Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB
President of AIM
The ‘Mirror of Monastic life’ –
starting from lectio divina
I have had occasion to use the ‘Mirror’ as a help for the animation of several meetings and retreats with communities. On each of these occasions I have found it important to embed the debate in an initial sharing of lectio divina about each of the chapters of this document. I would like to give here an echo of this as an example; other ways and other textual references are possible.
The centre of Christian monastic life is love of God and the neighbour. It is indispensible to share this as a foundation. Throughout our life Christ has revealed this to us in countless ways. His call bowled us over. We wished to respond to it to become members of his Body in order to be united to God and all others in the Holy Spirit. The monk is one who holds nothing more dear than Christ and does everything out of love of Christ, so that all may taste the fruits of his passion and of his resurrection.
Jesus said, ‘Repent for the kingdom of God is very near’ (Matthew 4.17). One of the greatest challenges for us today is to take this invitation seriously. It must imply a radical reversal to live from the depths of the heart from which life emerges from our innermost level. It must be a matter of passing from the intellect to the heart to live altogether according to this creative Love and to welcome all the fruits of this disponibility in daily life and the heart of our societies. The principal difficulties of our world, just like the Catholic Church, are linked to this demanding conversion.
On the eve of his passion Jesus prayed ‘May all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you’ (John 17.21). For us to be one together we must be one with God. The command to love is double and the second member is like the first. ‘Whoever claims to love God and does not love a brother is a liar’ (1 John 4.20). It is astonishing that we should develop fine speeches on the love of God and not be in a condition which makes the love of others part of our spiritual life.
On the subject of authority Christ denounces domination. He says, ‘the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve’ (Matthew 20.28). The exercise of authority demands absolutely awareness of this disposition. This requires time, patience and suppleness of heart to ensure such service to each member of the community and to the community as a whole.
For Jesus formation requires a lesson to be learnt from the evening of the Last Supper, ‘I have given you this example that you also should do what I have done for you’ (John 13.15). Formation cannot be confined to the transmission of notional knowledge; it is tied to experience. On this basis it starts someone on the way of conversion in love and permits progress in it.
Christ himself calls us, as St Benedict says in the prologue of his Rule, ‘To you, therefore, whoever you are, my call is addressed, “Come, follow me”’ (Mark 10.21). So we have no need to worry about vocations. God calls and we are at his disposition to welcome the fruits of his call. People who receive the call of God should be encouraged to meet Christ in order thereafter to translate this in various ways in their lives. Our monasteries are not recruitment agencies to keep an institution alive at all costs. Our monasteries are places where the call of Christ is heard loud and strong. Each person can thereafter see how to respond with the discernment required.
Christ said, ‘Come and work in my vineyard’ (Matthew 20.4). For St Benedict the whole life of a monk is a labour, a labour of conversion. This is the praktike of the Fathers. Contemplation is envisaged as beyond the labour of conversion. Liturgy, lectio, manual or intellectual work are practised so that the work of the Lord may be accomplished in the monastery, which is a workshop and a school of the Lord’s service.
6. Financial stability
In one of his parables the Lord praises a manager who makes friends by financial deceit (Luke 16.1-13). But it is possible to find lessons in this parable to strengthen the financial stability of monasteries. In fact it is a question of not absolutizing the value of money, and of putting it to the service of the brotherhood to make communion possible. Good management and financial stability are necessary for a healthy development of the community.
7. The monastery and the world
Just like other Christians, monks live according to the word of Christ, ‘God sent the Son of Man into the world not to judge, but that it might be saved (John 17.14-18). He also said, ‘I came into the world but I am not of the world’. Monks are in the world, but their ultimate point of reference is not to a godless world. That is why a monk keeps a certain distance, to discern better what choices should be made.
There are, of course, other fields and other challenges in monastic life. Each community must work out its own programme for internal discussion. Our purpose is to live the commandment of love by changing our perceptions and our decisions from the depths of our heart. The great challenge for today and tomorrow is to work on this perception in order to take part in a new world which will be a sign of the coming Kingdom. This requires a real, profound sharing in community, welcoming the interior fire of divine love and putting into concrete practice the organisation which flows from it. We hope that the points raised above will be helpful towards this work and the resultant community decisions, in order that we may be authentic witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ for today’s world.