"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012
The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch
The Press divided those taking part in the Second Vatican Council into “Conservatives” and “Progressives”. Of course it was an over-simplification; but it was handy and suited their journalistic purpose. In fact, among those who wanted to change things, (the “Progressives”), there were at least two tendencies that had distinct goals, though this was not so apparent at the time. Both wanted decentralization of the Church in order to give more importance and autonomy to the local Church; both thought that the teaching of Vatican I needed to be balanced by an emphasis on collegiality and the function of the local bishop; both wanted a reform of the liturgy; and both were ecumenically orientated. They often spoke the same language and voted the same way in the Council; but their goals and their theological positions were irreconcilable as they stood, and this has only become apparent to the Church at large since the Council.
Firstly, there were the liberals, often Anglo-Saxon, who wanted more decision-making at local and individual levels, and hence less directives from the centre. Like the conservatives who saw the Church as a perfect society, they thought of the Church in political and legal terms, even though, like them, they accepted that this political entity is the body of Christ. The doctrine of the body of Christ served to justify and sanctify their basically political view of the Church, just as it justified and sanctified the legalistic view of the conservatives. Like the conservatives, they thought that the solutions to the Church’s problems were about jurisdiction and law, but, unlike the conservatives, they advocated a contemporary liberal political model which gave more freedom for the individual to make decisions and take initiatives, a certain level of democracy in the Church, and a far greater tolerance of dissent. Generally, but not always, they accepted papal dogma as a law of belief that was binding on them, but they interpreted it so that that the pope could only pass such a law in very restricted circumstances; and they believed that everything not defined in an “infallible decree” could be freely doubted or disbelieved or changed. They wanted to leave as much as possible up to the individual to make up his own mind. In things biblical, they considered the methods used in modern scholarship to be the surest way to understand Scripture. In things theological, they insisted on academic freedom for theologians and denied the right of the Vatican or any other ecclesiastical authority to question, criticize or, still less, to condemn their conclusions.. In things ecumenical, they looked to the Anglican Church as a natural partner, though wanting more coherence than the Anglican Communion has. They saw the Second Vatican Council as the Catholic equivalent to the Protestant Reformation; and, in its popular version, liked to contrast “post-Vatican Ii” with “pre-Vatican II”, where “pre-Vatican II” is everything that is conservative and bad, and “post-Vatican II” is all that is progressive and good.. Funnily enough, because they have a basically political vision, they are much closer in their understanding of the Church to the conservative camp who they oppose at every turn than they are to the second group who voted with them in the Cyouncil. Later, they would see the problem of women priests in political terms, as part of the fight for equal rights for women, and would consider it an open question because there is no dogma against women clergy, and the Scriptural argument is inconclusive. Scripture can be interpreted in the light of the feminist agenda rather than by Tradition because women priests is basically a political problem.
This other group were often patristic scholars and liturgists like Ratzinger and Bouyer; and they saw the Church, not in political terms, but primarily as a sacramental organism, and believed that the authority of popes and even of general councils is limited and the ties between a bishop and his flock are assured by this very fact. The juridical ties that bind a bishop to his flock only give external shape to much deeper ties that are the fruit of the Holy Spirit acting through the liturgy. The Pope, although he has universal episcopal jurisdiction over the whole Church, cannot act as though these deeper ties do not exist. To do so would be to deny the Source of his own relationship with the Church. His universal jurisdiction is the servant of the true Source of Catholic unity which is the Holy Spirit acting through the liturgy and manifesting his Presence in ecclesial love. The pope is servant of Catholicity world-wide which is called communion, and he is servant of Catholicity in time, down the ages, from the time of the Apostles to the present day, which is called Tradition. This group wanted to see the liturgy reformed to express the sacramental nature of the whole Church rather than as an expression of powers given to priests as individuals at their ordination; they believed that “Tradition” is an ongoing process in which the Church acts in harmony with the Holy Spirit and is an absolutely central dimension of the Catholic Reality; and their ecumenical gaze fell on the Orthodox and other Eastern Churches as their natural partners. As the Holy Spirit was present and active in the Church before and during the Council, and would be present after the Council, because it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that makes the Catholic Church what it is, any changes would have to be consistent with the unity of the Church across time and space. For them Vatican II could not be a “Catholic Reformation”, because the Holy Spirit is constantly acting in “synergy” with the Church which is thus a divine – human reality, the body of Christ. What the Spirit does together with the Church in one generation cannot be overthrown in the next. Clearly Fr Joseph Ratzinger has not changed his theology. This is how he saw it at the time:
“The decision to begin with the liturgy schema was not merely a technically correct move. Its significance went far deeper. This decision was a profession of faith in what is truly central to the Church–the ever-renewed marriage of the Church with her Lord, actualized in the eucharistic mystery where the Church, participating in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, fulfils its innermost mission, the adoration of the triune God. Beyond all the superficially more important issues, there was here a profession of faith in the true source of the Church’s life, and the proper point of departure for all renewal. The text did not restrict itself to mere changes in individual rubrics, but was inspired from this profound perspective of faith. The text implied an entire ecclesiology and thus anticipated … the main theme of the entire Council – its teaching on the Church. Thus the Church was freed from the ‘hierarchological’ (Congar) narrowness’ of the last hundred years, and returned to its sacramental origins” (14). Theological Highlights of Vatican II (New York: Paulist Press/Deus Books, 1966)
The ‘hierarchological’ narrowness was the ‘conservative idea of the Church as held together by a hierarchic system with the pope at the top. In its place, the Church was returning “to its sacramental origins”, without, of course, denying its hierarchic structure. Little did he know that many who voted the same way as he did were advocating another form of “narrowness”, equally political, but cast in a liberal democratic mould.
