Bernardo Bonowitz, OCSO, Novo Mundo
Handing on the Life We Have Received:
Synthesis of the Conferences on Formation
It is useful to remember the background to the choice of the theme of formation as transmission of life for the General Chapter. As in other areas of our monastic life (father immediate, role of the abbot), we are rightly convinced of the great value of what we possess and what we have to hand on. In the area of formation, the difficulty we experience of forming candidates that persevere with joy in the monastic life forces us to a reexamination of our practice of transmission.
The central value that has emerged in the conferences given at the Chapter, whether implicitly or explicitly, as the necessary foundation for the transmission of life in formation, is that of truth.
The primacy of truth manifests itself immediately in the process of evaluation of candidates. Despite our eagerness to receive candidates and to be merciful in our response to their desire to enter, it is clear that objective discernment of the candidates’ capacity to fully live our life is indispensable. Lasting harm is done to the community by admitting candidates that have no aptitude – and eo ipso no vocation – to our monastic way of life. It is likewise potentially harmful to persons who are admitted without the requisite qualities.
This same honesty should mark our presentation of the monastic project to the young. We are not a university, offering a program of higher studies; we are not a media center, offering unlimited access to internet and telephones; we are not the guarantee of a comfortable lifestyle or the fulfillment of the desire for power. We are a school of the Lord’s service and the Lord’s praise, a school of self-transcendence in which we aim to attain a common will – common among ourselves and common with Christ. Far from shocking the young, this honesty will attract them. They have not come to the monastery for the easy satisfaction of their desire – the outside world can give them more in this sense than we can – but to recuperate their identity as sons and daughters of God in Jesus Christ. This Jesus is often unknown to them at the time of their entrance – the whole scope of his power and love. We need to participate in the transmission to them of the “truth that is in Jesus”, not so much by catechesis as by evangelization.
In this initial formation, young monks and nuns must be helped to come to the truth of themselves. This saving self-knowledge comes through regular spiritual direction and through an ever growing gift of self to the one who is Lord of their lives. In order for spiritual direction to be fruitful, a relationship of mutual trust must be slowly and patiently constructed. With regard to self-donation, we must not be afraid of asking from those in formation everything that the Lord is asking of them. This will be ultimately experienced by them not as a crushing weight but as an honor and a call to correspond to the fullness of their spiritual identity. Here it will be important for us formators not to impose a sacrifice but to come to see the particular greatness of soul that the Lord is asking of each person and to call him to that greatness.
The community’s commitment to truth expresses itself in its efforts towards ever greater unity. We are well aware that only the unified community is formative. A united vision is built and maintained by the teaching of the superior, the work of ongoing community dialogue and the living out of a coherent behavior on the part of all the brothers and sisters. Failures are inevitable in this process, but these in themselves can be productive as they stimulate us to gestures of pardon, to recourse to the sacrament of reconciliation and a renewed experience of ourselves as saved – again and again – by God’s mercy. When this happens, the young will experience the monastery as “the house of peace, dialogue and mutual assistance” that they have a right to expect.
The abbot’s contribution to all this is the faithfulness he manifests in corresponding to the common monastic vocation. He is an exemplar of truthful living – his relationship to Creative and created reality. He is permeated by a deep reverence for God, a spirit of honor extended to all his fellow human beings and a loving respect and delight in God’s creation. This ever deeper “fear of the Lord”, based on the truth of who God is and who he is, will get him beyond such obstacles as favoritism and pride, and will enable him to overcome the tendency to discouragement and self-pity. It will also enable him to take difficult but necessary decisions with compassionated objectivity. It is advisable that he himself find a spiritual advisor, inside or outside the community, in whose company and friendship he can increasingly discover and accept the truth of his own self.
All these aspects of truth should lead us to liturgical living – to the constant praise of God who has made us and daily remakes us, more and more according to the form of the truly human and divine man, Jesus Christ. We gather together daily in the liturgy to declare: In Him, we have known the truth and the truth has set us free.