Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB
President of AIM
Interview with Dom Mark Butlin
Member of the International Team of the AIM
Dear Mark, you have been working for the AIM for forty-three years. Can you give us a snapshot of your experience in the long term? What seems to you the most important element?
I think the most important aim is to create a link in the heart of each community and between the communities, to form a brotherhood by sharing as much as possible the concrete factors of the groups.
What regions do you visit frequently?
Southern Africa, Nigeria, Angola, India and Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Ethiopia and Vietnam.
What do you think of the document produced by the International Team, the ‘Mirror’?
The purpose of the document is to help our brothers and sisters to reflect deeply on their lives by giving sign-posts to help them find their way. Communities have so many problems and so many successes. It is possible to live without reflecting on the purpose of everything one does, of one’s whole life. Routine so often gives a habit of living on auto-pilot.
For instance there are countries where there is an emphasis on pastoral and missionary work and where monastic life is not
sufficiently considered for itself. Teaching on the meaning of our life is often quite weak.
Have you already used the ‘Mirror’, and how did it go?
I had the chance to use it at a meeting of the Indo Sri-Lankan Benedictine Federation in India. My contribution was based on the seven points of the ‘Mirror’ without too much discussion. Everyone was interested. The ISBF comprises particularly the superiors and formators of many communities in India and Sri Lanka and many of them were aware that the document leaves room for major work on the chief points of contemporary monasticism.
How would you advise that it be used?
The questions it raises should be developed in each context, for example on community life. What types of worries are there in a particular culture with its own characteristics? It is important to reflect on the obstacles and supports necessary in each context.
The text is pretty general. How should it be adapted to various circumstances?
The presenter of this text must be capable of interpreting the data of the document in the context of the life of the community. The text needs to be brought to life and to be articulated in the circumstances of the time and place. It is not sufficient to keep to the text. Like other texts of the monastic tradition from the Fathers of the Desert till the present day interpretation is needed for each specific context. The ‘Mirror’ is a tool which depends largely on the person who is using it and helping the community to make use of it.
What future do you see for monastic life today? In what form?
This always depends on the Holy Spirit. Monastic life is an essential dimension of the life of the Church among other proposals just as important for witnessing to the life of the Church and to the service of proclaiming the Kingdom. As Pope Francis says, the traditions of religious life are a gospel reminder of the life of the Church. Benedict XVI said of John Climacus, ‘He presents in capitals what the world sees in small letters.’
The future depends on the way in which monastic life is inserted into the life of the Church, at the heart of our societies, in contact with specific persons, all in communion with one another, and not only at the level of ideas. In this sense hospitality in a spirit of openness is also important.
In everything you have lived out in the AIM for so many years what has made the greatest impression on you?
I don’t like that question. I react in the same way as when someone asks me what is my favourite piece of music. All music has its charm; some pieces please me more than others, but I have difficulty in choosing. Nevertheless I can say that it is meetings with persons and communities which have most impressed me.
Moreover since the beginning of my monastic life I have had the opportunity to meet great witnesses who have given me their witness to monastic life. That has been the most important lesson for me. I think of Basil Hume, Denis Huerre, Anthony Bloom, Bernard de Soos. People all very human and quite unique. I have met also nuns who have been great witnesses for me. But I hold in my heart also communities of nuns and of sisters which have made a great impression on me.
As for being rooted in local culture, I think of the example of Ethiopia. The Cistercian communities of this country marry a fine understanding of monastic life with a profound dialogue with their culture. To be so disposed belongs to the nature of the Church. The question of the age of the members of our communities is less important than it is said to be. It is not obligatory to have many young people. At Kurisumala in India there are mature people and it is a very fine community. There are more and more vocations for mature individuals.
A reflexion of a Syro-Malabar bishop struck me forcibly in the course of a visit to India: ‘Knowledge of its Christian basis is vital for a monastic vocation’. Even before becoming a monk it is important to have the capacity to fit into a Christian style of life; otherwise monastic life risks becoming rootless and cannot last for the duration of a proper witness.