Time: In some other religions, monastic life is what one does in old age after raising a family, or for a time in youth before beginning a family.Community of Jesus
Our houses differ now – ethnic background, emphasis in ministries, subtle differences in the personalities.Just as Vatican II sent us back to our monastic roots – to the Holy Rule and the wisdom of the desert – so our monastic life of the future will grow out of our histories – which we have begun to study and preserve so much more carefully.While I’ve painted a “future” with broad strokes, it will be different in each location. The varieties of monastic life that spring up will respond to those differences.
Oblates and lay people and live-in volunteers will continue to arrive in large and growing numbers.The culture that creates disconnected relationships and a sense of anomie will generate a longing for silence,for hospitality that is genuine. For monastics, this will present the challenge of balance.There will be locations where monastic life will cease to thrive, at least for a time. If our federations and connections are wise and generous, these treacherous transitions may be eased. (A film, “Breaking Silence,” traced the final year of a Visitation monastery before it closed. It is a powerful experience to watch it.)
Three elements that will be focal for monastic life in the futureMeeting Christ in other peopleLiving outside the ways of the worldBuilding bridges across chasms as a path to peace.
The “iron cage” of modernity treats people as objects, parts of a machine.Post-modernity treats them as unreal, transitory.The monastic way sees a deep reality in each person, the image of God.The monastic way sees Christ the beloved in each person.This encounter heals wounds.This encounter teaches and preaches.This encounter moves against alienation.This encounter is difficult and costly to maintain.This encounter shares the suffering of Christ.
Healing of spirit from the ills of the age; new members, oblates, and guests will bring those ways with them.
The monasteries of old did not have to go out and seek people to serve.Pilgrims, poor, orphans and children came to them.As we reclaim and renew our identity, we might seek ways in which we can invite the vulnerable, the needy, to be with us.Many monasteries share their grounds, their spiritual lives, and their presence with housing for the elderly.Some retreat centers offer days or even weekends of retreat for the unemployed – at no cost.Some monasteries provide homework help to elementary school students, providing a child-centered experience for kids who often come from single-parent or blended family homes.
Staying in a relationship – friendship, marriage, monastic community, even a job – does not happen by accident.Even our present day society does not teach the skills and attitudes that preserve relationships. Our emphasis on self-esteem and “everyone gets a ribbon” had produced a sense of entitlement – others should do what will make things work well for us. Studies show, for instance, that most of the marriages that end in divorce did not involve violence or serious emotional trauma. Instead, they break under the weight of small annoyances, shifting tastes – and the absence of the attitudes and skills for re-igniting cooling ties.To the extent that monastic communities can preserve and transmit these skills – to oblates, through interactions with others – they will be actively contributing to the changing of the spirit of the age.
Give a space for thoughtFor comments
Second element of monastic life of the future:Separation – but not barrier – to the world.When lay people come to the monastery, they tell us what is special:They use two words more than any others:Peaceful.Friendly.They go on to describe peaceful: orderly, clean (clean, clean), simple, uncluttered, unhurried, people give way and wait.They describe friendly: genuine, interested in meeting them, listening, universal / general.
Monastic peace cannot be faked. When we live all the time with half-true conversations and artificial reality, we become adept at recognizing insincere attempts. (Try giving any answer but “fine” to the question “how are you?” and you will discover this…) Hospitality, to be genuine, may also need to be limited, organized, and planned – to give the community time refresh and renew its own spirit. Monastic silence is cultivated. The students who come to Evening Prayer with us – often for Extra Credit in one of their Religious Studies classes – find the 60 seconds of silence we observe between psalms as interminable and unendurable. They fidget, look about to see what is supposed to happen. Even when we talk with them first, explain the silence, encourage them to listen for a phrase to chew over mentally during that time – they still tell us that it seems weird and long.Retreatants come for silent retreats and talk to each other or to us. The chattering monkey-mind needs to learn to be quiet; it can’t just go there all at once.We understand that musicians and athletes have to practice in order to maintain their skill, but we sometimes forget that the same is true of the spiritual life.Those who come to use – members, oblates, visitors – want what we have. How can we help them go away with it?
Sister Gail Fitzpatrick gave a presentation on Enclosure to a group of lay people at an Advent retreat. It seemed to me a peculiar choice of topic – until I heard what she was talking about. Not the enclosure of papal rule. The enclosure that is a guard, a protection, a discernment: what of the world should I let in? And what is best left outside?She later published this talk in Cistercian Quarterly, I’m told. Her wisdom in choosing this topic for an audience of lay people taught me two lessons. The first was for myself – to think again about practices and seek their deeper meaning. The second was a lesson in translating the monastic practices so they are useful to lay people as well.The monastics of the future, if we are to be prophetic, must be able to name and explain our practices, with confidence and appreciation, if we are to pass them on.
