"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
Fr Pierre Marie Delfieux was student chaplain of the Sorbonne University in Paris who spent his sabbatical, after ten years of work as chaplain, as a hermit in the Sahara, following the example of Charles de Foucauld. He returned to Paris, fired with the idea of living a monastic life within the city. Supported by Cardinal Marty, Archbishop of Paris, he spent a year living alone; but Cardinal Marty wanted a monastic community in Paris that would luve the rythm of the city, but be a haven of silence and prayer within it. In 1975, the first community of"monks of the city" were formed at St Gervaise; and, a year later, a community of sisters. Then a community of lay people who live in the world but share the liturgical and spiritual life of the minks and nuns, came into being.
There is the liturgical office in the morning, mid-day and eveneing; and great emphasis is given to beauty in the liturgy. There is also adoration of the Blessed Sacrament all day, and an all-night vigil, centred on the Blessed Sacrament, every Thursday.
These videos are in French, but, with this introduction in English, I hope you will appreciate their life. There are now about 200 monks and nuns in twenty fraternities like St Gervaise, Vezelay, Mont St Michel and Rome. Enjoy.
MONKS By Abbot Joseph of Mt. Tabor Monastery (originally published in "Gladsome Light," Summer 2003)
"The monastic vocation is a mystery… we are constantly rediscovering what it means to be a monk" (Thomas Merton)
Monks are a curious breed. They don't really fit the mentality of the modern world. Monks are unknown or misunderstood or disdained or simply ignored by just about everyone, though they are appreciated and even loved by those who do understand. For some, the existence of monks is a comfort; for others, a prick of the conscience. In the eyes of some, monks are useless and dusty relics of an irrelevant past; in the eyes of others they are prophetic witnesses to the world. It is characteristic of the monk, however, that none of the above really matters a whole lot to him. He has a calling from God and he simply goes about following it.
The vocation of the monk can be called a "mystery" in two senses of the word. Primarily it is a divine mystery, that is, a reality proceeding from God, at once hidden and revealed, expressing in its essence something of the grace, wisdom, peace, and fruitfulness of God. Monastic consecration is a mystery akin to the sacramental mysteries of the Church, in which an inner change is effected through an outward ritual or symbol and hence becomes a wellspring of Divine Energy.
Yet this vocation is, to many (even sometimes to the monk himself), a "mystery" in the more common sense of the word. It is baffling, strange, something that cannot be figured out by rational analysis, something that eludes definition and even contradicts what many people regard as normal, sensible, and acceptable by the standards of today's world. Therefore I find myself searching in vain for adequate words to present to you the simple yet profound calling of the monk.
I do not wish to say much here about poverty, chastity, and obedience, though they are important parts of the foundation of monastic life. Very much is said about the vows in other places. (As I was writing that sentence, I accidentally typed "wows" instead of "vows." Perhaps that could be a beginning of a meditation on those gifts of God!) But the essence of the vows will be implied in much of what follows.
Essentially, the monastic life is a specific response of a restless heart to the call of the One in whom alone that heart can find rest. "Only in God is my soul at rest" (Psalm 61/62: 2). The Caller of Restless Hearts speaks to all, of course, but the monastic response is unlike most others. For the monastic way of life (unlike that of the Christian in the world) is not one that seeks to ennoble the elements of the secular life while simultaneously partaking of its joys and sorrows. It is rather one that endeavors to transcend the conventions of secular society in a single-minded, single-hearted pursuit of God – not for the sake of escaping the harsh realities of life through attaining mystical ecstasy, but for the sake of the transformation of the very world he has left behind, that the Light of Christ may shine on all who still may be living in the shadows of sin and death.
But even this way of speaking is not entirely accurate, for the use of terms like "endeavor" and "pursuit" may give the impression that the monk is trying to achieve something by his own effort or strength, rather than hoping to receive something (for himself and others) through his radical availability for the movement of the Spirit of God. For it is the vocation of the monk to be an empty vessel, a listening heart, a faithful servant – like the Virgin Mary, who could pronounce an unconditional "yes" to the will of God, because her heart was already wholly with Him. She loved humanity like no other, yet she was not enmeshed in attachments that would diminish her freedom and availability to offer her whole life to God.
