Transmission of the Faith
and the Foundations
of Monastic Life
Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat OSB
President of AIM
The most characteristic element of the evolution of the contemporary world is the denial of any link with the transcendent. The western world has opened the way to this denial, which is now spreading to the global village. It is considered proper in the world of today to maintain that any mention of faith in God is simply meaningless. If one asks why this is the case, the answer is simple: the possibility of a God restricts our freedom of action. This unleashing of opposition to any presence of God in human culture is a feature of today’s world.
Paradoxically, at the very heart of this denial, human beings are attempting to go beyond themselves and to find spiritual resources in themselves which will give them greater breadth. The practice of Zen meditation in the western world, combined with techniques for relaxation and the other features of New Age philosophy, have accustomed us to think that the spiritual quest bears no necessary connection with belief in God. So much so that the rich legacy of Christian religious practices is sometimes used outside the context of the Church, or indeed is simply ignored and considered irrelevant. This raises the question of our capacity to pass on the faith which is so dear to us, to enter into genuine conversation with our contemporaries although we stand at a considerable distance from them. Indeed, there can be no doubt that passing on the faith is the most urgent crisis at the heart of human life today. This is true primarily of the Christian faith, whose apparent complexity is itself an obstacle. How is it possible to bear witness to a Trinitarian God, to the incarnation of God in human form, to a dead and risen Christ who gives himself as food in the sacrament of the Eucharist, to a God who makes alliance with his people and sends them out into the world to proclaim the Good News of eternal life? These are matters which are simply beyond the ken of most of our contemporaries.
Nevertheless Christianity is clear that faith is not a brute fact which must be accepted just as it is. It is a gift of God by which God reveals himself and commits himself. This means that faith received in this way is destined to be shared with others in love. Such a sharing involves simultaneously a relationship with God and a relationship between human beings. This means that faith becomes an experience which touches all the dimensions of a person and needs to become active in daily life. This experience is expressed in a special way in monastic life. Monks and nuns are above all people who life by faith. They live the faith they have received in such a way that they already experience the fruits whose accessibility in the Kingdom of God was heralded by Jesus. So the monastic milieu presents faith as a lived expression of the revelation of God in the flesh.
In the search for material for this new number of the Bulletin of the AIM it has become obvious that monks and nuns are more suited to training people in the monastic life than to talking about it. Thus the superiors and formators of the monasteries of Southern Africa, coming together in the association BECOSA, put forward a series of practical measures intended to allow young people eager to enter the monasteries to make a better estimate of the implications of putting faith into practice at the heart of monastic life. We have taken the decision to publish this work in its entirety because it seemed to us so valuable as an example for other monastic associations all over the world. Fr Pacomio, prior of the monastery of St Joseph of Namyangju in South Korea, gives a picture of the transmission of faith in the framework of a Eucharistic celebration linked to an commitment for the poor, stressing the authenticity of the linkage of such a celebration and such a commitment. We have decided to publish also the conference which Mother Mary-Caroline Lecouffe, prioress of the monastery of Bouzy-la-Forêt, gave in the context of the formation of French-speaking formators ‘Ananias’. Its theme is ‘Conflict and Reconciliation’. It is valuable to see how faith is put into practice in the daily community life of the monastery. It would be useful to explore this theme also in working activities such as the reception of guests and in other areas, such as for example the special care of the sick and the poor, in whom St Benedict encourages us to recognise Christ.
This approach to the transmission of the faith echoes the debates held in the context of the Council of the AIM in November 2013. One of the main points was an insistence on the experiential character of formation in monasteries and institutes for the sake of a practical training in monastic life: the practice of obedience in a regional or national house of formation, with time for personal or group reading, is certainly a good way of doing Christology. Or again, the practice of liturgical and ecclesial mystagogy provides a good understanding of the Trinitarian dynamic. The intense experience of the need for reconciliation within a community provides a vivid experience of the work of salvation. Devotion to lectio divina accompanied by good conditions for personal recollection gives an awareness of what is meant by the Word of God coming to visit our own flesh. Concentration on personal prayer brings out what it means to share the divine nature. This practical experiential theology is a feature of all monasteries, but from time to time it is good to receive the witness and help of experienced witnesses who have the ability to share most profitably what they have received in the framework of formation sessions and formation houses.
Following a well-established custom, this issue focuses on the study of a current issue, widespread but not devoid of relevance for the life of our communities. François Thuillier offers us an enlightening synthesis on the current phenomenon of terrorism and how it can be countered. In parallel we offer some pages of a document published by the Pontifical Council for Catholic Education, ‘Education to intercultural dialogue in the Catholic schools’ (October, 2013). In fact it is not sufficient to confine the question to terrorist threats put forward principally by extremist groups; populations must also learn to live together in the practice of that intercultural exchange, and the serious effort this demands. Without such a dialogue, the influence of violent speeches and actions threatens to win the day and prevent religions from contributing to peace.
The issue concludes with some reflections and news, both local and international. We offer here a report on monasticism in the Benedictine tradition in India and a reflection on the question of tribalism in Africa. There is also an echo of the recent session on the monasteries of Central Africa.