Dom Paul Stonham, OSB
Abbot of Belmont (England)
Member of the International Team of the AIM
How to use this document,
‘A Mirror of Monastic Life’
I have used the Mirror with a number of monastic communities of men on two different continents and in various languages. Although asked to preach a traditional retreat, it seems to me that using the Mirror and encouraging the community to engage in serious discussion about vital issues to do with living the monastic life today can be really beneficial.
If you look at the Mirror, you see that it consists of an introduction, a section on the general state of the world and monastic life today and then seven short chapters on specific topics. I find that chapter 7 naturally divides into two parts. All are followed by questions that can form the basis for community dialogue and discussion. There is enough material for at least nine sessions and some communities will want to move on to further topics they find important or a particular challenge today.
I begin each meeting with prayer, followed by a fifteen-minute introduction on the theme to be reflected on in the discussion that follows. The community divides into pairs or small groups for dialogue, then return for a final half hour or so of general discussion based on feedback from the small groups. The final debate is always lively and interesting and tends to be open-ended, only concluding with the next meal or hour of prayer. Free discussions often continue later in the day.
Each time I adapt my short introductory talks to the particular circumstances of each country and community. I also suggest that there might be other questions the small groups might want to discuss, so they should feel free to choose their own questions or even discuss some other related topic if they feel moved to do so.
The amazing thing is the genuine thirst for dialogue and discussion in monastic communities. In one monastery, a monk said, ‘Today, monks want to be heard.’ That became the moving force for the whole retreat.