Martin Neyt OSB, President of AIM
How shall we educate and form persons, passing on a tradition which will allow them to be their true selves as they develop according to the plan of God for humanity? Though the family is the primary and irreplaceable starting-point, benedictine education, the fruit of a community's hospitality, also has value as many Benedictine Congregations bear witness.
The francophone monasteries of Europe, with the exception of the Bernadines and some Belgian nuns, are not directly engaged in education in their foundations on other continents, rather they contribute to formation by their concern for development and various forms of hospitality. On the other hand, in English and German speaking Europe, from Hungary to the United States, Chile to Africa and the Philippines to Oceania, examples abound, highlighting important aspects of benedictine education at the beginning of the third millennium. Indeed there are about 150 benedictine and cistercian schools in the world, with some 100.000 pupils.
The humanism and spirituality brought by benedictine education take their inspiration from the very heart of monastic life. The gospel and monastic tradition as it is lived by a particular community is reflected, often unconsciously, in the whole of the life and activity of nuns and monks. 'Real knowledge entails not just knowing about things, but recognising the connections between them so as to gain access to their meaning and intelligibility', says Fr Gregory Collins OSB in his address at the beginning of the academic year. 'To educate is to create the space whereby men and women of tomorrow can experience the existence of God and, by that experience, acknowledge that he has not left us to fend for ourselves' affirms J. M. Eguiguren Guzmán.
Education points to an art of living the gospel, to the rhythm of creation in work and prayer which is disclosed in many different ways and circumstances.
- The meetings of young people at the Abbey of Münsterschwarzach has demonstrated this common spirit handed down by St Benedict and lived out in many schools.
- Other young people going out to Africa, Asia and Latin America during their holidays and discovering the striking contrast between rich schools and poor schools, the diversity of cultures, ways of thinking and communicating, of music, in sum another vision of humanity, the world, the Church and God. They return full of wonder.
- More directly, each day young people learn by the experience of respect and confidence given to them. As Sr Theodora Ntuli OSB writes from South Africa: 'the ground rules are: respect, listening to self, to God and to others, co-operation, love tolerance, openness, punctuality, caring confrontation and confidentiality where necessary.' Another reminder comes from the Philippines: 'The pupils learn about an encompassing love of God that excludes no one, where the less-gifted and emotionally vulnerable, the physically fragile and the financially handicapped are given as much adequate loving attention, respect and recognition as their better endowed peers; they are made to understand the value of attaining justice and peace for the country, honesty and integrity, and respect for human dignity' (Dr Cecile Gutierrez).
Saint Benedict, following St Paul and the Gospel, recalls the principle: to support the weak, encourage the strong, respect each one and never put the rule and organisation before the person. This 'communitarian personalism' with a very monastic flavour gives preference to education rather than strictly intellectual formation and gives benedictine education its own tonality. Today this vision attains a global dimension reaching across the continents. The mutual relations between benedictine students shed a fresh light which in its turn challenges our way of living the Gospel in community. It is a call to conversion, which we will touch upon again at the end of this editorial.
There is another dimension which we would like to emphasise -and to which we will return in future numbers of the Bulletin: the discovery of beauty, of the environment and creation. Harmony, equilibrium, rhythm, measure and beauty are also contributing factors in a broad education. They invite us to wonder, to the sense of beauty, of the sublime, of mystery and the sacred. Benedictine 'mentors' demonstrate in this way the origin of their art of life, fruit of the vitality of the monastic tradition. Education is a continuing process of growth accompanied by those who have gone before us on the road.
We should add two further aspects. Our file on remunerative work is not closed; further reports continue to arrive and we will publish them in a future Bulletin. The article by Fr Pio Tragan OSB of Montserrat presents monastic life as a continual conversion. This lecture, presented this year to the monasteries of the Iberian Peninsula, is an urgent invitation to conversion in the Church and in the world. Benedictine education lays stress on new interconnections, open to the future.