COMMUNITY: A SCHOOL OF CHARITY
Cenobitic life as the foundation, verification and manifestation
of our contemplation
In May 1995, the Regions ASPAC and ORIENS had their joint Regional Meeting for the first time at Tobetsu. I assisted as a delegate and we were there with 35 people from 15 nationalities, speaking 10 different languages. In spite of difficulties in communicating because of the language, I felt we were united; united towards Christ, united in our quest for unity, united towards charity. During this meeting, I understood, better than before, how unity and pluralism in Christ are creating a treasure beyond limits. According to the christian tradition, a community is forming the Body of Christ. In the same way a Region and an Order are forming it. Is it not true that the more we are open to others, the more we are filled by the fullness of Christ? I am writing this working-paper as one of the members of the Region ASPAC-ORIENS and I hope that other writers will compensate for my poverty with their riches. But this is only a personal reflection.
"Leave, start on your way, announce that the Kingdom of God is in your midst."
With Jesus, the Abbot General sent us to our own communities at the end of the General Chapters of 1993. During the same homily of the concluding Mass, he gave us, I think, the three main points to help our reflection on the present topic.
1. The Kingdom is our "Schola Caritatis".
2. The good news we must proclaim to our brothers and sisters is the utopia: cenobitism that is ripening in mysticism.
3. We are not hermits in a community, but cenobitics in the desert.
What are these suggstions of the Abbot General telling us?
The reality of our community that is the place of our mission, where we must live our own gospel; where our life in the desert must have its roots, where it manifests itself and is verified.
Don't we, monks and nuns, evangelize by "being" rather than by "doing"? Our own consecrated life is a privileged and efficacious medium of evangelization, as the Abbot General says in his letter of 1992. If, by seeing the love we have for each other, all would recognize us as disciples of Jesus, our mission would be a success. To bring to a good end our mission in the school of charity, I would like to verify it by considering the three following points of our contemplative life.
1. Fidelity to vocation and to mission: ad quod venisti?
2. Fidelity to the Rule of Saint Benedict.
3. Fidelity to the main pillars of our contemplative life:
a) Lectio Divina
b) The Eucharist
1. Fidelity to vocation and to mission: ad quod venisti?
Each of us has been called to a particular community by God's plan and God's special love, entrusted with his own mission and receiving gifts to form the body of Christ. That is why, on the one hand, each one is challenged to share with others the gifts he has received by God's manifold grace and, on the other hand, he is invited to advance in the monastic way of life and progressively attain the full measure of the stature of Christ, making up for his own insuffiency with the gifts of the other members of the community. (cf. C. 14 and 45).
We know very well with what zeal the Fathers of Citeaux were anxious to pursue the "etymology of their name" (cf. EP 15,6). All the primitive documents of Citeaux tell us about the ideals, the determination and the courageous realization of our First Fathers. Called the Charter of Charity, their pre-eminent juridical document declares that they desire to pursue only charity and the advantage of souls in things divine and human (cf. CC Prol 4).
Fr L. Bouyer presents the ideal of our Fathers this way:
"The goal which they always kept before them was not that of a life in a well regulated community, which built up the character by its order and regularity, but the ideal of the "alone with the Alone" of each soul with God, in which each on his own account was to seek for Him and find Him." (The Cistercian Heritage, London, Mombray, 1958, p. 199)
Saint Benedict asks the postulant who desires to enter monastic life: si revera Deum quaerit. Not only whether he seeks, but whether he TRULY seeks God. He also asks us to live under God's eye. According to him, I think, the monk applies himself to his duty by this mindfulness of the eye, of the presence of God. (cf. RB, 4:49; 7:13,14,27; 19:1; CST 19; 20; 22)
All what I have already said is summarized very well by the Abbot General in his intervention at the synod of the bishops on religious life:
"The monk is a Christian who consecrates his entire life to the search for and the encounter with God. This is something that the monk has in common with all other Christians. He is not the only one to seek God and he does not claim to do it better than others. But the monk knows that he is called to make this search an absolute in his life. Because of this, he seeks God truly, frequently, constantly; he does not seek anything else but God, nor anything more than God and does not then go from God to anything else.
Since the search for God is the sense and ultimate aim of his existence, his life is a life of great simplicity (simplicitas). This simplicity, that is, the fact of having only one occupation and goal, is the first and most profound meaning of the word: MONACHOS."
