Consuelo Verdugo Member of the Manquehue Movement
The Manquehue Apostolic Movement and Lectio Divina
Monasticism also is life lived through a form of new evangelisation with regard to lay members of Benedictine and Cistercian families. Groups of oblates and lay fraternities are at the present time undergoing a definite renewal in many places. It has seemed to us interesting to show how the experience of lectio divina has given birth to an extraordinary initiative of evangelisation in the Manquehue Apostolic Movement in Chile in connection with the monastery of Las Condes. The witness here outlined is most impressive, and deserves to be brought to the attention of monasteries of the Benedictine tradition.
The Manquehue Apostolic Movement was founded in Chile in 1977 by José Manuel Eguiguren, a layman, now married with six children. The Movement can be described as a lay Benedictine monastery whose spiritual lung is lectio divina. The central community of the movement is constituted by the community of oblates of Manquehue, made up of forty mean and women, some married and some who have chosen celibacy, and we try to establish a close union between faith and life. For this reason we work together, celebrate the liturgical hours and practise lectio divina in common. It is the personal and community contact with the Word of God that brought to birth the Movement of friendships, communities and apostolate which have allowed us to grow as a movement and to share with others the experience of meeting the Lord in his Word. It is this which has led us to found three schools with more than four
thousand students, two houses of formation for young people in Chilean Patagonia, a house for women of the street and other initiatives. The Movement is lay, ecclesial and Benedictine. This means that we try to live our lay vocation profoundly, in filial relationship with our diocesan bishop and with the Rule of St Benedict as a point of reference and guide to form us and structure us as a community.
At this time more than fifteen hundred people meet each week in groups which we call ‘lectio groups’ to share how the Word of God is echoed in the life of each of us.
Listening to the Word
Jesus Christ speaks through the Word (in the Manquehue Movement we can witness to this) of the intimate and personal meeting with Christ which takes place when the Bible ceases to be any longer a book of history or general interest and becomes a place of meeting with the Lord. This is what happened to José Manuel in the 1970s, when, in the midst of a profound existential crisis, a Benedictine monk of the Abbey of Las Condes, Dom Gabriel Guarda, taught him to read the scriptures in such a way that the Risen Christ appeared in his life, brought light into his life and filled it with meaning. Dom Gabriel, at that time guestmaster and later abbot of his community, took the necessary time to listen to José Manuel, answer his questions, share his pain and help him to listen to the answers which God had for him in his Word. In a certain sense he taught him to do lectio divina, or prayerful reading of the scriptures, which is so much valued by monks.
What was more extraordinary, according to José Manuel, was that ‘it was not he who spoke to me, but he taught me to listen’. José Manuel could not keep this experience for himself, but, without really knowing how it happened, he found himself in charge of preparing for confirmation a group of students in the school in which he had himself studied. With these students he did the same thing as the monk had done with him: he took the Bible to walk together to the discovery of God’s will personally for each of them.
The Experience of a Meeting
This is what continues to occur day after day, from one person to another in the Movement. I myself have been a ‘victim’ of this experience. I am a celibate oblate of the Manquehue Movement and a former pupil of our schools, and I still remember the experience I had in seeing so many adults who insisted on becoming my friends and also inviting me to share the Word of this book which I found remote and strange. Little by little I found that these readings which we made each morning to begin the day and which we shared in retreats or other activities were addressed to me personally. The first time I discovered that there was something strong and different in the Bible was when a Manquehue oblate in the course of a retreat sent us to read the passage about Zacchaeus for half-an-hour. Obviously in a few minutes I had read the text, despite the effort I made to deepen it further; however, I realized that the oblate was going to do the same thing, and that afterwards we would share it. I was impressed that he should be capable of drawing so many ideas from these few lines: ‘Zacchaeus was trying to see which was Jesus, but as he was small he could not see him because his view was blocked’ (Luke 19.3). It seemed to me that I was Zacchaeus and that circumstances blocked me from meeting Christ. At the end of this meeting he told me that he had been doing lectio for two years and from this very fact he could penetrate more deeply. This aroused in me the desire that the Word should speak to me in the same way.
I must acknowledge in addition that the possibility of taking part in the missions of the College was for me without doubt the place of a marvellous meeting with the living God. The experience of living through these days in community, of praying together, announcing and proclaiming together our faith, with in addition meetings and conversations with the villagers who gave us their own witness of Jesus Christ with a moving simplicity was inspiring. Nor could one forget that, when we finished these conversations and opened our Bible to choose a reading by chance, time after time we had the feeling that God himself was intervening with his force and his power, in a way more powerful and more convincing than anything we had said before.
Obviously this awakening was neither continuous nor always uplifting. There were periods of boredom and of desert. I often found it difficult to attend my lectio group, the activities of apostolate and – more than this – in my final year of school I was hit by a car and could not any longer take part in the missions. This made me question the whole meaning of my life. I remember that a friend gave me a cassette with a song sung by herself which went, ‘I hope that when you look around you do not see that life has escaped you’. I was very afraid that life had escaped me. I was already eighteen years old, and what was to prevent the rest of my years passing without my accomplishing anything?
