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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

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Friday, 20 April 2018

INEXHAUSTIBLE JOY: THE GOOD NEWS AS PROCLAIMED AT TAIZE


il n'est pas de plus grand amour

MY FIRST VISIT TO TAIZE
by Father David Bird O.S.B.
monk of Belmont Abbey (U.K.) 

I first visited Taize sometime after my ordination, early in 1962.  I was  twenty five and had just started to study at Fribourg in Switzerland, but I was already very keen on Christian unity and eager to know what was happening at Taize.  I did not realise how privileged I was in being a guest in those early years.  While Taize was famous, it did not draw young people in great numbers, and the community welcomed me with open arms.

Taize was a farming village whose population had emigrated to the big towns.  I think there were about sixty monks, but they were divided into households with around ten monks in each.  Each household cooked for itself.  I was placed in the noviciate house and lived with them for the week I was there.

They were all Protestants from different churches.  As yet, no Orthodox or Catholics had joined them.  Nor were there many Anglicans because, as it was explained to me, the Anglican Church had its own monastic communities.  Moreover, their parent churches had no tradition of monasticism, nor was there much of a "high church" tradition in the christian communities from which they came.  Thus, they had to face so much prejudice from their families and churches before they joined Taize, that most novices remained in the community.   However, although their understanding of the Church permitted Brother Roger to ordain ministers to serve the community, he did not want to turn the monastery into just another sect, and he insisted that monks should be ordained in their church of origin.  Because they retained membership of their own church, the Taize community became a "parable of unity" in a divided Christianity.

The community had borrowed the parish church from the Catholic diocese, and they sang their divine office morning, noon and evening, conscious of the fact that it once belonged to the monks of Cluny.  It was a beautifully composed office, and the psalms were sung to the music of Gelineau.   Each morning, I celebrated Mass and was served by a young monk who was a Lutheran pastor.  I think his name was Brother Rudolf and I seem to remember that he was an ordained pastor of the "landeskirche" in Hamburg, but I may be making it up.

One of the intriguing things about Taize for a young monk was how they were re-thinking their obligations as monks.  Just as John Henry Newman had thought and prayed his way into the Catholic Church for himself and thus helped to renew Catholicism, so Taize was thinking and praying its way along the monastic road and, I thought, could very well help to be a source of renewal within monasticism.

One of the areas for which they had come across a novel solution to a problem was monastic poverty.  I was told that when they bought up the Taize village and farmland, they became aware that the local peasants had a kind of folk memory of a time when the life of their ancestors was completely controlled by the monastery of Cluny, only ten kilometres away.  It didn't matter how gifted they were, how able they were as managers, there was always a monk of Cluny who was their boss.   Thus they welcomed the French Revolution as a liberation.  Taize came to realise that where people were serfs on monastery lands before the revolution, those areas have the least numbers of practising Christians even now.  Many local people did not welcome the arrival of the monastic community of Taize.  

The community hit upon an original solution.   Among the monks there was an agricultural expert.  They held a meeting with the local farmers and presented them with a proposition.  Since the revolution, the farmers divided up their farms among their children, and this process continued until none of the farmers had sufficient lands to make farming economically viable.   The monks offered to hand over all their farming land to a cooperative if the surrounding farmers would to the same.  In this way, they could use modern machinery and modern methods.  The whole scheme would be run jointly by the present owner, including the monks.   Thus everybody was helped, and the monks had learnt a new way of helping people in the third world.

As their visitors grew in numbers and as they became more famous, so they became richer.  They knew from history that this could be their downfall, so they decided that poverty means making themselves  fully dependent on God's Providence.  Every six months they would empty their bank balance and give the money to the poor.  However, they did not want simply to dish out money.   I think they began in Chile, but it might have been somewhere else.  They bought up land and formed a peasants' cooperative as they had done in Taize.  The few monks they sent to set this up formed a mini-Taize, a small, temporary monastery which became a centre of hospitality and prayer.  They called this mini-community a "fraternity".   A few years later, when the cooperative became an economic success, the problem arose of how they could leave and allow the local land owners to take over from the vulnerable peasants what they had built up.  They visited the local bishop and handed over to the Church the ownership of the cooperative.  This was the first time they had worked hand-in-glove with the Catholic Church.  Since then, there have been many cooperatives and schemes to empower the poor, and small communities of Taize monks have lived for a time in many parts to the world.

I did not attend a Eucharist in my first visit and cannot remember why.  However, I conversed with some of the monks about the Eucharist and had the privilege of talking with Brother  Max Thurian, subprior of the monastery, an excellent ecumenical theologian from the Protestant Tradition about the Mass as sacrifice and communion.   I cannot remember exactly what he said except for the fact that we were in agreement.

I remember that some of them said that their way back to an agreement with the Catholic Church on the Eucharist was to return to Luther and Calvin as a basis for their quest.  Luther and Calvin had more in common with the Catholic Church's position than they had with the Protestant understanding that has been filtred through the Enlightenment.  Both held that the contact with Jesus in communion is real and objective, mad real and objective through the power of the Holy Spirit.  If we start there, they said, they are already talking about the same reality and are thus nearer a solution.