If we remain faithful to this vocation, we will fulfill the role of LOVE in the Church, remaining in the HEART of the Church by our consecrated life.
2. Fidelity to the Rule of Saint Benedict
"Following the First Fathers of our Order we find in the Holy Rule of St Benedict the practical interpretation of the Gospel for ourselves", says the Declaration on Cistercian Life of the General Chapter 1969.
(For our Cistercian Fathers), "the Rule is not a document to refer to, it is the life they live, may be as much as the Scripture" (P. Charles Dumont, La relecture de la RB, Sagesse Ardente, p. 116)
Each page of the Exordium Parvum proves for us what has been said here.
And we? Are we as faithful to the Rule as our First Fathers? Do we love it? Do we know the personality of Saint Benedict? Do we try to listen to his "heart" behind the words? Could we call him "our father" as saint Aelred does (cf. Sermon 1 & 2 on the feast of Saint Benedict)
What does the Rule teach us for our reflection, as we try to create a climate that is fruitful for cenobitic life.
EX: chapter 72
Chapter 72, concentrating on the relations between brothers runs into the relations between the brothers and God.
- They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other.
- They should support with the greatest patience one another's weaknesses of body or behavior.
- They should earnestly compete in obedience to one another.
- No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for some one else.
- To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers.
- They will love their abbot with unfeigned and humble love.
- Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ.
"This chapter is the utopia of the Rule of Saint Benedict...which means that it is never really realized or lived, but always to be realized and to be lived" (Vivre aujourd'hui la RB, 1991, p. 43)
But, shouldn't we say that this utopia can be partly realized, if we have faith and if we cooperate with the Lord to the point of offering our own blood, as Dom Bernardo is suggesting in his homily of the concluding Mass, 1993. We know very well the circumstances of the choice Jesus made at Gethsemani, saying: "Yet, not what I want, but what you want" (Mc 14:36).
"While society encourages independence, self-realization and personal success, the Gospel asks for persons who, as the grain of wheat, are ready to die so that fraternal life be reborn", says the document of the CIVCSVA.
EX: chapters 23-30, especially 27.
"The penal code of the Rule", are perhaps the most "un-interesting" chapters at the present time.
What do they say for our SCHOLA CARITATIS?
Actually they provide for a way of proceeding against what could threaten the most profound vitality of the community: its dynamism towards charity.
One can also say that in this part we see the spirit of Saint Benedict, a very evangelical spirit: the concrete and humble acceptance of human misery (Vivre aujourd'hui la RB, 1991, p. 175)
Couldn't we read these chapters in a realistic way, referring to the search for unity and to the necessity of conversion from every attitude that is an obstacle to communion?
EX: chapter 7.
Saint Bernard shows us a sketch of our utopia:
"But, because you have been created in the image and the likeness of God, becoming similar to the animals and loosing that resemblance your life is still that of an image. If when in greatness you did not understand that you were mud of the earth, take care, now that you have sunk in the mud of the abyss, not to forget that you are the image of God, and be ashamed that you have covered it with an alien appearance. Remember your nobility and be ashamed of such a defection. Don't forget that you are beautiful, do not be confused because you are hideous". (Div 12,2)
If humility is a recognition of what one is, as the Abbot General says (in his letter of 1992), then to learn to know ourselves, and to learn our misery, actually means an apprenticeship of humility, climbing the steps set down by Saint Benedict. (Cf. Etienne Gilson, The mystical theology of St Bernard, Kalamazoo 1990, pp. 60-84).
Doesn't re-reading the Rule help us in our cenobitic life?
3. Fidelity to the main pillars of our contemplative life
a) Lectio Divina
This is the conviction of our two Abbots Generals: "If we succeed in developing the practice of lectio, it will have far reaching effects on the quality of our monastic life, and the contemplative dimension of our monasteries will be enriched." (Letter of Dom Ambrose, 1978 and Dom Bernardo, 1993)
One thing remains for us: to practice it according to the counsel of Saint Bernard: "If we don't want to seek him in vain, let us seek him sincerely, seek him assiduously, seek him with perseverance; nothing instead of God, nothing with God, nothing after God". (Div 37).
You may find here a good example of the lectio divina practiced by Saint Benedict:
"Saint Benedict was first of all a man of God. He became so by following constantly the road of virtue indicated in the Gospel. He was a real pilgrim of the Kingdom of God... And this pilgrimage was not without battle as long as he lived; a battle first of all against himself, to fight the "old man" and give more and more place to the "new man"...
