Report on the Session of Ananias
from the chronicles of the session
(cf. Website of the Benedictines of Vanves)
The fourth Session of Ananias took place from 7th September to 1st December. It had been planned for 2021, but the pandemic dictated a postponement. We were touched to note that the sessions have become well-known and are serving the communities well. We have received very positive feedback. The session was well attended and was a great success, as the reactions, both of the participants and of the members of the Office, showed.
The participants were called on to create a real fraternity during their three months of shared life: this is the necessary basis of everything experienced. The sessions are for living, not merely for information. This year, from the very first days, traditionally given over to presentations, the group grew together rapidly: the fact that many arrived after great difficulty, often most burdensome, linked to their communities and their countries, furthered the fraternal spirit which was very strong throughout the three months.
The welcome in the monasteries had a double aim, to keep the monastic framework during the three months and to discover different aspects of monastic life in Europe. The members began at La Pierre-qui-Vire (this has become a custom with our brothers of Morvan, whom it is not superfluous to thank once again), then at Pradines, Tamié and Aiguebelle. At the feedback the brothers and sisters unanimously regretted that the alternation of monasteries (monks/nuns and Benedictines/Cistercians) had not been observed, prevented by a series of accidents. The welcome from each community did much to mitigate this regret.
A word about the programme: throughout the sessions it was refined, but the main pillars remained unchanged:
• Monastic life and Gospel (disciples of Christ live by the Word)
• Liturgy, a monastic experience
• St Benedict
• History of monasticism
• Spiritual accompaniment
• Human development, psychology and spiritual life
• Community life
• Conclusion: return to monastic principles.
In addition, reflection on integral ecology coloured these months.
The participants were overwhemingly monks and nuns. From the beginning in 2013 some lay teachers – not always the same – have participated. As for the accompaniment of the group, Br Cyprien of La Pierre qui Vire was the leader. For the next session of Ananias we envisage a pairing of monk/nun, which was wisely requested by the participants.
The participation of Pastor Pierre-Yves Brandt, who joined us three times in the course of the session, was much appreciated ‘He taught us to communicate and to be free by basing our choices on the Word.’
Extracts from the Chronicles
The fourth session of Ananias (2022) took place from 8th September to 29th November (previous sessions 2013, 2015, 2018), in four abbeys, La Pierre-Qui-Vire, Pradines, Tamié and Aiguebelle, under the ordinary authority of Br Cyprian (PQV), Sister Marie (Martigné) and Mother Scholastique (Pradines). Twenty-four Ananists were welcomed, 16 nuns, 8 monks. Sr Elisabeth-Marie, a Poor Clare, also joined.
La Pierre-qui-Vire (8-29th September)
Everyone brought products of their own monastery. Expectations were varied and aroused enthusiasm beyond the charges and burdens carried by each. At the beginning of the session the projection of a documentary on the 40 martyrs of the fraternity of Buta (Burundi), because of the presence of two brothers from Burundi, was gripping and was followed by a lively exchange.
In each monastery times of recreations (music, dance, visits of Vézelay, Cluny, Taizé, Autun, Paray-le-Monial, Hautecombe, projection of films) and sharings had been prepared, and both rejoiced and enriched the participants. Similarly the common life of the group, which is one of the formative elements. But of course the lectures and working-groups were the most important elements. Sister Marie of Martigné presented the Cappadocian Fathers following on from Basil the Great, to help understand what it means to ‘please God’, an important term in monastic life, but especially so for beginners and those who have charge of formation in their communities. Then Br Patrick (PQV) laid out the panoply of bibliographical tools for formation in the liturgy and began with ‘What is the liturgy for me?’ The rich answers from the participants harvested many treasures. By reading passages from the General Presentation of the Roman Missal it was possible to see that the liturgy is an ‘epiphany of the Church in prayer’ (Pope John-Paul II), or by reference to the tympanum of Vezelay where the head of Christ is encircled by a motto, ‘Our head, Christ, is already in heaven, awaiting the arrival of the whole body’ (St Leo the Great, SC 62).
