Bernardo Bonowitz, OCSO,
Nossa Senhora do Novo Mundo
Formation as Transmission of Life
As I reflected over the theme of this sharing, “transmission of life”, there came to mind the text from St. Paul, “I handed on- transmitted- to you what I myself received” (I Cor. 11:23)
As a matter of fact, that has been my effort over the past 15 years- to pass on what I myself was given.
To pass on- not to improve- because it was in reality so very rich, especially in the years of formation.
Let me relate some of what I received in my formation and what I therefore know by experience that a monastery is capable of transmitting, and what I believe it is called to transmit.
In the first place, the monastery (Spencer) was the place where I received Christ. All of you know that I am a convert from Judaism, but I think that, especially today, this is the absolute that the monastery possesses and passes on, and not just to converts: “the unsearchable riches of Christ”; to know him 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. It occupies that place in my dreams up until this day.
In the monastic formation, everything was demanded of me. That was the central experience of the novitiate. Many were the times when I prayed the verse of the psalms, “I have reached the end of my strength” (Ps. 68:21) – which was the plain truth, and yet I was asked to keep on going.
In one interview with the abbot, I was asked, “What is the greatest sacrifice God could ask of you?” When I told him, he answered, “After we finish talking, go before the Blessed Sacrament and offer that 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 discreet words, gestures, silences of the monks that to the extent that I couldn’t carry myself, I was being carried by the community.
Through spiritual direction, it was brought home to me that nothing is more important than hearing and doing the Father’s will…no matter how long you have to wait to find out what that will is. I leaned that one must wait for a revelation and that God reveals his will to the one who waits for it in faith and desire.
One great surprise was the ambience of theological confidence I encountered in the monastery- the mysteriousness and sureness of faith. On telling my novice master that I was bound in conscience to leave the monastery because I experienced doubt at some of the formulations of Marian doctrine in one of the novitiate courses, I was told to “Doubt as much as you can”. Which I did, only to discover that paradoxically it was the way that brought me to peace and faith.
At another moment, when I felt my theological world was collapsing, an 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.”
Life in the novitiate convinced me that my vocation is not a burden. One day at lectio a jingle composed itself: “My vocation is my salvation.” One stays in the monastery because monastic life is one’s salus- in this life, and in preparation for the life to come.
Above all, I experienced myself as prayed for, loved, sacrificed for…and yet left to be completely God’s. It was something very special to be enfolded by paternal and fraternal chastity. (Chastity- monastic form of charity).
My conclusion: “I am no better than my fathers.” I say this with gratefulness and joy, not with bitter resignation. “A disciple is not greater than his master. It is enough if he is like his master.”
This is my wish, the wish I have given everything for as best as I can: that through the community of Novo Mundo and myself as its abbot, someone has received life- lives: God’s, the Church’s, the Order’s, the community’s, my own, and their own, most of all, God’s and their own.