Man of God Benedict was, by reading continuously the Gospel, not only to know it, but also to translate it totally into his life. One could say that he has re-read it in depth, with all the depth of his soul, and that he has re-read it in its width, according to the dimension of the horizon he kept before his eyes. It was the horizon of the ancient world which was on the verge of death, and the horizon of the new world which was coming to life. And as well in the depth of his soul, as in the horizon of this world, he has confirmed the Gospel: the Gospel as a whole, and at the same time every part of the Gospel; every passage the Church is reads in its liturgy, and even every phrase.
Yes, the man of God, - Benedictus, the Blessed, Benedict - filled himself with all the simplicity of the truth that is in the Gospel. And he lived this Gospel. And by living it, he evangelized."(John-Paul II, Subiaco, 1980)
b) The Eucharist
First a presentation of the Eucharist according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
* THE INSTITUTION OF THE EUCHARIST
"The Lord, having loved those who were his own, loved them to the end. Knowing that the hour had come to leave this world and return to the Father, in the course of a meal he washed their feet and gave them the commandment of love. In order to leave them a pledge of this love, in order never to depart from his own and to make them sharers in his Passover, he instituted the Eucharist as the memorial of his death and Resurrection." (1337)
"The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, that is, of the work of salvation, accomplished by the life, death and resurrection of Christ, a work made present by the liturgical action." (1409)
* THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST
"CHRIST JESUS... is present in many ways to his Church... But he is present... most especially in the Eucharistic species." (1373)
"The presence of the true Body of Christ and his true Blood in this sacrament." (1381)
* THE PASCHAL BANQUET
"Take this and eat it, all of you": communion (1384 - 1390)
* THE FRUITS OF HOLY COMMUNION
"The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with CHRIST JESUS." (1391)
"Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to CHRIST. Through it CHRIST unites them to all the faithful in one body) the Church." (1396)
Guided by this doctrine, I may dare to reflect on our theme in a meditative way.
Jesus has promised to be with us to the end of the ages. (Mat 28:20). We verify this promise of the Lord especially when celebrating the Eucharist, in which the Lord makes himself present to us. We meet
- JESUS who is praying...
- JESUS who is expressing compassion...
- JESUS who is listening...
- JESUS who is forgiving...
- JESUS who is obeying...
- JESUS who is enduring...
- JESUS who is suffering...
Don't we hear every day the prayer of Jesus before his passion: "That they may all be one... as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one. And for their sakes I sanctify myself..." (Jn 17:21-23,19)
Don't we hear the voice of JESUS on the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Lk 23:34)
"I am thirsty." (Jn 19:28)
Before receiving the consecrated bread and wine don't we hear the voice of JESUS who asks us: "Do you love me?"
Don't we answer him as Simon Peter with some fear, saying: "Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you." (Jn 21:17) And so we confess before communion: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.."
JESUS gives his sacramental presence to each of us who have been infinitely forgiven by his Love without measure. "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in my and I in them." (Jn 6:56)
JESUS, giving himself to be eaten by us, and mixing his Flesh and Blood with our flesh and blood, transforms us little by little into another CHRIST: this is the paradox of the Gospel.
At the end of the Mass JESUS sends us (mission) entrusting us with one single request: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." (Jn 13:34)
All those who have assisted at the meal of the Lord are asked only this: to love, as JESUS has loved each of us, by doing the same as HE has done. JESUS himself has given us all He possesses to help us and sustain us: his Body, his Blood, his Spirit, his Mother.
For the next General Chapters we are invited to reflect on the reality of our cenobitic life. The result of the evangelization of our daily life, I think, depends mainly on everybody's fidelity to the cenobitic cistercian life to which we have been called. (cf C. 31; Letter of Pope Paul VI, 1968)
As you know, all the circular letters of the Abbot General are written in the context of the Gospel of the School of Charity. Re-reading with attention these letters could be the best preparation for our theme. Moreover you have the working-document published by CIVCSVA.
And during our preparation, if we are conscious of our lack of Love, we may perhaps be invited to follow the Abbot General and to say with him: "Forgive me for not having loved; once again I take the way of conversion", to be able to say with all my heart: "may CHRIST bring us all together to everlasting life."
May God grant that by the breath of his Spirit the brothers and sisters joyfully make their way to the fullness of love, with the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen of Citeaux. (C. 86)
Sister Caecilia AOKI