There is no doubt that Vatican II endorsed Ratzinger’s position. The great change of perspective and emphasis is contained in this key sentence in the Constitution on the Liturgy: the liturgy is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows.” ((Const. Lit. I. 10). The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells out the meaning of this all important sentence+
1104Christian liturgy not only recalls the events that saved us but actualizes them, makes them present. The Paschal Mystery is celebrated, not repeated. It is the celebrations that are repeated, and in each celebration there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes the unique mystery present. 1105 The Epiclesis (invocation upon) is the intercession in which the priest begs the Father to send the Holy Spirit … 1106 Together with the anamnesis the epiclesis is at the heart of every sacramental celebration, most especially of the Eucharist… 1107 The Holy Spirit’s transforming power in the liturgy hastens the coming of the kingdom…. 1108 In every liturgical action the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bring us into communion with Christ and so to form his body. …The most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy. The Spirit, who is the Spirit of communion, abides indefectibly in the Church. For this reason the Church is the great sacrament of divine communion which gathers God’s scattered children together. Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy. (my emphasis).
The liturgy is “the source of all the Church’s powers” because “the most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit is achieved in the liturgy” That the Church is the sacrament of communion in the life of the Blessed Trinity and of the human race is “inseparably the fruit of the liturgy”. Hence the Church is not infallible because the pope and general council are infallible: it is the other way round. The liturgy is the source of their ability to exercise that authority because it is the vehicle of “the most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church” without which the infallibility of popes and general councils would be impossible. The liturgy is also the summit towards which dogmatic pronouncements are directed because it is only when the dogmatic teaching is integrated into our worship that it is fully functioning as a dogma.
Hence, on specific occasions, pope and council are infallible with the infallibility of the Church, an infallibility which springs from its liturgical life, where the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the life of the Church is at its most intense. The theologians of this group would have agreed with the Armenian Orthodox theologian Vardapet Karekin Sarkissian who wrote, “Faith or doctrine is not truth on paper, or formulae in creeds and conciliar decrees or canons, but something living, faith lived or doctrine professed in the permanent experience of the Church’s life as a whole; in other words “Orthodoxia”.” (“Orthodoxy” is, at one and the same time “true doctrine” and “true worship”. In other words, Orthodoxy finds its fullest expression in the liturgy where it is a part of worship, not in the decrees of councils or popes, however infallible they may be when they define doctrine; the orthodoxy of dogmatic definitions is ordered towards true worship, and in this way gives glory to God.)
