Mark Butlin, OSB, Ampleforth, UK
Monastic Formators’ Program
MONASTIC FORMATORS PROGRAM
Dear Abbot Eamon and all my sisters and brothers of the Trappist family,
It is truly a pleasure for me to be invited by you to report for the 3rd successive General Chapter on the Monastic Formators Program.
This year marks the 10th year since the opening of the 1st Session in 2002. Since then there have been 8 yearly sessions with 2 fallow years resulting from an insufficient number of applicants.
A total of 222 members of the worldwide Benedictine family have participated, bringing together Trappists, Cistercians of the Common Observance and Benedictines, coming from 40 different countries.
The Trappist presence on the Program over the 10 years has amounted 60 participants of whom 40 have been monks and 20 nuns of 20 nationalities in all.
The experience of Fr Brendan Thomas and I in working together preparing the Program since 2000 and then running it has been extremely rich. We have been able to see how this 13 week course with its sapiential approach has evolved over the 8 sessions as we have sought to respond over the years to the needs of the participants. Its threefold emphasis on the academic, pedagogical and the pastoral has proved to be the best way to respond to the monks, nuns and sisters who come to take part in the Program. They are in search of practical help in carrying their ministry as formators within their communities. With the help of a faculty of some 17 members, both men and women, drawn from a number of countries in the different continents we have been able to provide a broadly based course focused on our monastic tradition.
I should like to your attention to what we have seen and learnt from working with men and women of different cultures and a wide variety of backgrounds both personal, monastic, and intellectual. From the youngest participants in their 30s to the oldest in their 70s, the basic need of all is for a solid grounding in a unifying vision of our monastic vocation springing from the continuing call of Christ through the Gospel. This was brought home to us when the Poor Clare Junior Mistress, in the monastery of Santa Chiara here in Assisi, met our group. She observed that we tend to present our monastic life in a fragmented way, focusing on the individual elements such as liturgy, personal prayer, community living, work, and silence. The danger is that we fail to draw all the parts together showing that they cohere only in an on-going relationship with Jesus Christ before love of whom we set nothing. Using these words of the Rule, Benedict XVI has strongly emphasised that religious life finds its essential point of reference in monastic life as the exemplar of living out our baptismal vocation in Christ.
Speaking personally from what I learnt from 27 years of AIM work in the field of formation throughout Africa and Asia, it has become ever clearer that the starting point for any authentic monastic journey must a true awareness of one’s Christian identity. This means that we all have to begin with personal evangelization leading to an encounter with Christ and a real commitment to him. This point was heavily emphasised by a newly ordained Syromalabar Bishop at the annual gathering of 40 Benedictine communities from India and Sri Lanka 3 years ago. Depth evangelization is needed by new comers rather than catechesis.
One of the most powerful aspects of our Formators’ Program in the view of participants is the experience of forming a new
Christian community during the course of the three months they are together. Sharing faith, prayer and daily living in an atmosphere of on-going learning and dialogue create a deep bond of communion. At the personal level, a number have spoken of a real conversion and having undergone a second novitiate leading to a new sense of commitment to their monastic vocation. Often participants grow remarkably in confidence, leading to a genuine desire to communicate in formation what they have discovered and learnt.
Perhaps it can best be summed up in recognizing the whole of monastic life as formation, a progress in faith and conversatio morum, by which we follow Christ to glory.
In conclusion, I bring you Fr Brendan’s warm greetings, especially to those known to him and together we wish to express our gratitude to all those individuals and communities who have given us such generous support in our work. We owe a particular word of thanks to the Order for the financial help it has provided and without which we could not have given many scholarships especially to poorer monasteries.