"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
Friday, 25 November 2011
THOUGHTS FOR ADVENT - 2 MONASTIC VOCATION AND ADVENT (by Abbot Paul Stonham of belmont
Third Perseverance of Br. Huw Edwards 25th November 2011
Dear Br. Huw, tonight we have come to your third and final Perseverance, the third milestone on the road to First Profession. Of course, in the Rule of St. Benedict there is only one profession: that made at the end of the novitiate, and, to some extent, that remains true in that your suitability and acceptance for Temporary Vows are an indication of your suitability and possible acceptance for Solemn Vows. I am not sure if you are looking that far ahead, but the monastic community is. If you ask to make your vows for three years in a few months’ time and the Community vote in favour of your petition, then that is a sign that we would be willing to consider you for Solemn Vows later on.
What I am saying is that Temporary Vows are important for you and for us. They are the surest sign there is that one day you will become a full member of the Belmont Community. Now I know that you have been trying seriously to live the monastic life as a novice. We have observed that you are solicitous “for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials”; in other words that you “are truly seeking God”. It is also clear that you have been “thoroughly tested in patience” and that you know and understand what you are undertaking as a future member of our Conventus. So the question I am asking you tonight is this, “How do you propose living the last quarter of your Novitiate?” “What can you do to make this time truly special?
Obviously, it is up to you to decide in dialogue with your Novice Master, but let me make a few suggestions. These are not exhaustive, nor are they a cunning way of telling you that these are the areas of your life that are weak and in need of correction. There is no hidden agenda, simply a gentle reminder to us all that at times we need to take stock and perhaps pull our socks up. The fact that we are about to begin the Advent Season is a great help here.
Although the chants and hymns as well as the liturgical colour and decoration of the church change dramatically this weekend, the scripture readings, particularly those read at Mass during the last two weeks of the year and the first two weeks of Advent, are pretty much the same. They are all about the Second Coming and Judgement. In fact, one of the great themes of Advent begins two or three weeks before the season itself. I think this can be the first point of focus for you as you prepare now for profession. One of the fundamental elements of monastic life and spirituality is vigilance, getting ready, keeping vigil, staying awake. You alone can chose whether you are going to be a wise virgin or a foolish one. You alone can decide whether the Lord will find you watching when he comes or distracted by worldly cares and interests. You alone can make up your mind whether you will be awake or asleep when he knocks at the door of your heart. So this is the first point, and it is a safeguard against laziness, indifference, laxity and selfishness. Now it is not so much to do with the time you get up, but what you do with your time once you are up. How much time, quality time and real concentration, do you spend at personal prayer, mental prayer, and at lectio divina. Do you seek solitude and silence? – not by running away from things or from people, but by making time for God and to be alone with him where ”heart speaks unto heart”. What about devotions such as the Rosary and, even more important, the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Then there is our preparation for Mass and our thanksgiving afterwards. These are of vital importance in nurturing an authentic life of prayer. We don’t have to get up at midnight to celebrate vigils, rather we should turn each day into a vigil of prayer and meditation. Make the most of our time and doing this in tune with God and the Church and our monastic tradition leads to happiness, joy and fulfilment.
Now these three feelings or emotions go together, but unless based on charity, that is, on God, they can easily become subjective. Advent is, of course, the season of joy, a joy founded on hope: the joyful hope that comes from waiting patiently for the Lord. It is not only the Second Coming that we are waiting and longing and hoping for. There is the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, offspring of the Virgin’s womb, and there is that daily coming of the Lord to us in prayer and scripture, in the Sacraments, in our brethren and in our guests, in the sick and in those with special needs, in creation and in all that is. What is a monk but a man of God whose eyes are open to see the wonders of the Lord, whose ears are attentive to hear his voice and whose heart, pierced by God’s love (compunction), “overflows with the inexpressible delight of love”. And this is only possible because he is a man of hope and a man of joy. As St. Augustine reminds us, only God can fill that emptiness, that vacuum which is within each one of us and only God can give meaning and fulfilment to our lives. This is why St. Benedict tells us in the Tools of Good Works to “put nothing whatever before the love of Christ” and “never to despair of God’s mercy”. This Advent, as you live out the last days of your novitiate, revive your drooping spirit with the elixir of joy which is hope and trust in God’s loving mercy and his desire to heal and make you whole, wholesome and holy.
Advent is also the season of prophecy and the great figures we meet and spend time with are the prophets Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, Zachariah and Ruth in the Old Testament and, in the New, St. John the Baptist, Our Lady, St. Joseph and the Angel Gabriel. All these figures are linked to the monastic tradition and to our life as monks today. Like the prophets of old our vocation is often misunderstood and misinterpreted, even by those of the household of the faith. This can lead us to misunderstand and misinterpret our vocation too, rushing headlong into pastoral and other forms of activism in order to prove our value and importance. But ours is a hidden life, a life of humility, a life of poverty in spirit. The strength of our prophecy lies in the fact that we live for God alone and, in the words of St. Paul “consider all things to be so much rubbish as long as I can know the Lord Jesus Christ.” It was Timothy Radcliffe who said that monks didn’t have to do anything special or extraordinary in order to fulfil their prophetic role in the Church and in the world. “They are like people waiting at a bus stop, patiently waiting for the bus to come. Others rush by, but these men just stand and wait, knowing that the bus will come.” The bus, of course, is God!
In these great biblical figures we see purity of heart, fidelity to the will of God, an openness to both what is old and what is new, a solidity and consistency that come from knowing their place in life and in God’s plan, trust, peace and obedience. They have the ability to listen to God’s heartbeat and so empty themselves of all selfishness and self-centredness that grace is able to build upon nature, transforming and transfiguring them into icons of the living God. In the case of Mary, God finds a home in which to live and a throne from which to reign. We, too, as monks are called upon so to open up our lives to God that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ may be born and live in us, so that with St. Paul we can declare. “It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me.” We are called to be so united with Christ in the monastic life that gradually we will come to see our neighbour and ourselves through the eyes of Christ and come to love God above all things and our neighbour as ourselves. The goal of the Benedictine life is that perfect love which casts out all fear, and God is love.
My dear Br. Huw, as we grant you your Third Perseverance this evening, our hope and our prayer for you is that you may grow every day into the perfect man whom God created and wills you to be. We pray that “clothed with faith and the performance of good works and setting out on this way with the Gospel as guide, you may deserve to see him who has called you to his kingdom.” Amen.