When Pope John Paul II was asked to permit women to be bishops, he did not answer that he was against women bishops. He said that he had no authority or power to permit women bishops. He declared in Sacerdotio Ordinatio : “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. LK 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful” (no. 4) Others want to abolish the old rite of saying Mass and celebrating the sacraments.. Cardinal Ratzinger said wrote:
"From my own personal point of view I should like to give further particular emphasis to some of the criteria for liturgical renewal thus briefly indicated. I will begin with those last two main criteria. It seems to me most important that the Catechism, in mentioning the limitation of the powers of the supreme authority in the Church with regard to reform, recalls to mind what is the essence of the primacy as outlined by the First and Second Vatican Councils: The pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law, but is the guardian of the authentic Tradition, and thereby the premier guarantor of obedience. He cannot do as he likes, and is thereby able to oppose those people who for their part want to do what has come into their head. His rule is not that of arbitrary power, but that of obedience in faith. That is why, with respect to the Liturgy, he has the task of a gardener, not that of a technician who builds new machines and throws the old ones on the junk-pile. The "rite", that form of celebration and prayer which has ripened in the faith and the life of the Church, is a condensed form of living tradition in which the sphere which uses that rite expresses the whole of its faith and its prayer, and thus at the same time the fellowship of generations one with another becomes something we can experience, fellowship with the people who pray before us and after us. Thus the rite is something of benefit which is given to the Church, a living form of paradosis -- the handing-on of tradition." (His review of The Organic Development of the Liturgy by Dom Alcuin Reid OSB of Farnborough Abbey. "Therefore, with the greatest feeling, great understanding for the preoccupations and fears, in union with those responsible, one should understand that this missal is also a missal of the Church, under the authority of the Church; that it is not something of the past to be protected, but a living reality of the Church, much respected in its identity and in its historical greatness. All the liturgy of the Church is always a living thing, a reality which is above us, not subject to our wills or arbitrary wishes." ((from a speech at Fongombault in July 2001) For Ratzinger no one has the authority to invent and propose for use a completely new rite. All the rites in use except for the Armenian Rite have their origins in the three patriarchal sees of Apostolic Foundation, Rome, Antioch and Alexandria, and even the Armenian rite belongs to a Church that was evangelized in Apostolic times. Hence all Catholic rites are products of Apostolic Tradition which it is the function of pope and bishops to protect and serve, not to replace or abolish. They are not free to cut the Church loose from these rites or to make arbitrary changes. On the contrary, they are fulfilling the purpose of their authority when they use it to protect and make them more accessible. He wrote:
"The Christian faith can never be separated from the soil of sacred events, from the choice made by God, who wanted to speak to us, to become man, to die and rise again, in a particular place and at a particular time. . . . The Church does not pray in some kind of mythical omnitemporality. She cannot forsake her roots. She recognizes the true utterance of God precisely in the concreteness of its history, in time and place: to these God ties us, and by these we are all tied together. The diachronic aspect, praying with the Fathers and the apostles, is part of what we mean by rite, but it also includes a local aspect, extending from Jerusalem to Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople. Rites are not, therefore, just the products of inculturation, however much they may have incorporated elements from different cultures. They are forms of the apostolic Tradition and of its unfolding in the great places of the Tradition." (163/4 The Spirit of the Liturgy)
The 2nd Vatican Council is also an event within this Tradition. This means that the post-conciliar liturgy must be interpreted in the light of the Tradition of which it is a relatively new expression. It also means that the pope does not have the power simply to abolish a form of liturgy that has been the norm for many hundreds of years,n nor to abolish the new rite, however much he may prefer the old..; The pope is the guardian of Tradition,not its master. To use Cardinal Ratzinger’s metaphor, the pope is like a gardener who has to respect the laws of botany, not a mechanic who can construct what he likes as long as it works. He has written:
"After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the mandate of an ecumenical council. Eventually, the idea of the givenness of the liturgy, the fact that one cannot do with it what one will, faded from the public consciousness of the West. In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope's authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not "manufactured" by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity. . . . The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition."(165/6 The Spirit of the Liturgy)
The Church is a sacramental organism, a living process that develops according to its own inherent laws; and these have to be respected by whoever is in charge, just as much as by those who obey him. The Church is not a mechanism nor is its basic structure the product of mere legislation. Therefore, those in charge of the Church on earth cannot simply re-construct it at will using their legal authority. The Church, far from being the “perfect society” of the conservatives or the “liberal society” of the progressives, is the most imperfect of human societies because it can only function by the power of the Spirit who is outside its control. It needs and has a proper juridical system, but this system is at the service of the Spirit who requires the obedience of faith, both from those who legislate and enforce and from those who obey. Jurisdiction has no power over Tradition and must always act within it. I believe that this is the reason why the Pope did not consult the bishops when he gave general permission for the use of the old Latin rite: he believed that the attempt to block its use was as beyond his and their authority as it is beyond the authority of the Anglican Synod to introduce into the Church female bishops and priests.