Despite the impression one may get from reading literature on monastic life, it is not about a quest for personal perfection or self-mastery. As soon as the goal of monastic life becomes self-anything, the monk has lost his bearings and is on the road to pride, self-absorption, and ultimately a distaste for the things of God and hence a betrayal of his original calling.
There is, to be sure, a goal for which the monk offers his life, but it is not one that requires him to pay much attention to himself or his own inner states, even for the sake of "seeking holiness." A monk, like any Christian, should seek God. Holiness will follow all by itself if our one desire is simply God. The Indian mystic, Sundar Singh, who became a disciple of Christ, once said: "When people ask me, 'What made you a follower of the Master?' I can only answer: the Master."
The goal of monastic life is nothing less than the transfiguration of all humanity and the whole universe unto the image of the crucified and glorified Christ. Every deified soul contributes immensely to the radical renewal and salvation of the world. It's not that monks think they can accomplish this on their own. They just know that this goal is God's will, and they want to sacrifice their lives for the fulfillment of God's purpose in creating us in the first place. So what do monks do to that end? A question that has often been put to us is: "What do you guys do?" We may begin by saying that our vocation as contemplatives is to pray and intercede and worship and work, to share in Christ's agony and ecstasy, and thus to help restore the fallen world to God's original dream. The inevitable rejoinder is: "OK, but what do you guys do?" So, seeing that they are looking for a more active or productive dimension to monastic life, we might say that we run a retreat house and occasionally go out to preach retreats or give conferences, publish a quarterly newsletter, or (as we did in the past) host a summer theological institute. "Yeah, but like, what do you do?" Sigh. guess we really don't do anything that would satisfy those who simply must see a product that will somehow justify our existence. Thomas Merton once said that the only justification for monastic life is the glory of God.
St Silouan of Athos had something to say about what monks do. "There are people who say that monks ought to be of some use in the world… but we have to understand the nature of a monk's services and the way in which he has to help the world. A monk is someone who prays for the whole world, who weeps for the whole world; and in this lies his main work… Thanks to monks, prayer continues unceasingly on earth, and the whole world profits, for through prayer the world continues to exist; but when prayer fails, the world will perish... Thus has the Holy Spirit schooled the monk to love God and to love the world...
"Though a monk takes thought for earthly things, so far as is needful for the life of the body, his spirit burns with love for God; though he labor with his hands, in mind he continues with God… He will keep a conscience pure in all things… He humbles his soul, and by humility repulses the enemy from himself and from those that ask his prayers… Just as the angels perpetually serve God in spirit, so too must the mind of the monk ever dwell in God, and day and night meditate upon the word of God… The world does not know how a monk prays for the whole universe – people do not see his prayers and how they are received by the Lord in His mercy."
So prayer is at the heart of the monastic vocation. Prayer is something that many people do not understand or do not value sufficiently. Even people who do pray may still not understand why one would wish to live a life of prayer. And there is also a more general attitude that is expressed in ways such as, "We've done all we can in this situation. There's nothing left to do but pray." Prayer is seen as a last resort, something one does as a kind of compensation for not being able to offer any practical help, something that is usually left to old ladies laden with prayer beads and holy cards, while those who really want to change the world get out there and make things happen.
Mother of God enthroned But people who have a deeper understanding of the mystery of the Body of Christ, of the profound and dynamic (though often invisible) interconnection of all created things and persons, will understand that prayer ought to be the first resort instead of the last. The ability to enter into communication and communion with the Ultimate Power and Wisdom and Personal Loving Sustainer, Origin and Destiny of the Whole Universe surely ought to merit some regard from those who would like to change the world for the better. When we say that a monk prays for the world, we are saying that "in his stillness he holds the whole of humanity close to the healing presence of God" (Andrew Louth).
St Silouan understood this, so he entered a monastery where he could learn to pray without ceasing. A few other people understand this, and they try to keep prayer at the heart of their lives. Monks are called to change the world, that is, they are called to pray.
Yet there are a couple of other things that monks have to do, although these, like everything else, are still related to prayer: monks have to go to work and go to war.
