Father Martin Neyt, OSB,
President of AIM
"At the beginning of my service as the successor to Peter, I ask Saint Benedict to help us to keep Christ firmly at the centre of our lives. May He always have first place in our thoughts and in all our actions". Pope Benedict XVI.
Monks and enclosed nuns join with the whole Church in the act of thanksgiving for the election of Pope Benedict XVI and in turn we assure him of our humble and unfailing prayers for the great ministry entrusted to him.
How to govern...a monastic community! So many superiors see themselves entrusted with this mission and AIM is privileged to be able to share the experiences of several of their lives, in various contexts. Saint Brendan's logbook, going back to the 6th century tells of the lives of monks setting sail with their Abbot in search of Paradise. Here is an extract which is a wonderful way of starting our subject:
"Upon leaving the bay, we made our way with a good following breeze which lasted for twelve days. But on the thirteenth day the breeze left us and the sea was as flat as glass, not the gentlest breath of wind ruffled the water which was just as if it were molten metal sending back the radiance of the sun. So we took to the oars and for a long, long time, we rowed away, until with bleeding hands and our bodies exhausted with fatigue, we were unable to make the slightest effort... Seeing that we were in such a plight, Brendan had us raise the oars and ordered us to hoist sail again. I did not dare to tell our abbot that it was useless doing this because we were becalmed, but Brendan guessed my thoughts, and said: "We have no better wind or better pilot than God himself. Let us abandon ourselves to His Will. He will lead us to where He wants us to go". So for many a day, on the motionless sea, with a burning thirst and fever, we drifted on, not knowing which regions of the world we were drifting to...Lo and behold a mysterious Breath filled our sail and this same mysterious wind drove the ‘curragh' speedily over the glassy sea...".
The community, the Abbot, the means of navigation (the Rule and Benedictine traditions), the sea conditions and the winds (the environment), the divine Breath which guides the fundamental direction of the community, these are the essential things which combine according to the history and vitality of a monastic community. The art of sailing in the faith calls for everyone to be mobilised, from the captain to the cabin boy and means that the person in charge must listen to everyone, especially the youngest. This means that the captain must give proof of judgment and balance in order to develop the cohesion of his crew, without being "timid, fussy or suspicious", still less must he withdraw with disappointment at having to lead people who are free and self-sufficient. And so, the Abbot may be compared with Moses, on the journey to the Promised Land with his people - as Abbot Primate Notker Wolf OSB, explained at length.
For his part, Dom Bernardo Olivera, OCSO., Abbot General, like a wise and experienced pilot spoke from the heart to each person. His disarming simplicity, stamped with a quality of prayer and humility, manifested as sharing the service of authority. The many viewpoints and questions raised lead to five points being referred to, in direct terms, to the one who is called to the cockpit. Sayings and maxims are lived because of the experience of life, they are concrete appeals to a way of being and behaving. "As the lookout in the crow's-nest, the higher you are, the more you have to look towards the horizon of the future..."
Father Victor Bordeau, OCSO, Abbot of Tamie called for us to be free from a fundamentalist reading of Scripture, the Rule and the Liturgy: these proposals will allow us to find ways of sailing which give us access to Mystery.
There is another way of sailing which is both feminine and subtle, and which allows us into Asiatic waters: "Knowing the heart, is to know the essence and knowing the essence, means knowing the way" commented the Prioress of Thu-Duc in Vietnam.
Mother Rosaria, OCSO, from Rome spoke out against the fragmentation of plans and our way of life so that a cohesion that gathers us together can be rediscovered, for this is a source of communion and joy. It is dialogue which makes the ship move forward more speedily. This dialogue, combined with various stages of training, bringing about involvement in the abbot's government in a spirit of faith.
This is sailing towards the high seas... Sister Joan Chittister OSB, underlined that if today's small craft have clearly defined destinations, the Benedictines, prompted by their hearts, find their bearings by use of the divine Breath. As a result they sail their sailing boat with a skill that comes from elsewhere: this model suggest another way of behaviour with regard to people and with regards work; another vision of wisdom, authority and relationships is developed, without the seeking for success and results that is so characteristic of contemporary man. So many realities are reversed in the eyes of the Divine: community, leadership and humility, the meaning of work, openness to ideas, questioning and consensus of opinion. In a word, "leadership is a grace and gift of God which gives life to the talents of the whole community".
For their part the Benedictine Sisters of Lubumbashi have just dropped anchor at Moundou, in Chad. May the breeze of the Holy Spirit bring them coolness and courage in these new beginnings which as always are blessed by Almighty God.
Singing and dancing accompanied the solemn profession of Sister Marie-Liesse at Bouake in the Ivory Coast. In this region which is full of tension between the North and South, 800 people took part in the celebrations and for a little while forgot their troubles and woes.
Abbot Timothy Kelly OSB., asked what qualities are needed by the pilot of the vessel according to the Rule of St Benedict? They are the same ones that St Benedict loved the monks to have! He obviously did not write his Rule for superiors, but indeed for communities. If we re-read chapters 2 and 64 this will give us new food for thought: the community becomes a sign of reconciliation and unity "May all be One in us, as You and I are One", with their Abbot they make the Body of Christ itself. The community's stability will only survive in so far as it recognizes its responsibilities to the entire Church and the whole of humanity.
Other questions were raised by Father Jacques Coté, OSB., who addressed the new superiors at the session at Tre Fontane in Rome.
Father John Kurichianil, OSB., the new Abbot of Kappadu, traced guidelines in the prologue of the Rule following those of the first community in the Acts of the Apostles.
Father Emanuel Bargellini, the Prior General of the Camaldulensians, succinctly described the renaissance of his Congregation and the Brazilian Abbot, Father de Arruda Zamith OSB., called to mind memories of an Ancient time... So many viewpoints with links from India to Rome depending on times and places.
Since Brendan's first voyage, hundreds of monastic communities have taken to the sea and sailed the oceans. Great liners, small ships, frail barques, in a world that has lost its way, a prey to so many unknown quantities, they are fragile yet lasting signs of reconciliation and unity, of peace, joy, prayer and silence. What is the secret that gives life to these individuals and institutions, if not that wonderful treasure, the magnificent logbook, in which St Benedict adorned all the arrangements of the communities with both moderation and immense mutual respect. Always with the crow's nest lookout in charge telling of the Promised Land, making headway to the Gospel and, as Pope Benedict XVI emphasised, preferring nothing to the love of Christ.
(Translated from the French by Br Timothy Quick, St Augustine's Abbey, Ramsgate, England.)