The Anglican Synod claims more authority than the pope. To pass the measure on women bishops through synod the Anglicans show that they have a ‘lower’ doctrine of the relationship between the structure of the Church and of Tradition. It is not enough to say as the Archbishop of Canterbury did, that there is nothing in Scripture strong enough to impede the introduction of women bishops and priests. In a Catholic view of Tradition, the understanding that the Church has gained down the ages of a particular biblical text and the implications the Church has drawn from that reading form part of any full exegisis of that text, even if scholars tell us that this is not the original meaning. Texts can grow in meaning and may come to express different meanings which reverent prayer can turn into a coherent whole.. In Catholicism the Bible does not stand alone apart from Tradition, because the Holy Spirit is involved in both, which means they belong together. The continual exposure of the Church to the Bible through the liturgy, in which things old and new are understood with the help of the same Spirit who is Author of the Bible, is a constituant dimension of Tradition.
Has it ever occurred to you that those who wish the Church authorities to completely abolish the old Latin Roman rite and to permit women bishops share the same presuppositions as those who want the pope to declare the Blessed Virgin “Mediatrix of All Graces”? Those who wish the pope to make the teaching on Mary a dogma believe that law is above liturgy. It is not enough for them that Our Lady’s holiness and position in God’s plan of Salvation are expressed in prayers, prefaces and offices of the Catholic liturgy. They hold that an official papal proclamation of Mary’s privileges gives more glory to God and to Our Lady than the liturgy does. Law is above liturgy in their estimation of things. They are not sufficiently aware of the synergy between the Spirit and the Church which is the basic reality of the liturgy and makes it the supreme, highest expression of the Catholic faith; though, in times of crisis it may be necessary to proclaim or emphasize anew a dogma of pope or council in order to preserve the unity of the Church or in order to interpret the liturgy aright when this becomes a matter of dispute.. However, the liturgical expression of a truth is a good deal closer to the reality it is expressing than is a proclaimed dogma. It is the function of dogmatic pronouncements to expound and defend Catholic orthodoxy so that the liturgy can more faithfully give glory to God. Like those who want a new dogma, the reformers believe that the pope’s signature is all that is needed to change a sacramental practice of two thousand years. For them law is above liturgy. Similarily, the Anglicans believe that it lies within the competence of their Synod to introduce women priests and bishops. Both Catholic reformers and Anglicans underestimate the importance of the organic nature of the Church’s Tradition and exaggerate the power of jurisdiction in its relationship to liturgy. They forget that it is from the celebration of the liturgy that all the Church’s power flows. In contrast, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is the classic example of a rite which is the product of a victory of law over liturgy, as well as over the Tradition which the liturgy expresses; so, in accepting women bishops and priests, the Anglican Church is only being consistent with its past.
It is because of these principals that the Pope Benedict XVI restored the old Latin Mass by removing the prohibitions that were de facto imposed on its use. He justifies this move by an appeal to Tradition: "It is good to recall here what Cardinal Newman observed, that the Church, throughout her history, has never abolished nor forbidden orthodox liturgical forms, which would be quite alien to the Spirit of the Church. An orthodox liturgy, that is to say, one which expresses the true faith, is never a compilation made according to the pragmatic criteria of different ceremonies, handled in a positivist and arbitrary way, one way today and another way tomorrow. The orthodox forms of a rite are living realities, born out of the dialogue of love between the Church and her Lord. They are expressions of the life of the Church, in which are distilled the faith, the prayer and the very life of whole generations, and which make incarnate in specific forms both the action of God and the response of man." . However, there is still much work to be done, both by persuading the Latin Mass people that the “new Mass” is fully Catholic, a new expression of the age-old Catholic Tradition, and by persuading the advocates of the “new Mass” that the very nature of the liturgy imposes on the Pope the obligation, not only to permit, but to support the “old Mass”, not against the “new Mass” but in favour of those for whom the old Latin Mass is the normal means by which they participate in the Christian Mystery. Judging by the bitterness that is shown, both on the internet and on the ground, and by the opinions expressed by even very knowledgeable people who have the good of the Church at heart on both sides of the debate, we have a long way to go; but contact in charity is the only way forward. As in the wider ecumenical scene, faith is knowledge born of religious love. Where there is no love, no proper understanding of each other can be sustained. The basis of understanding is the same, both within the Catholic Church and in our relations with traditions external to her: it is love which illuminates our faith, and which drives us on to embrace and comprehend expressions of the same faith that are beyond but not incompatible with our own understanding.
