SOME 'MEANS" AT THE SERVICE OF THE SCHOOL OF CHARITY . . .
D. Yvon Moreau: N.D. du Lac
The French philosopher Alain used to invite his students to "reflect nearer themselves"... It is in this spirit that I choose to reflect nearer myself, nearer my own experience, nearer the experience of my community ... Not to make this experience a model, but to share it with you and to offer it to your own discernment.
Dom Bernardo asked me to develop the "means" used in the school of charity. Because of my limited experience, I will dwell on the second series of means proposed: hearing, dialogue and community discernment. In the first place, I will present some of the concrete forms these various "means" have taken in our community... In the second place, I will share some more personal reflections...
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Three concrete forms of our experience...
- At different times during the year, not determined in any rigid manner, we meet to discuss one aspect or another of our community life.
- Our community is then divided into 4 groups, representing every age group, and animated by one of the members of the abbot's Council. The brothers stay in the same groups, as far as possible, and each group has a secretary. - At first, the discussion takes place in groups. Some of the brethren who have more difficulty in speaking in front of the whole community thus feel more at ease expressing their point of view.
- The following week there is a plenary session: either each secretary presents a synthesis of what has been said in his group, or there is a synthesis of what has been said in all the groups. Each brother has the chance to fill in if he thinks that his point of view has not been accurately presented in the synthesis.
- As a result of either synthesis, discussion takes place among all the brethren; there may be one or two moments of discussion like this in the plenary group.
- If the brothers of the abbot's Council are the animators of these groups, it is to assure a better follow-up to the discernments that have been made. For there is nothing more frustrating for a community than discernments that are not followed up. It is important to bring about and put into practice what has been judged good by and for the community, as a way of life and of growth.
Joint meetings of the abbot's Council and the business Council:
- In view of the fact that certain questions would become heavy and burdensome if they had to be discussed by all the brethren (and the more so since several in our community have difficulty in hearing), we choose to deal with these questions in joint meetings of the two Councils, thus assuring attention to monastic values and attention to the financial implications of certain choices.
- And so, in bringing about the 4 phases of renovation in our monastery from 1992 to 1995, and simplifying our material structure (more than 12 buildings have been demolished between 1991 and 1996), we first made the necessary discernments in the Councils.
- The arrangements made by the Councils were then presented to the whole community, who could ask for explanations and propose different points of view. If necessary, modifications were made in the arrangements presented by the Councils, then the required votes were taken by the members of the Conventual Chapter.
- Each year, I devote some time to meeting each of the community in turn. This meeting often focuses on one theme or another of our community life (e.g. weak and strong points in our fraternal life, our lectio divina), but each brother is free to bring up any subject he wishes.
- One advantage of this visitation is that it assures - at least once a year - a more serious and engaging encounter between the abbot and each of the brethren. It is also an opportunity, by the close listening to each brother individually, to bring to light more specifically, one situation or another which is a concern of several of the brethren: thus, at the "visitation" of 1995, the whole question of the reorganization of work in our community appeared as a priority.
I believe that between these three concrete forms of hearing, dialogue and community discernment, a certain form of "fraternal correction" also slips in, at least in a broad and indirect way. But I have to acknowledge that among us more specific "fraternal correction" is still an object of dialogue and of discernment... Its use in practice is still very hesitant!
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Brief personal reflections...
- Far more than an intellectual activity, community discernment is an act of charity... It implies listening, respect and love in each brother... It demands of each one an openness, a disposition of being ready to throw open to question one's point of view... How can one listen without loving, without giving one's brother's interest precedence over one's own ?
- Community discernment also demands prayer... It is good to notice that our ideas can change when we take time to pray about them, when we take time before God to allow the inessential to be sifted out from the essential...
- The fraternal climate of discernment is always more important than all the techniques that we are able to learn from human sciences...
- Techniques can serve the spirit, but they cannot give it... This spirit we receive from the Gospel, from the Rule of Saint Benedict, from the monastic tradition and from the Spirit who gives life to the body which is our community ...
- The Spirit can even discover with us new paths of dialogue and discernment, but techniques can never discover the Spirit !
- Our training for discernment is our fraternal life lived in the perspective of chapter 72 of the Rule of Saint Benedict. It is in the fraternal life led from day to day that it is prepared and given, as it were, imperceptibly... It is a discernment at the heart of life, the expression of, and search for, an authentic fraternal life; the expression of and search for communion in God and with God...
- This discernment will be carried out in "the truth of charity" and in "the charity of truth", as our Fathers loved to recall... For truth without charity would run the risk of oppressing, and charity without truth would run the risk of going astray.
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By way of conclusion...
In his chapter on calling the brethren to Council - a privileged place and moment of listening, of dialogue and of discernment -, Saint Benedict declares: "After hearing the advice of the brethren, let the abbot ponder it ("apud se" according to the latin text) and follow what he judges the wiser course." Saint Benedict points a finger to the true climate of freedom that should predominate during this whole process: freedom of the abbot with regard to the advice of the brethren, and freedom of the abbot with regard to himself, inasmuch as he himself is one of the brothers of the community...
Here, my conclusion leads me to make a confession... Thanks to the remarks of my brethren, thanks to the light shed by our two Visitors, Dom Etienne and Dom Olivier, last February, I had the shock of discovering that, as abbot, I had one more brother in the community: brother Yvon... and that he wasn't necessarily the easiest to silence ! ... Of course brother Yvon has the right to be heard among all the other brethren, but he has no more right than they to impose his point of view on the abbot ! ...
Beyond the forms that listening, dialogue and discernment can take among us, abbot and brethren, we are guided by the Spirit who frees us from our chains... It is he who will make us capable of listening and receiving the word in truth and charity, if we know first, personally and as a group, how to place ourselves in the disposition of listening to him... It is he who speaks and works through each brother... It is he, the Spirit, who builds up and animates our community , by discernments faithful to Christ and to his Gospel !