Work is an important dimension in the life of monks, even though we don't do the 9 to 5. Actually, our day is more like the 5 to 9, starting early and going in and out of periods of prayer and work of various sorts until evening brings the deep silence. Whether it is manual or intellectual labor, the monk is required to give the best of his time and talents to the service of God and the community, to be productive and to avoid idleness at all costs. We know from the parable of the talents that slackers get the boot when it's time to pass out rewards. In recent years, much has been written on the dignity of work, but monks have known this all along. Monks have learned to combine prayer with work, and anything that is compatible with prayer is thereby ennobled, especially when it is consciously offered as a gift to God.
Study is a kind of work as well. The mind has to be exercised along with the body and the spirit. Historically, monks have often been among those who have advanced the intellectual and cultural life of the Church and even of the secular society. Yet there is no college degree required for entering a monastery (not ours anyway!), only a heart that is willing to serve, to pray, to work, to grow, and to do all for the glory of God. But if the mind is not given anything to stretch its capacities to understand the marvelous works of God, it will atrophy, and the spirit will soon follow.
Any other requirements? Oh yes, one also has to be willing to fight. A monk may be a pacifist when is comes to the wars of men, but in the arena of the soul he must continually fight the good fight, for the battle is with the "spiritual hosts of wickedness" (Ephesians 6: 12). The monk is on the "front line" of the spiritual warfare, starting with his own inner life and expanding to the cosmic battles of principalities and powers. Look at the face of an old, experienced monk, and you will see not merely the marks of aging, but war wounds: tracks of tears and the lines of long, silent struggles. But in his eyes there will still be burning the fire of love for God and the unshakable confidence that all things are accomplished, all enemies vanquished, through the grace of Christ who strengthens us.
"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2Timothy 3: 12). This "persecution" may at times take the form of attacks from outsiders and visible enemies, but more often than not the monk is persecuted by the invisible enemies, the powers of darkness and his own inner "demons" that must be exorcised by unceasing prayer and unswerving fidelity to the word of the Master. So, far from a boring (or even tranquil!) life, the monastic journey is a dangerous adventure, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes exhausting, but always with a deep undercurrent of peace and joy, for the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, and the hope of heaven is ever alive.
All of the above we do, not as solitary individuals, but as members of a body – the monastic community and the whole mystical Body of Christ. When the branches are connected to the Vine they are thereby connected to each other as well. Solitude and silence are indispensable for the monastic vocation of prayer and seeking God, but the more "outgoing" side of brotherly love, communication, and cooperation is also an important part of the whole picture. Part of the work of a community that is really alive in Christ is to continually seek the balance, amid the inner and outer vicissitudes of life, between silence and speaking, liturgy and contemplation, solitude and community, cloister and hospitality – in short, all the ways the monk must both bear fruit and share fruit. He has freely received and so must freely give, though always keeping vigilance over the inner treasure of the heart, the life of grace within.
Looking back over this article, I see that I haven't really said much at all, haven't gone beneath the tip of the iceberg. I have touched on several essential points, but monasticism is still more profound, and hence elusive. It exists concretely only in the hearts of those who actually walk that path, who dare to delve into the Mystery, who are willing to pay the price (which you never know beforehand) of living a life which has no sense whatever apart from the mystifying, attracting, demanding, loving, all-embracing presence of the living God.
Come what may, despite all changing trends and fashions, despite all the pendulum swings in the life of the Church and the mentality of the world, and in the midst of the sin and sorrows of life, "monks must be as trees which exist silently in the dark and by their vital presence purify the air" (Thomas Merton).
MONASTIC CUSTOMS AND SPIRIT:
* We keep a gentle silence every day until supper, except on Sundays and Feasts (days of joy and sharing). * "Poustinia" every Wednesday, i.e. a whole day of silent retreat and fasting and prayerful seclusion. * We celebrate the full cycle of the Divine Office, as did the Early Church, with daily Divine Liturgy. * We keep all liturgical home-customs, and teach them to our people. * We follow all the fast periods of ancient Monasticism, and profit highly of their blessings.