After this, Pierre-Yves Brandt, a Reformed Protestant pastor, gave some information, comparing the Institutions of Cassian and chapter 58 of the Rule of St Benedict. Br Jean-Louis (PQV) ran through the major stages of the history of monasticism. Abbot Luc (PQV) guided the group through lectio, comparing ‘Where our treasure is, there is our heart also (Mt 6.21) to the African proverb, ‘The fruits of tomorrow are the plants of today’.
The excursion arranged for this stage was to discover Taizé: Br Alois shows us the actual room of Br Roger. In the course of the two days the group shared in the celebration of the veneration of the Cross on Friday evening, the light of the Resurrection on Saturday evening and the Mass of Easter. The prophetic spirit of Br Roger, the care in the simplification of the liturgy to include young people and people less young, has continued since 1957/8.
Pradines (29th September – 20th October)
Mother Pierre-Marie, the Abbess, spoke about scripture and tradition, and about monastic poverty and work. She delved into the question of ‘happy sobriety’ according to Cassian, Pope Francis and the Rule. Br Bruno of Acey showed how to use the necessary tools for approaching a text and navigate the digital world, assuring that this does not separate the user from the spiritual life. Mother Hannah of the Priory of Loppem (Belgium) opened the question which each has to the Rule and its relationship to the Rule of the Master and to Scripture.
A visit to Sources Chrétiennes, celebrating its 80th birthday this year, introduced the participants to this Institute. Marie-Laure Chaieb gave a presentation of Irenaeus of Lyons, recently declared a Doctor of the Church. Sister Maria-Jose Arandia and Br John Chrysostome opened the theme of inculturation, stressing that every culture is called to pass from death to resurrection in Christ. Mother Marie-Madeleine devoted her intervention to spiritual accompaniment: always take Christ as the starting-point, with liberty and confidence.
Tamié (20th October – 9th November)
Julie Saint-Bris, Sr Siong and Br Michael Davide of Novalesa introduced the participants to the depths of the personality and its needs. Drawing on his vast experience, the retired Abbot Victor spoke about factors which divide or unite a community. Br Didier shared the life and work of Br Christophe, blessed martyr of Tibhirine, who had been very close to him.
Abbot Luc of Pierre-qui-Vire spoke of Evagrius Ponticus, and Sr Claire of Martigne-Briand spoke of Maximus the Confessor, worthy follower of Evagrius. The excursion was to the royal abbey of Hautecombe, which has been since 1992 in the hands of the community of the Chemin Neuf, a Catholic community with an ecumenical vocation. The meal was taken with young people of many nations, receiving a biblical and spiritual formation for some weeks or months. The Ananists were impressed by the openness of their reception, and the simplicity of their life, mixing modernity and respect for patrimony both architural and spiritual.
Aiguebelle (10th November – 1st December)
In this stage fraternal life played a large part, under different aspects. Br Cyprian spoke of the joys, difficulties and attractions linked to fraternal life, such as the value of silence. Br Columba (En-Calcat) detailed how to pass from fear of the faith to confidence, from jealousy to praise. For Christian de Chergé, ‘The secret joy of the Spirit will always be to establish unity and re-establish resemblance while playing with the differences’.
Dom Mauro-Giuseppe (Abbot General of the Cistercians) spoke of the vows: they unite us beyond our differences by looking to Christ and by God’s sacred presence expressed in the rite of profession. With clarity and precision Abbot Pierre-André of Cîteaux explained the delicate balance between authority and obedience. Authority is at the service of the growth of the brother. Authentic obedience is lived in a climate of love, and motivates an authentic liberty and autonomy of the disciple.
Integral ecology was a scarlet thread through these three months. Elena Lasida presented the novelty of the encyclical Laudato Si’, its impact beyond Christians, its central idea and its environmental impact.
Such were the leading ideas of the teaching of this session. The essential remains hidden to the eyes of witnesses, but it lives in the hearts of each of the members.