After a certain time out of school I felt the need to do something. The first idea that came into my head was to accept to go and live an experience of community life and mission of the Movement in São Paulo, Brazil. I was led to take this decision by the memory of the happiness which I had found at the school when we were working in various apostolates. To go to Brazil was for me a little like returning and finding again that force, that energy, that vitality which I had known. Brazil allowed me to reflect and put a name to the situations which I had lived through. Life in community was a challenge, and little by little I received the Word in the first person singular. I remember how my first hours of lectio on a Sunday seemed to me interminable, but finally I gradually came to rejoice, finding readings which grabbed my heart: ‘I used to know you only by hearsay, but now my eyes have seen you’ (Job 42.5).
The experience in Brazil was much stronger than I had thought at first. I was always thirsty for more: more life, more peace, more meaning, and suddenly I was finding my place, not in a comfort-zone but through the challenge of love and of the community. I felt the challenge of giving myself more completely by taking particular responsibilities. I remember that on the Feast of the Transfiguration I was alone in one of the offices of the school, reading the Gospel of the day. I could not concentrate, and my eyes slipped to the opposite page. The words which I read struck me violently: ‘Anyone who wishes to come to me must renounce self, take up the cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life must lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will save it’ (Luke 9.23.24). The message I was receiving was clear: I had a huge thirst for Life, and the Gospel was showing me the way: ‘Lose your life, give yourself, come – he was calling me – follow me; you will live the cross, but do not be afraid, because I am inviting you to true Life.’ I must confess that I was filled with panic, but I was safe because no one yet knew what was happening to me: ‘Was I not in the course of auto-suggesting to myself writings which had been written thousands of years before and for the whole of humanity?’ I decided to open the Bible one last time quite by chance and to act according to what I read. I prayed and called on the Holy Spirit, and opened the Bible: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life and life was the light of all people’ (John 1.1.4). I had no need to go on reading; God had given me an answer: if he had made all things by his Word, he could equally well complete my vocation.
From Vocation to Mission
I could not keep to myself that word which had been revealed to me. I had received so much, a community, a meaning to life, a work, a mission. I saw so many young people thirsty for meaning and confronted by the need to meet face to face, themselves, the living and risen Christ. I saw clearly all the possible opportunities to share and proclaim the Word; I could not be halted by human respect, according to St Paul’s exhortation, ‘Proclaim the word, insist in season and out of season’ (2 Timothy 4.2).
The life of the Movement sprang from and continues to spring from lectio divina. In practical terms this means setting aside each day a time in the horarium for listening to the Word: at the beginning of a meeting, in all the apostolates, the works, the missions, scout camps, in schools, before a conversation; everything begins with a reading from the Gospel, with a time of listening to share the way in which this Word speaks personally to us, to each of us. For we need to nourish ourselves continually by this meeting. It does not occur once and for all, but we need to listen to the call each day, to receive the exhortation each day, each day we need to wake up to the reality of God.
The reality, said Benedict XVI to us at Aparecida, is God and for this reason ‘one who recognises in the Word of God the basis of everything is a realist’ (VD 10). It is easy to lose perspective and to cease to see with God’s eyes and with faith. From that moment onwards we torture ourselves for our duties, our preoccupations or our problems. Each day brings us a thousand contradictions or difficult situations which we must confront, difficulties of communication, disappointment, sterility. It is easy to lose courage and no longer see the meaning of so much effort and so much energy. It is possible to understand this only in God and in the certainty of his love for us. To re.turn to God then becomes an absolute necessity, to question God so that he may show us the logic of each situation or give us the strength to take up our cross every day and to see it as a way of life. The Word gives us the opportunity to unite faith and life, to discover why, as the Council says, ‘it is only in the light of faith and by reflection on the divine Word that one can know God at all times and in all places. It is in him that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17.28), seek his will in every event, contemplate Christ in every person, whether they are relatives or strangers, and indeed judge the meaning and value of things in themselves and in relation to people (Apostolicam actuositatem, 4).
This is our mission: to listen to the Word in order to open eyes to the powerful reality that God is truly present, alive, active, and to live our life in this way with different criteria, those of the Kingdom, in the certainty that in him we have eternal life.
The Nourishment of the Word
The Word not only enlightens us and gives us strength, but we can also say that it acts by itself. It has a power possessed by no other argument and no other action. It changes the heart and brings it back to God. It is water and bread for the road; it is a sure guide. It teaches how to exist as a community and to discover the face of Christ in my brother and sister in community. The community is also the guide and teacher of the Word. It leads us to share and proclaim our faith. The Word teaches us to pray and arouses in us the sense and taste for the Eucharist. In lectio divina it is Christ who comes to meet us, explains to us the scriptures, inflames our heart, and in this warmth begins to make our heart beat anew; it begins to live a new life, a life of plenty. Christ comes to meet us face to face, he speaks to us as a man speaks to his friend, and his words are not chance words; they are the words of eternal life.