Holy Transfiguration Monastery is an autonomous monastic community under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Catholic Metropoly in the U.S. and of the Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago.
OUTLINE OF THE LIFE AT MOUNT TABOR MONASTERY
It is hard to describe or to summarize life. Life must be lived and experienced in practice. This applies to a Monastery which is an anticipation of the Kingdom, a mystery of the presence of the Beloved who is the Great Unseen, in faith, hope, and love. We can only try to approach it through various "channels" of life, put down in the following six points, the fruit of a practical experience of many years. Therefore, they should be meditated upon slowly, with a listening heart, as an invitation to share this life with us.
1. The Vertical Dimension of this life consists in a total openness for God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - in order to share His intimate life and creative love, the source and meaning of all real life. This openness is not abstract or self-made. It is embodied and nourished by a fitting lifestyle, built up by several elements, e.g. an atmosphere of praise and deep prayerfulness, a strong, personal and shared prayer life, fervent worship and sacramental life, a climate of peace and gentle silence (necessary to stay under the Word and to be attentive to the whispering of the Spirit, as well as to respect the work of God in others), and relative seclusion as the natural medium of this lifestyle, like water for the fish. This is contemplative life, the basic dimension of all Christian life and of our very being, our existential openness for the loving God.
2. The Horizontal Dimension of this life follows from the fact that the Second Commandment is equal to the First and its proof. We want to share the blessings of this vertical dimension, in a deep openness of heart and mind, with like-minded Brothers whom the Lord calls together for the same life, to build up a genuine "family of Jesus," bound together by the same ideas and in a lasting commitment. Therefore, this sharing in the same love and life of prayer and work, of joys and hardships, is expressed as the second dimension of that lifestyle: forgiving and bearing each other's burdens, as Christ bears ours; earning our living by our work, in simplicity of heart and in identifying with the poor; and all this under the loving care of Mary, the Mother and "Landlady" of our Monastery, in the setting of unspoiled beauty and living close to nature.
Photo - The sanctuary at Pascha Sanctuary at Pascha
3. Extension of both vertical and horizontal dimensions to all those whom the Lord will send our way, who are in search for the same closeness to Jesus, for communion with Him and for the new life in the Spirit. These are all those who want to share, for a specified time, in our life of prayer (vertical) and brotherhood (horizontal). To these we extend monastic hospitality in the form of retreats, as well as remaining open to all, e.g. in our Sunday Divine Liturgy and the fellowship meal that follows. Thus we open up and reach out, not only through our all-embracing prayer and loving sacrifice - bearing the burden of the world with Jesus - but also by the limited yet genuine sharing of our life with the lay people, while keeping out the spirit of the world and without becoming an active community.
4. In all this, we want to go back to Primitive Monasticism and the Early Church community of Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-35. Not because of a romantic philosophy or a flight from reality into a bygone past, but because both are meant by God as norms for all ages, as Vatican II has taught: primitive monasticism as the norm of all religious life, and the early Church as the norm of all Christianity. In this perspective, it is imperative to take the Gospel seriously as our primary Rule of life, above any other Rule. Likewise, by holding to the deeper values of our Fathers in monasticism, we profit from nearly 2000 years of wisdom and experience. Therefore, our roots in the Gospel and our faithfulness to the wisdom of the Fathers are a source of strength in this time of crisis.
5. To some, the four preceding points may seem to exclude each other. But, while other Orders feel called especially to live one of the two channels of life (active or contemplative), perhaps the special meaning and promise of Mt. Tabor consists in having succeeded in reconciling these two apparently opposite values into a balanced harmony. Thus, for example, the vertical dimension of a strong prayer life is reconciled with the horizontal dimension of a genuine openness to others in a loving concern. We can build up a "family of Jesus" and carry the burden of this world only when we are first eager to stand before the face of the Living God, for the Trinity of divine Persons is the Source of all shared life and love. We are able to bridge these apparent opposites because of our belonging to the great family of Eastern Monasticism and the Eastern Churches' tradition where all these channels have flowed together into one stream of life without interruption since early monasticism and Gospel times. Experience has taught us that the shortest and surest way for us to share in the fullness of the Gospel (for us this means authentic monastic life) is in the Eastern Church.