When the kings of Spain asked for missionaries to evangelize the inhabitants of their new colonies in Latin America, they excluded monks. They were only interested in those who would preach and shepherd the people; while Spanish monasticism at that time was very strictly enclosed. They were the only monasteries in western monastic history to keep papal enclosure like the Poor Clares. Until the 20th Century, there was no way that a man could seek a life centred on prayer in a monastery within Spanish America. Then, little by little, foundations were made from Europe and the States. Pope John XXIII asked all monasteries in Europe and the States that could do so to duplicate themselves in Latin America; and this led to a number of attempts, some of them successful.
A few years ago, I was staying in a Spanish monastery for a few days. I was climbing the stairs to my monastic cell when I met an old monk coming down.
“I hear you are trying to found a monastery in Peru,” he said, “You won’t succeed”.. “But we have one Peruvian monk in solemn vows!” I countered. “He’ll leave,” he said abruptly, “I was with a group, trying to found a monastery in South America for thirty years, and it ended in failure. You will see. The whole project will go to pot. They are simply not ready for it.” “Well, I hope and pray you are wrong,” I said, “I don’t know what ‘being ready for monastic life’ entails. Most Spaniards and English people aren’t ready for it either. Some Peruvians have entered monasteries abroad and have remained as faithfully as anyone else. It is a matter of finding the right people and then treating them correctly when they enter. Monasticism is a normal kind of Christian vocation. It should succeed.”
Looking into recent history, the Spanish monk seemed to be right. There had been an American foundation; but, after many years and much sacrifice, they felt they had to call it a day and return to the States. There had been an English foundation, firstly in Apurimac and afterwards in Lima; and they too had returned to England without leaving behind a Peruvian monastery. The Belgians tried twice, the last time coming to an end only some months ago, when they sent home those in simple vows and decided to be content with a Belgian “monastic presence” without accepting Peruvian recruits. “They (the Peruvians) don’t seem to be able to grasp what monastic life is all about,” is a common comment.
We had the advantage of coming late on the scene. It gave us the chance to benefit from other peoples’ mistakes. Very early on, Fr Paul decided a) not to adapt the monastery to the Peruvian reality. It is usually true that the more foreigners try to adapt to the Peruvian reality, the more foreign they seem to be. Only Peruvians can really adapt to the Peruvian reality. We bring to any attempt at adaptation our own cultural baggage and pre-suppositions about monasticism and the Church which have been formed outside Peru. b) Instead of us adapting, it was decided to have a Peruvian community from the very start. In Benedictine life where living and sharing together is so central, having an English community to which they have to adapt, as well as having to adapt to the monastic way of life, seemed to be adding unnecessary burdens to their lot. The English monks would always have things in common, like jokes and memories, which they could not share with the Peruvians, and there would much going on in the minds of the Peruvians that they simply would not understand or appreciate if they did. This limitation in community living may not be important in religious communities which have a much looser bond between their members and which have work outside the community that can focus their attention. We reached the conclusion that this may have been one of the causes of the failure of other ventures. Fr Paul went and founded the monastery alone, leaving the other two monks to get on with parish work. In this way, we were available if he needed help. C) We decided that is would be a mistake to be too ambitious, and should concentrate all our forces on the development of a monastery, without falling into the temptation – and it is a very big temptation – to attempt all kinds of activities that would be perfectly in order if we were a firmly established house. A monastery can dissipate itself in too many activities for a small, struggling house; and attention can be taken away from the all-important one of formation. Formation of the first monks is the work to which everything else is ordered, and anything that interferes with this must be sacrificed. On the first monks depends the whole project.
Having said all that, the fact that there is no monastic tradition in Latin America means that only people who are well-read and have investigated monasticism or people who have travelled in Europe and have had some experience of monasteries really know what they are letting themselves in for when the apply to join a monastery. Others who visit us and decide they want to be monks often misread the signs and only come to understand very slowly what it is all about. In reality, there are many who are attracted at first but are really completely unsuitable. Quite often, the gringo monks who have the task of discerning vocations feel very inadequate and can doubt their own judgement.
We had a number of years when practically all the people coming to experience monastic life were strange misfits who had tried elsewhere. Its very newness attracted them. They hoped that they would find a niche in this new type of religious life, one that had been denied them in other congregations. I do not know how the monastery survived this procession of wierdos, one after the other. Then it stopped, as though someone had waved a wand; and, little by little, more normal people came to apply. Not as though the majority have persevered. The fact that we have only three Peruvians in solemn vows and a community of only eight tells its own story. However, the two juniors look stable enough, and the two postulants are normal healthy human beings; and there are others, I believe, to come. One Englishman and three Peruvians in solemn vows aren’t many, but it is a real start.