I did not meet Brother Roger in my first visit.   He was probably already in Rome for the first session of the Council.  I have been to Taize several times since, my last time in the 1970's.  At 81 and being rather doddery, I don't suppose I will be going again; but I have carried it with me, and Taize became a little bit of what I am, having been one of the factors that has explained why I made some life-changing decisions rather than others.  Looking at Pope Francis, I suggest that an "orthodoxy of communion" as explained by Brother Alois lies at the heart of his pontificate and could clarify some of his more controversial teachings.  





INEXHAUSTIBLE JOY
by Brother Alois
Prior of Taize

A young woman who was very ill said to me last year, “I love life.” I remain deeply moved by the inner joy that filled her, in spite of the narrow limits imposed by her illness. I was touched not only by her words, but by the beautiful expression on her face.

And what can we say about the joy of children? Recently I saw some children in Africa whose presence, even in refugee camps where so many tragic stories are concentrated, makes life burst forth. Their energy transforms a mass of broken lives into a nursery full of promise. If they knew how much they help us to remain hopeful! Their happiness at being alive is a ray of light.

We would like to be enlightened by such examples as we undertake, throughout the year 2018, a reflection on joy, one of the three realities—with simplicity and mercy—that Brother Roger set at the heart of the life of our community at Taizé.

With one of my brothers I went to Juba and Rumbek, in SOUTH SUDAN, then to Khartoum, the capital of SUDAN, to better understand the situation of those two countries and to pray alongside women and men who are among the most afflicted people of our time.

We visited various churches and saw their work of teaching, of solidarity, of caring for the ill and the excluded. We were received in a camp for displaced persons, where many children stay who were lost by their parents in the course of tragic events.

I was particularly impressed by the women. The mothers, often very young, bear a large part of the suffering caused by violence. Many had to flee their homes in haste. And yet they remain at the service of life. Their courage and their hope are exceptional.

That visit has brought us still closer to the young refugees from Sudan whom we have been welcoming in Taizé over the last two years.

Before this, two other brothers and I were in EGYPT for a five-day young adult gathering at the Anafora Community, founded in 1999 by a Coptic Orthodox bishop. We spent time praying, getting to know one another and discovering the long and rich tradition of the Egyptian Church. One hundred young adults came from Europe, North America, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Algeria and Iraq; they were welcomed by a hundred young Copts from Cairo, Alexandria and Upper Egypt.

Our attention was drawn in particular to the heritage of the martyrs of the Coptic Church as well as to its monastic roots, which are a constant call to simplicity of life. My brothers and I were warmly welcomed by Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

On our return from Africa, we said to ourselves: people pay so little attention to the voice of those undergoing such grievous trials—whether they are far from us or nearby. It is as if their cry gets lost in the void. Hearing it through the media is not enough. How can we respond to it by our lives?

The following proposals, for the year 2018, are inspired in part by this question.

Frère Alois

Four proposals for the year 2018
First proposal: Dig deeper into the wellsprings of joy
This is what the Lord says: I have loved you with an everlasting love, and so I have continued to show you my affection. (Jeremiah 31:3)

The Lord your God is with you. He takes great delight in you; he will renew you with his love; he will sing with joy because of you. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again: rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

Why is it that, every Saturday evening, the church at Taizé, illuminated by the small candles that everyone holds in their hand, takes on a festive air? It is because the resurrection of Christ is like a light at the heart of the Christian faith. It is a mysterious source of joy that our minds will never be able to comprehend fully. Drinking from this wellspring, we can “bear joy within us because we know that ultimately the resurrection will have the last word” (Olivier Clement, Orthodox theologian).
A joy which is not an inflated feeling, nor an individualistic happiness which would cut us off from others, but the serene assurance that life has meaning.
The joy of the Gospel comes from the confident trust that we are loved by God. Far from being a state of exaltation leading us to run away from the challenges of our day, it makes us more sensitive to the distress of others.

Let us find our joy first of all in the certainty that we belong to God. A prayer left by a witness to Christ from the fifteenth century can support us in this: “My Lord and my God, take from me all that keeps me far from you. My Lord and my God, give me all that brings me closer to you. My Lord and my God, take me out of myself and give me completely to you” (Saint Nicholas of Flue).
Our joy is nourished when we pray together in song. “Sing to Christ until you are joyful and serene,” Brother Roger proposed. Singing with others creates both a personal relationship with God and a communion among those who are gathered together. The beauty of the prayer space, of the liturgy and of the songs is a sign of resurrection. Praying together can awaken what the Christians of the East call “the joy of heaven on earth.”
We can also discover reflections of God’s love in human joys awakened in us by poetry, music, artistic treasures, the beauty of God’s creation, the depth of a love, of a friendship….
Second proposal: Hear the cry of the most vulnerable
Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. (Psalm 102:2-3)

Jesus, filled with joy through the Holy Spirit, said: I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, this was your heart’s desire. (Luke 10:21)

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for, in so doing, some have welcomed angels without realizing it. Remember those in prison as though you yourself were in prison with them. And remember those who are treated badly, as if you yourself were suffering. (Hebrews 13:2-3)

Why are so many people undergoing so many trials—exclusion, violence, hunger, sickness, natural disasters—and yet their voices hardly get a hearing?

