"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

Saturday 9 August 2008

The Camaldolese Benedictines

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.

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