6. We are monks taking the needs and hopes of our times very seriously, as Our Lady herself has done through her motherly yet urgent calls to conversion, communicated in her approved apparitions. Our seclusion is not a running away but the full embrace of Reality in its deepest aspirations. For it is remarkable that the components of the renewal that the Holy Spirit is bringing about in the Church and in the world are indeed the basic values of monastic life at Mt. Tabor: prayer, worship, sharing as a family, intimate involvement in the creative love of the Holy Trinity in the Spirit of Jesus. But this also means that the above program has to take shape (as it has already done for over 25 years) in great pain as in the pains of childbirth. This gives Mt. Tabor a monasticism at large a prophetic task in the Church and in the world, witnessing to the higher values which give meaning and purpose to human life and society as well. By identifying with the poor and defenseless, in imitation of Jesus Himself, we know that we will in some ways share in His rejection, but we also know that the world cannot survive without the charism of the Monk. We are thus very vulnerable, like the Anawim, like Jesus Himself, yet we are supported by the grace and peace of the Holy Spirit and comforted by the presence and prayers of our heavenly Mother. We take the Beatitudes seriously while preparing and already anticipating the Coming of the Lord. This life demands a lasting commitment and hence a certain maturity.
And he received this brief rule from Master Romuald, which he was very careful to practice throughout his life:
1. Sit in the cell as in paradise;
2. cast all memory of the world behind you;
3. cautiously watching your thoughts, as a good fisher watches the fish.
4. In the Psalms there is one way. Do not abandon it. If you who have come with the fervor of a novice cannot understand everything, strive to recite with understanding of spirit and mind, now here, now there, and when you begin to wander while reading, do not stop, but hasten to correct yourself by concentrating.
5. Above all, place yourself in the presence of God with fear and trembling, like someone who stands in the sight of the emperor;
6. destroy yourself completely,
7. and sit like a chick, content with the grace of God, for unless its mother gives it something, it tastes nothing and has nothing to eat.
In summary, Saint Romuald ’ s seven-step Brief Rule for novice-hermits comprises a surprisingly rich set of exercises for training in contemplation which succinctly cover the following topics:
(1) posture, place, solitude, inner peace, and joy;
(2) detachment and liberation for concentration;
(3) self-observation and analysis for purity of mind and heart;
(4) attentively praying the Psalms as seeds of meditation;
(5) reverent, compunctious practice of the presence of God;
(6) intensive ascetical inner overcoming of faults;
(7) childlike humility and receptivity to grace.
If this summary strikes the reader as rather modern and up-to-date, there is a simple explanation: the basic process of the inner Christian reform as lived and transmitted by Anthony, Romuald, Francis, and Charles de Foucauld is a permanent fixture, like the death and resurrection of Christ, which does not change with passing trends in spirituality.
By radiantly living and teaching the powerful principles of his Brief Rule, Saint Romuald made a major contribution to the spiritual health of the Church in the West, because he renewed in it that essential element of its inner life: the contemplative, semi-eremitical small community. Today his sons are continuing to make that healing gift to the House and People of God.
Living together as brothers and sisters is the first good. It is founded on personal relationships, through understanding, mutual acceptance, dialogue, and service. This fellowship culminates in the community's celebration of the sacred liturgy.
Solitude, the second good, indicates both an external environment and an inner disposition. The monastic seeks to cultivate a spirit of silence and attention aimed at quies, that is, hesychia, which must accompany the monastic's entire existence. The solitude of the cell offers the favorable context for listening to God's Word and uniting intimately with God through personal prayer. In turn the practice of lectio divina and personal prayer enrich the monastic's silence (cf. Constitutions of Bd. Rudolph 44).
Finally, the third good, which is called evangelium paganorum or martyrium (The Life of the Five Brothers, chapters 4 and 7), expresses the radicality of monastic dedication and the fullness of Romuald's charism. The chief characteristic of the third good consists in unconditional love or total self-giving. This is manifested in different ways, such as reclusion and the martyrium amoris that takes on the many forms of everyday living. Every monastic is called to live the three goods in a particular place - a monastery or a hermitage -, but the third good can go beyond institutional structures and find new expression under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The threefold good is also experienced and expressed through a life of elected simplicity.
