The development in emotional maturity of the person in monastic life.
A person's growth and his state of being mature, follow the rhythm of the ages of his life. Childhood, youth, adolescence, middle-age and old age, each stage in one's existence calls for a thorough appraisal and a new approach to life. To each phase in human development there are corresponding facts and challenges that the human being tackles with his training, his record of past events and the accumulated knowledge and experience of his background. This is just as true in monastic life. The novice, the simply professed, the solemnly professed and the elderly, whether a sister or a brother is called upon all the time to grow with a new outlook which once caused an elderly monk, who was near death, to cry out: "This is the day when I begin".
Traditionally, monasticism has for the most part seen the combining of the important element of becoming with the need for being permanently formed, even though the quality of the latter has been improved by the Second Vatican Council. The rhythm of time and the structures needed for growth in emotional maturity act upon each other with reciprocal effect, and this is present in all that is human as it is present also in monastic life with its concepts of freedom and love. The whole process of meeting, listening, distinguishing between people and things, of being transformed, from the time of birth until a new world, fall within the course of generations and the cultural context which so quickly and so deeply change the present world.
Benedict brings to monasticism a profound faith in the forgiving presence of Christ. The Holy Rule reveals the secret of the extraordinary wealth that is in the moderation and respect which is a mark of all community action. A youthful heart in one with a certain quality of wisdom and insight, the childlike old man (paidiogerion) such was the nickname given to Abba Macarius in the deserts of Lower-Egypt. Each generation sees both the way and the distant horizon in a different light, but the heart of monastic tradition remains the same. The question to be asked can be put in this way: what can we bring to others when the most important thing is what one is oneself? So that one might grow, develop, come through trials and tribulations, be trimmed down and become oneself in the light of Christ.
In this bulletin, it is the main structure of the development in emotional maturity of the person in monastic life which is expounded. The contribution of contemporary science is not forgotten. The psychoanalyst, Nicole Jeammet, reveals how the human being develops by continually interacting with the people and world in which he lives. From this analytical point of view, each person develops by relating to another who, at the start of one's life, is experienced as being the same as oneself. The question springs to mind of its own accord: Just how does one transform this connection? How does one fulfil this essential difference between people, if not by the experience of feelings of frustration, absence and separation? "By renouncing one's grip or stranglehold on another, because of the certainty of being loved, allows him on his own to open out an area of separation between himself and another which paradoxically becomes the only place where a coming together is possible...."1
In a previous bulletin, Dom Bernardo Olivera; Abbot General of the Trappists, had already expanded upon the importance of monastic formation from an anthropological point of view.2 Enzo Bianchi, the Prior and founder of the community of Bose in Italy, fundamentally paves the way concerning the challenges which are exclusive to the different ages in life. He marks out the stages of each spiritual combat, whether different from or similar to each stage in life, for example: the need to think, which is a dimension that is so neglected nowadays; the interior combat with a view to taking a decision; the struggle to hold tight and persevere. He dismisses the temptation of spiritual lethargy and the snares of cynicism which undermines all one's enthusiasm and also the fear of old age, sickness and death which can lead to that distinctive self-love (philautia) which is narcissism. The person in the consecrated life is little by little led to accept that final letting-go which is death. In the process of initiation that has to be gone through, Enzo Bianchi assesses the pathways of information from the novitiate until being integrated into the community life, because the essential areas in monastic issues remain the same: they are, the person, the community and God.
Yet other contributions enrich the ways of judgement for the present age. Learning about openness of heart is a permanent feature of the great monastic tradition. It is to discover that the other, the true Easter sacrament, will always be a mystery of faith to us. "I know what Easter is since I have been found worthy to see you". As an ancient maxim says: "Your key opens my door, my key opens your door. Together, we are in touch with Another who speaks and acts in us and through us". Eros, aggression, anxiety, the essential questions are disclosed and the dialogue opens out into growth, freedom and real love. In this context, flaws, wounds and even faults can become the source of growth and life.
The chronicles regarding the monastic communities of South-East Asia were not written from the viewpoint of the development of a person's emotional maturity. However in fine, are not all our personal and community lives growing within the sacred history which makes up the life of our monastic communities and of the Church? Every continent and every monastery brings its unique contribution which is inscribed in time and space. They are so many cultural approaches that enrich both the Christian faith and the monastic traditions stemming from Saint Benedict.
The meeting with other religions can also become a source of growth and emotional development in the lives of sisters and monks of this day and age. It also compels its discipline that is proper to every genuine encounter which has hospitality and respect for others. If each stage of development in emotional maturity has its permanent feature, there is an ultimate step in the stages of existence and this is death itself. The testimony of the monks of Tibhirine on this the tenth anniversary of their tragic deaths, fully reveals the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection. It is with feeling and respect that we remember them still, their blood shed out of love, the ultimate step of a person's growth in Jesus Christ.
Fr Martin Neyt, OSB,
President of the AIM
Translated from the French by Bro. Timothy Quick, St Augustine's Abbey, Ramsgate, Kent, England.
1 This contribution which is closely akin to a dimension of Christian asceticism which invites the loosening of one's grip and also renunciation so as the better to be and the better to discover the Face of God , that remains unknown and quite distinct through Him who is the icon of the invisible God.
2 Cf. Bulletin AIM no.77 pp 15-35.