Brs Hew & Dunstan, Fr Brendan (novice master), Brs Alistair & David.
First Perseverance of Br Dunstan Nelson and Br Alistair Findley
10th May 2013
Dear Br Dunstan and Br Alistair, Just over three months’ ago you were clothed in the habit and so began your novitiate. Your First Perseverance marks your smooth transition into the second quarter of this period of learning and discernment. In granting you your First Perseverance, the Belmont Community assures you of its willingness to continue accompanying you on your search for God and of its duty to help and support you with its prayer, advice and good example. Perhaps our example isn’t always as good or as clear as it could be, but I have no doubt that the Lord himself and our Holy Father Benedict more than make up for what might be lacking in us, their children.
This evening’s simple rite gives the abbot an opportunity to say publicly one or two things that might be helpful for you. It also gives him the chance to point out any weaknesses or errors he and the Community might have seen in your observance and lifestyle. I remember when I was a novice what Abbot Robert told us at our First Perseverance. There were four of us, one of whom left after Simple Profession and sadly died very young. He emphasised the importance of working together and of never leaving the sacristy, the church, the garden or any other place where we were doing manual work together, until everyone had finished his work. He insisted that we should help each other more and not think about ourselves. He looked at other aspects of our life together in the novitiate and insisted that we should be more united and less individualistic and self-centred: in other words, that we should put others first and that we should think of the needs of our brethren, in fact that we were learning to be brothers, monks, coenobites, that “strong kind of monk who serves under a rule and an abbot”.
Looking at the religious life in general, not at Belmont in particular, and at the monastic life as lived in Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries throughout the world today, I would say that one of the current problems, that weakens our vocation, is an exaggerated individualism, people who consider themselves to be self-sufficient and are intent on doing their own thing. Abbot Robert was so right to insist on living with and for one another. He was following St Paul’s Theology of the Church as the Body of Christ, in which we are members one of another and Christ our head, and the Rule of St Benedict with its powerful emphasis on community, koinonia, in which we try to seek, discover, serve and love Christ in each other as well as in guests and others whom we are called to serve. You could say that the fragile state of marriage and family life in the world is reflected by a similar state in many monasteries. Hence, I would ask you to think and pray and work towards building up community life and strengthening the bonds of unity among all the members of the Belmont conventus. However, this must begin with the two of you and with your fellow novices and juniors. In fact, one of the positive signs that everyone has noticed at Belmont is the peaceful coexistence and unity among those in formation. This is most encouraging because a monastic community, which is not united in the bonds of fraternal love, which is the only proof that our lives are centred on Christ, is bound to disintegrate and fall apart as the Devil takes charge of our hearts. Perhaps, the vocations with which God is blessing us at the moment are due, in part, to the unity of our community and the peace and charity that visitors and guests find positively tangible.
However, it has to be said that this “Pax Benedictina” can only be the fruit of obedience, conversatio morum and stability. This requires, as you are learning, dear Dunstan and Alistair, total submission to the will of God, a genuine and practical spirit of sacrifice and self-oblation, infinite patience and the practice of continual prayer, even in the midst of our work and relaxation, that contemplative prayer which is nourished by the Sacraments, the Divine Office and Lectio Divina. To join a monastery requires an act of faith, which must be renewed every day of our life. To persevere and take vows requires an act of hope, for it is only our on-going trust in the Lord that will enable us to be faithful and true, living in joyful hope, with the serenity that comes from knowing the love of God. To live in the monastery until death, bearing witness to the reality of the one God, who has drawn and united us to himself, in love with God, in love with our brethren and in love with the whole of creation, requires an act of charity, whereby we acknowledge that it is God the Father who loved us first and has loved us in Christ and now shares his love with us and makes it ours through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Not only do we take three vows but our life is fundamentally Trinitarian, anchored as it is in the heart of the trinune God.
Br Dunstan and Br Alistair, as you make your First Perseverance this evening, we, your brothers, promise to pray for you and ask you to pray for us, that together “we may prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.” Amen.