A synthesis of the triplex bonum can be seen also in the life of Jesus: his fellowship with the disciples based on the law of love and mutual friendship, his frequent withdrawing into lonely places for prayer and silent listening, his total dedication to the proclamation of God's reign to the point of giving his life on the cross. The life of Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, thus presents us an excellent example of the threefold monastic good.
Both the idea of the monastery as a school and the understanding of the triplex bonum as a spiritual journey require that the Camaldolese monastic formation be an open-ended process. Rather than marking the end of a journey, solemn profession is a new starting point for a spiritual itinerary that a monastic follows until death. To keep on this path, one must be committed to re-reading the monastic sources, especially those of the Camaldolese tradition, and to deepening a lived experience of our charism.
Today the monastic communities that make up the Camaldolese Benedictine Congregation are facing a growing complexity in areas of culture, social life, and the church. In setting up its formation program, each community should consider its concrete context. Its formation program must be focused on our monastic charism within its own peculiar social, cultural, and religious situation. Those charged with the delicate task of monastic initiation must adapt the formative process to each person's needs and capacities, giving particular attention to the time they need in order to reach maturity as monastics.
We will now analyze Blessed Paul Giustiniani’s doctrine on prayer. The hermit’s principal ideal, aim, or task is continual prayer (Lk 18:1), that is, constant union with God. There is no fixed time for mental prayer in the eremitic life, unlike other religious institutes, because prayer is to be unceasing, a kind of spiritual equivalent to breathing. How can one enter into this prayer? Blessed Paul takes up again the doctrine (then attributed to Saint Bernard) of Guigo II the Carthusian. This commonly-accepted monastic approach to prayer, called lectio divina or divine reading , can be explained as a ladder (Guigo’s Scala Claustralium) of four rungs: (1) lectio (reading), (2) meditatio (meditation), (3) oratio (prayer), and (4) contemplatio (contemplation).
(1) Lectio, as the initial and fundamental element (Coronese Constitutions 31), gives the entire procedure of four steps its name analogically. This reading is called divine because its object is divine revelation, the Word of God heard in faith. One seeks this Word either in the Bible (also heard read in its entirety each year in the liturgy) or in some other devout book faithfully echoing Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.
(2) Meditatio or meditation is a careful thinking over of what has been read and focuses on very definite dogmatic and moral considerations . One needs an appreciation of the basic standards of interpreting Scripture and of its various senses. Meditation can also legitimately pass beyond what has just been read to other points gleaned outside the time of private prayer.
(3) Oratio makes use of the truths and sentiments found by meditation in any of an infinite multitude of possible acts of affective prayer. Ejaculatory prayer formulas could be used at this stage, such as the invocation of the name of Jesus as practiced in the Eastern Church, which Eastern practice would reinforce in the body by the fingering of beads, bows, and the like. Even though prayer most narrowly defined means asking God for something, yet its wider and widest senses, namely the ascent of the mind to God and colloquy with God, are equally relevant and ought not be neglected. Blessed Paul says he prayed, in the first place, by confession of his misery and unworthiness; then by adoration, confession (of praise), thanksgiving, invocation, awaiting, and desire. These acts of prayer agree with the more compact typology of 1 Tim 2:1: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.
(4) Contemplatio or contemplation moves from the many acts of the previous step to a single act. Beginners may achieve this level seldom and but briefly. The starting point of contemplation will later be called the prayer of simplicity by Bishop Bossuet and subsequent theologians. In order to enter into this state, Giustiniani bids us to be empty for and towards God, vacare Deo (cf. the English cognates vacuum and vacation ), disencumbered of all attachment to creatures and expectant like the hungry chick of Saint Romuald’s Brief Rule. This is the adoring silence of apophatism, which eventually can give birth to annihilation, an ecstatic absorption in God, and Blessed Paul’s experience of these resembles that of other mystics. Saint John of the Cross tells us (Ascent II 24:9): . . . God . . . is incomprehensible and above all, and therefore it befits us to go to God by the negation of all. And Aquinas (cited by Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge V:23) summarizes thus Pseudo-Dionysius’ interpretation of Ex 20:21: At the end of our knowledge, we know God precisely as unknown.
