, but without joy, without any good-heartedness or love or wisdom – all the things that make a human act truly human and that really are the heart of obedience. This I know from experience: I’m still lacking what I most want – to be perfect in just this way, as the heavenly father is perfect.
So, the father is stuck with two disobedient sons. But God has a third Son up in his sleeve, said Dom Bernardo:
* And this son really is different. He says yes and does yes. He says, “My delight is to do your will” and he really means it. And he says something else that is truly awe-inspiring: “Father, let me take upon myself the disobedience of these other two sons. Let me be obedient in their place, and bear the consequences of their sinfulness. And little by little I will draw them to my way of obeying, my way of relating to you, my way of being a son. By the time I have finished, we will all be so alike that you won’t be able to tell the difference between me and them. Because we will all be one, just as you and I are one.
This unity that overcomes differences continued to be evident in the plenary session this morning, dealing with votes and preparation of votes. This work demands a lot of clear thinking and experience and language skills – to present a vote clearly and correctly so it is easily understood by all. To help this clarity the formulation of one vote had been changed from one day to the next, but the result of the vote showed a great confusion in a question that seemed very clear.
“No, No, No” was heard from all parts of the aula. The moderator wisely said we would come back to the matter, and after the break there was a new vote that annulled the vote, and the new vote taken was as clear as the text, showing the unity of the assembly.
The foundation of Valserena in Syria, Beata Maria Fons Pacis, was approved this morning.
To the great joy of all we finished the afternoon session early, so we can enjoy a little open time before the work of the last few days.
Sr. Hanne-Maria of Tautra
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 D
aniel 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 Czech 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.
Sr. Hanne-Maria of TautraRead More »