Why do we believe it to be so important to establish a monastery on Peruvian soil? What is so special about a monastery? It could be argued that there are so many orders and congregations in Peru that it is not surprising that there is nobody left to become a monk. Why do we not go where we are really needed? We are more needed in England, surely!
A monk’s vocation is simply to be a full-time Christian. Take that common element which is in every single vocation of whatever kind, married or single, that element which makes it a Christian vocation; and that element is the only professional occupation of a monk. A monastery is a glasshouse where that element is encouraged to grow and mature. A Christian, any Christian, must see Christ in his brethren, in the common life, in the circumstances in which he finds himself. This is built into monastic life. A Christian lives a liturgical life and, by so doing, shares in the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. The liturgy is a major ingredient of monastic life. A Christian, any Christian, must learn to listen to God who speaks to him through the meditative reading of Scripture and through divine providence. Many people lapse from the practice of the faith because they do not know how to listen to God, so they have no input. They speak to God, but cannot hear God when he speaks to them. They spiritually starve to death. An extended time every day is dedicated to contacting God through Scripture in a practice known by its Latin name, Lectio Divina, and they surrender themselves to God’s providence by keep ing their vows. Any Christian who goes to communion has the Eucharistic presence of Christ in his heart and, if this communion is to have fruition, must seek him there. This is a monastic practice. The active life of every Christian, all things being equal and if the life is a balanced one, ought to bear fruit in contemplation; and the monk is a contemplative. Thus, Pope John Paul Ii said while on pilgrimage to an Orthodox saint’s shrine in Bulgaria, “I am in fact convinced that the monastic experience constitutes the heart of Christian life, so much so that it can it can be proposed as a point of reference for all the baptized.”
This does not mean we are any better than anyone else; and we are not suggesting that everyone should adopt our monastic style. We mean that our vocation is to concentrate on those things that make anyone Christian and to live in an environment which helps us to concentrate on those things. Thus the things that pre-occupy us are the things that are a concern for all, and those who visit us will find much that is relevant for their own vocation, whatever it might be. Hence, monasticism is a “point of reference” that South America needs. Apart from that, there are people who have monastic vocations.. I visited the house of another religious order a little while ago. Two said to me independently of each other and in confidence that they had always been attracted by the monastic life and would have become monks if there had been a monastery a little nearer
Because monasticism is radical and basic it has an ecumenical dimension by its very nature. It lives by what is common to widely different traditions. It came into existence in the East and still is one of the factors that is a point of contact. The Pope John Paul II said in his speech at the shrine of the Bulgarian monastic saint, “A great Western monk and mystic, William of Saint-Thierry, calls your experience, which nourished and enriched the monastic life of the Catholic West, a "light which comes from the East" (cf. Epistula ad fratres de Monte Dei I, Sources Chrétiennes 223, p. 145). With him, many other spiritual men of the West expressed praise-filled recognition of the richness of Eastern monastic spirituality. I am pleased today to join my voice to this chorus of appreciation, and to acknowledge the authenticity of the path of sanctification traced out in the writings and lives of so many of your monks, who have offered eloquent examples of radical discipleship of the Lord Jesus Christ." Again, monasticism is not a closed system. St Benedict suggests that the monks should learn from any Catholic source how to progress in holiness. The last chapter of his Rule is entitled, “Not all the Practice of Perfection is Foind in this Rule”, and he encourages his disciples to use in their search for God the Scriptures, the Catholic Fathers and the lives and writings of the saints. Thus the English Benedictine Congregation to which my monastery belongs has a long tradition of looking to the Carmelite mystics, St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. Also traditional is to use “Abandoment to Divine Providence” by the Jesuit, Jean Pierre de Caussade; and, for some of us, there are always the writings of the Orthodox East. The truth is, that, just as people of all Christian vocations can find something in common in monasticism within their own way to God, so monks can find all other vocations helpful in what they have in common with monastic life. We were invited to found a monastery in Peru because it was felt in many quarters in the Peruvian Church that monasticism is needed in South American Catholicism and that it will remain incomplete until the monasteries are able to add their distinctive witness to that of the other congregations and movements on the continent.