Time to ponderTime for comments
The third element: building bridgesI chose a Christmas Eve photo because that night is, perhaps, the one night that more people manage to forget their differences and get along than any other time of the year. Even then, someone will think there is too much or too little tinsel on some tree somewhere.
We are so aware of differences, and they scare us. The differences might be race, age, ethnicity, gender.They might be differences of ideas, differences in living religious life,differences of culture.The differences come knocking at our door.They work in our monasteries as helpers.They live next door to us.Peace is not only a miracle: it is a practice.It is a bridge built across chasms, one piece at a time.
Some of the divisions in our Church today seem beyond healing.They make unhealed divisions of the past actually seem smaller.Some of our conversation about important and deeply held beliefs – especially around the sanctity of life – cuts off any hope of real dialogue. Christ prays that we may be one. Benedict hopes that we go “all together” to eternal life. The culture teaches us to huddle around identities and groups, fractioning into ever-smaller enclaves.Some monasteries of the future may be that kind of enclave. Others may be ecumenical, may include families, may like the L’Arche communities, be planned for members with special needs. Some may turn out to be poor ideas.Can all these monasteries of the future share a single charism without fighting over it?Can the Church?
What is the common good?There are many theological definitions, but for a start, the common good is any good that is bigger than my personal good. The question always is: what will I give up for the common good?Re-emergence of the idea of "the common good" through mutual obedience and love.Ways of life that decrease inequality nationally and globally.How can we cultivate discernment, to be aware of plural identities, divisions and to build bridges across them? How can we share with others?
The three elements we can see shaping our monastic life of the future Encountering Christ in the other Discerning countercultural ways of lifeBuilding bridges of peace over divisionsCannot be done through human strength.If they could, we would have done them by now.Fr. Greg Mayer used to say, on contemplative intensive retreats, that none of our practices of silence, meditation, or simplicity could produce a mystical experience. If that happened, it was an accident. The practices, he said, just made us accident prone.So it is with the future of our monastic life. We can choose practices and pursue peace – but we know that the fruit will always be from God.
"What can be sweeter to us, dear ones, than this voice of the Lord inviting us?“At a vocation retreat, a sister once said: If it’s possible for you to choose any life other than religious life, do it.”We were all shocked: why would she say that? Was her life so bad? Someone had the courage to ask her what she meant.It was simple – and profound. If we heard any voice sweeter than the Lord’s, sooner or later we would follow it. No use fooling ourselves with images or ideas about religious life if they were not grounded in a profound love of Christ.
Our monastic communities have come through turbulent times.We have worked hard to weather them, to grow, to stay together.Many are weary.Who wants to hear that the future will be difficult in new waysThat conflicts may continueThat the blessings of modern technology also bring cursesThat there is more work to doReally, this is no different than St. Benedict’s time.Society was in an upheaval, with norms breaking down.The only prophecy he made about the future of monastic life was that Monte Cassino would be destroyed.He says his Rule is just a beginning.But he asks, in the preface, “Who longs for life?”It’s a question of direction, of choices among many options.
Prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together into everlasting life"
Monastic Futures - Contemporary Culture II
Culture Shift:The Shape of Monastic Life in the Future<br />Sister Edith Bogue<br />Benedictine Renewal Program<br />Mount St. Benedict Monastery<br />Crookston, Minnesota<br />16 June 2011<br />
Given the bleak picture of the future, can we be confident that monastic life has a future?<br />
Yes.<br />The archetype of a monastic – an ascetic who seeks beyond the boundaries of society – is ever present in society.<br />Religions produce a group of athletes or specialists or they die out. <br />The evolutionary psychologists show us, more and more, that our brains are hardwired for contemplation.<br />
It will certainly be different and diverse<br />Membership may be time-limited, not permanent.<br />Residential monastic communities may include both men and women and families<br />There are already web-sites that call themselves a “virtual monastery”<br />The focus is unlikely to be institutional (hospitals, schools)<br />Life-long monastics are likely to be fewer in number,but important for the mentoring of others.<br />
Three elements that will be focal for monastic life in the future<br />Meeting Christ in other people<br />Living outside the ways of the world<br />Building bridges across chasms asa path to peace.<br />