They need support—with shelter, food, education, work, and medical care—but what is just as vital for them is friendship. Having to accept help can be humiliating. A relation of friendship touches hearts, the hearts of those in need as well as those who show solidarity.

Hearing the cry of someone who has been wounded, looking into their eyes, listening to or touching those who are suffering, an elderly person, someone who is ill, a prisoner, a homeless person, a migrant.... This personal encounter allows us to discover the dignity of the other and enables us to receive something from them, for even the most destitute have something to offer.

Do not the most vulnerable people make an irreplaceable contribution to the building up of a more fraternal society? They reveal our own vulnerability, and in this way help us become more human.

We should never forget that, in becoming human, Christ Jesus was united to every human being. He is present in every person, especially those most forsaken (see Matthew 25:40). When we go towards those wounded by life, we come closer to Jesus, poor among the poor; they bring us into greater intimacy with him. “Do not be afraid to share in the trials of others, do not be afraid of suffering, for it is often in the depths of the abyss that a perfection of joy is given to us in communion with Jesus Christ” (Rule of Taizé).
Through personal contacts we are led to find ways of helping the destitute, not expecting anything in return, but nonetheless attentive to receive from them whatever they wish to share with us. In this way we allow our hearts to widen and become more open.
Our earth is also vulnerable. It is wounded more and more deeply by the ill-use that human beings make of it. We need to listen to the cry of the earth. We need to take care of it. We should seek, particularly by changing our way of life, to struggle against its progressive destruction.
Third proposal: Share trials and joys
Rejoice with those who are rejoicing ; weep with those who are weeping. (Romans 12:15)

Happy those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemias 8:10)

After his resurrection, Jesus still bore the marks of the nails of his crucifixion (see John 20:24-29). The resurrection encompasses the suffering of the cross. For us who follow in his footsteps, joys and trials can coexist; they merge and become compassion.

Inner joy does not weaken solidarity with others; it nourishes it. It even impels us to cross borders to join those going through difficulties. It keeps alive in us the perseverance to remain faithful in committing our lives.

In privileged circles, where people are well fed, well educated, and well taken care of, joy is sometimes absent, as if some people were worn out and discouraged by the banality of their lives.

At times, paradoxically, the encounter with a destitute person communicates joy, perhaps only a spark of joy, but an authentic joy nonetheless.

We always need to rekindle our desire for joy, which is so deeply rooted in us. Human beings are made for joy, not for gloom. And joy is not meant to be kept for oneself alone, but to be shared, to radiate outwards. After she received the message of the angel, Mary set out to visit her cousin Elizabeth and to sing with her (Luke 1:39-56).
Like Jesus, who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35), let us dare to weep in the face of human distress. We can carry in our hearts those who are afflicted. By placing them in God’s hands, we do not abandon them to the fatality of a blind and merciless fate; we entrust them to the compassion of God, who loves every human being.
Remaining alongside those who suffer, and weeping with them, can give us the courage, in an attitude of healthy revolt, to denounce injustice, to reject what threatens or destroys life, or to try to transform an impasse.
Fourth proposal: Among Christians, rejoice in the gifts of others
God made known to us the mystery of his will. It was what he had planned through Christ, to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfillment: to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

How good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

God sent Christ into the world to gather into one the whole universe, all creation, to recapitulate all things in him. God sent him to bring humankind together into a single family: men and women, children and the elderly, people from all backgrounds, languages and cultures, and even opposing nations.

Many people long for Christians to be united so they no longer veil, by their divisions, the message of universal fellowship brought by Christ. Could not our unity as brothers and sisters be a kind of sign, a foretaste, of unity and peace among human beings?

As Christians of different Churches, we should have the audacity to turn together towards Christ and, without waiting for our theologies to be completely in tune, to “put ourselves under the same roof.” Let us listen to the call of a Coptic Orthodox monk who wrote: 
“The very essence of the faith is Christ, whom no formulation can circumscribe. So it is necessary to begin our dialogue by welcoming Christ, who is one…. We must begin by living together the essence of the one faith, without waiting to reach agreement about the expression of its content. The essence of faith, which is Christ himself, is founded on love, on the gift of self.” (Father Matta el-Makine, 1919–2006.)
To enter at once into this process, we can begin by thanking God for the gifts of others. During his visit to Lund (Sweden) on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Pope Francis prayed, “Holy Spirit, enable us to recognize with joy the gifts that have come to the Church through the Reformation.” Inspired by this example, let us be attentive to recognize in others the values which God has placed in them and which we may be lacking. Can we try to receive their difference as an enrichment for us, even if it includes aspects that initially put us off? Can we find the freshness of a joy in the gifts of others?

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