Live in the Word of God
Fr Martin Neyt, OSB, President of AIM
There are times in our life when our normal points of reference become blurred, when we question our whole direction of life, when the realities around us seem ephemeral and relative. What is the real world? Where can we find a way of life which escapes from illusion, which makes contact with the bases of our existence?
The Word of God as it has been and still is practised in our monastic communities invites us to change our view of reality, for when our human certainties dissolve into illusion it is Jesus Christ himself, that pillar of light and of fire, who is the foundation of the real world. The exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI on the Word of God, Verbum Domini, a document insufficiently well-known, deserves full attention. The inspiration of this great text, which describes its link with the human person, the Church and the world, rests on two foundations, on the one hand the Prologue of St John (‘In the beginning was the Word’) and its Gospel, and on the other hand the Constitution Dei Verbum. Here we find ourselves at the heart of our faith and our hope.
Both in its relationship to the liturgy and in the history of salvation the Word of God is effective: it accomplishes what it says, it binds hearing to action. Monks cannot forget the precept of St Benedict urging his disciples to ensure that their hearts and their actions are in accordance with their words.
The Fathers of the desert long ago, as is still the case with the Copts of Egypt, were formed by attention to this concordance and consecrated their whole lives to it. Accordingly, as F. Guido Dotti stresses, the Bible is used by them as ‘the primary source of humanity, the fundamental point of reference in the daily search for a life according to the Gospel’.
Lived examples abound in their sayings, and the most significant biblical texts are brought to light: to leave everything to follow Jesus, to carry the Cross, to care for the poor and the helpless, to be a centre of sympathy, gentleness and humility. This spiritual journey implies an openness of heart, a heart to heart link with an Elder who carries the Word in his life. Frequently the Elder answers questions put by the disciple with a biblical quotation which wonderfully enlightens the lived experience and the road to follow. Chastity of heart, says John Climacus, is the move from sensual love to love of God, expressing a total love of Him to whom one’s life has been made over. Or to invoke another desert saying, ‘Today you were born, today you have begun to serve God. Be so each day, like a stranger who tomorrow must depart.’
To what extent is the liturgy monastic? Dom Dieudonné Dufrasne, in his contribution, distinguishes the nuances and the perspectives of the Liturgy of the Hours from the Eucharist. Have we underestimated the essential place of Israel in the Christian revelation? Is not Israel to the world what the monk is to the Church? A sister of the monastery of St Frances Romaine at Abu Ghosh in Israel and Sister Dominique Cassiers in France bring to us important reflections and new practices on first taking root in the Word of God and on the reality of Israel. Today, just as in the time of the Fathers of the desert, in India no less than in the old continent, monks live by the Word of God which permeates the whole of the Rule of St Benedict – such is the experience shown to us by Fr John Kurichianil of Kappadu in India.
Before finishing we draw attention to the jubilee of the Benedictine Congregation of the Sylvestrines, who have just celebrated 50 years of presence in India, and once more we underline how the Word of God, studied, meditated, prayed and contemplated has been the source of renewals, in particular that of the Camaldolese presented by Fr Emanuele Bargellini, OSB Cam. Each one of our communities draws its nourishment from this source ever new, the foundation of our common life and the vivid expectation of the return of Christ.