To ascend through these stages is to proceed from a solid grounding of the mind in truth to a more precious exercise of the will in hope and love, for character is in the will, not in the intellect (Archbishop Sheen, quoted in Reeves’biography, p.144). The effort this ascent requires must not be stinted, because, through the practice of the seven gifts, the divine movement of actual grace, which is the soul of prayer, comes to be received no longer violently, but connaturally.
The foregoing analysis will help us understand better Blessed Paul’s distinctive teaching on methodless prayer. The famous four grades elaborated by Guigo II, noted by both Blessed Paul and the redactors of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and just expounded do not constitute a method in the strict sense. They are, rather, moments in a movement of interiorization of the Word of God. And yet Giustiniani does admit of what Leclercq calls the method of prior asceticism , that is, of remote and proximate preparation for prayer. Remote preparation is living a holy life, which detaches the mind from worldly preoccupations and disposes it for that ascent to God which is, as we have seen, prayer’s broader definition. This remote preparation includes the practice of the virtues, liturgical worship, and discipline of the senses (the Camaldolese trinomium is solitude, silence, and fasting). Proximate preparation comprises the first two rungs of Guigo’s ladder, reading and meditation. Now beyond such somewhat methodical remote and proximate preparation, we must climb up to the third and even, if possible, to the fourth rung. At this point, Giustiniani’s counsel to eschew method comes fully into force, and with evident wisdom. Human planning and effort have served their purpose and run their course. They must now give place to the subtle groanings of the Spirit (Rom 8:26-27). His influence must be sought reverently and clung to tranquilly for as long as it lasts. If Blessed Paul requires a daily half hour of stillness in prayer, with a reverent and vigilant posture and in a sacred place, this is to assure that our own actions are not so unremitting as to block the Spirit’s initiatives. We should allow Him to lead us either to multiply acts of prayer, or to ascend to contemplation, or even to return to reading and meditation. And normally He will provide us with some word to hold fast patiently in our hearts (Lk 8:15), as Mary did (Lk 2:19, 51), to sustain what the Holy Fathers call the remembrance of God. The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom. . . . (Ps 36 (37):30; cf. Ps 1:2 and Jos 1:8).
The identity of the Camaldolese Benedictine monk/nun has its beginning and its end in the subsistent relations of God, which by faith we call Father, Word, and Holy Spirit [cf. Jn 1:1 ff]. We are sharers in the divine nature [cf. I Pt 1:4] thanks to the incarnate Word, the one mediator Jesus Christ [cf. I Tm 2:5], a human being like us in all things but sin [cf. Hb 4:15]. In him and in his body we contemplate the fullness of the Godhead [cf. Col 2:9] and we find our full identity as God's sons and daughters. By the gift of the Holy Spirit we have been called to the monastic life in the Church, with whom we journey as pilgrims in the company of the women and men of this last year of the millennium, whose joys, hopes, anguish, and pain we share [cf. Vatican II, The Church in the Modern World].
In the Church we rejoice in the fellowship of the holy men and women who have lived according to the Rule of Saint Benedict and according to the example of his life [see Saint Gregory the Great, Dialogues, book two]. Among the saints of the Benedictine Order shines Master Romuald, father of the Camaldolese monks and nuns. In the fall of 1999, gathering for our general chapter, we saw the assembly of our brothers and sisters as a workshop, a building site, an artist's studio, where we let our Teacher, the Holy Spirit, guide our hand. Our task was to paint a new icon of Saint Romuald. The two saints who told his story - Bruno Boniface and Peter Damian - described him as a person filled with the Holy Spirit, his warm and serene face lit by a gentle smile. As his image slowly took form under our contemplative gaze, we were filled with wonder. We did not view the image possessively, but seeing it as a grace we gave thanks. The icon is still a work in progress, but we can already make out the features of Romuald's face, revealing his gentleness and strength and reflecting the face of today's monks and nuns. The shape of his and our identity is clearer now, with lines drawn from our memory and our future.
We have begun our work, trusting in Saint Romuald's help and prayers like all the sick and needy who during his lifetime came to his cell. We intend to keep working on the new icon until our time comes to an end, and then other hands and other awestruck and contemplative gazes will gather around the unfinished image of Saint Romuald. The final brushstrokes will be applied to the golden background by the last monk and nun in the iconographer's studio.
Together with the image of Master Romuald, his first disciples also sketched a global vision of the monastic vocation, one in its source and manifold in its ramifications. The reference to the "threefold good" (triplex bonum, tripla commoda, tria maxima bona), from chapter four of The Life of the Five Brothers by Saint Bruno Boniface, is understood in a more dynamic sense today, as an efficacious symbol of a deep and rich mystery:
"a threefold advantage: the life of the monastery, which is what novices want; golden solitude, for those who are mature and thirst for the living God; and the preaching of the Gospel to the pagans, for those who long to be set free and to be with Christ" [in: The Mystery of Romuald and the Five Brothers (Big Sur: Hermitage Books, 1994), p. 95].
The distinction between a spiritual value (fellowship, solitude, martyrdom of love) and a place (cenobium, hermitage, mission) is essential. A value is not to be identified with a place, nor do they exactly overlap; yet they are related, and the one evokes and expresses the other. The three terms are not structured as a scale of values, nor do they follow one after the other in the monastic's personal journey, which can begin and end with any one of the three. The three terms are equal in dignity, in the sense that each one is able to lead the monastic to the fulfillment of his or her spiritual calling. Bruno Boniface reminds us of this in chapter seven of The Life of the Five Brothers:
"the three highest goods, any one of which is sufficient unto salvation: the monastic habit, the solitary life, and martyrdom" [in: The Mystery of Romuald and the Five Brothers, p. 111].
However, the three terms differ among themselves in ways that must be kept in mind, in order to give each of them its full value. Today as in the past, the common life and the solitary life take on institutional forms as, respectively, monastery and hermitage. The third element - witnessing love for Christ to the point of shedding one's blood in the service of the Gospel - is a pure grace. As an expression of unconditional love, it underlies and profoundly animates the other two elements. It is ordinarily expressed within the monastery or hermitage through what we call "monastic presence." But it can also find expression in the personal vocation of an individual monk or nun even outside monastic institutions. The three goods thus relate to, and interact with one another, and they cannot be reduced to a rigid institutional scheme.
The age-old pedagogical wisdom of monastic tradition has shown us that solitude can become "golden," that is, it can be lived as the expression and source of authentic vitality, only if the monastic has experienced life together for a long period and thus has been formed and trained for the single-handed spiritual combat that is the challenge, more demanding than any other, of the solitary life.
The threefold good is also experienced and expressed through a life of elected simplicity.
Since Saint Romuald's charism is characterized by an intrinsic dynamism, we should distinguish between his personal charism, its evolution in subsequent history, and the institutions which the Camaldolese have created in order to give the charism a concrete form. Romuald's charismatic experience never could and never can be totally translated into an institutional structure. Every time it has been so translated, in so far as the structure is unable to convey its entire meaning, the charism has in some way been betrayed. Thus the institution must continually return to, and draw from, the source out of which it sprang.
Within this horizon, the identity that comes to us from Romuald and the origins of Camaldoli remains relative, dynamic, and open. In the light of its origins and its possibilities of future development, our identity is always broader and deeper than anything we can express within a given historical moment and a particular cultural context. Its ramifications extend back into the remembered past, sink deep into the present, and reach far into a future waiting to be lived, explored, and known. A faithfulness both dynamic and creative is the only way we can respond to the One who says, "Behold! I am making the whole creation new" [Rev 21:5]. We can live faithfully only if we acknowledge our roots, our temporality, and our limitations, with humility and with a grateful joy. Here there is no room for arrogance or for competition with brothers and sisters who acknowledge the same father, although they have made different journeys in history (the Camaldolese hermits of Monte Corona, the Camaldolese nuns, etc.). The horizon before us is one of reconciled and complementary diversities.