MONASTIC FORMATION IN LATIN AMERICA TODAY.
The present reflection is thought of as continuous with the
first on the opportunities and difficulties of the monastic proposal in a
postmodern context. I propose four stages and a recapitulating conclusion. First
I will enter into the culture of today, especially what usually is called the
culture of youth, referring not only to the young people but to a global
cultural proposal that affects the whole of society. In fact, it is a general
truth in our monasteries, that the vocations that we welcome are of people who
are older and, often, with rather stormy previous experiences. And,
nevertheless, what marks this new generation of beginners is quite similar to
what could be said of younger people in our society.
In a second stage, I will try to contrast the tradition of
formation in our monasteries with the recognized cultural reality.
Next, I will dwell on an essential point of our proposal: the
requirement of monastic metanoia and its possibility in this specific context.
After this core questioning, I will return to the expression
of the Rule that presents the monastery as a school of service of the Lord. How
do we make this insight not stagnate in a universal rejection of schooling? How
do we make it capable of being a credible companion to disciples of Jesus in a
true spiritual school?
I would not want to finish this reflection without our asking
ourselves, in conclusion, a series of serious questions on the type of
ecclesiality that monastic life proposes for candidates who come from a culture
that is considerably remote from and opposed to everything
The culture of youth.
Nowadays we usually speak of youth more as a global cultural
proposal, proper to postmodernity, than as the specific world of a determined
generational group. It is in the former sense that I locate myself in this first
step of my reflection.
Approximation of the theme.
The very concept of youth is diverse and quite ambiguous. Is
it an intermediate stage of life, between childhood and adulthood, that is
characterized by a relatively large social, economic and intellectual autonomy
and an equally large real irresponsibility in these diverse fields of human
life? If it is this, many poor people, especially in the peasant world, never
experience youth because of the total poverty that is theirs to live and to
face. So, to be poor, even from a very early age, is to be permanently
dependent, on the family group in particular, and at the same time, always
personally responsible for the survival of the group, especially of the
If youth is, rather, an ideal that includes the physical, the
space for pleasure, the quest for success, etc., once again it is an ideal
confiscated for the immense majority of Latin Americans, for economic but also
for racial and social reasons.
Finally, if youth is a way of being that is free, bold and
somewhat anarchistic, it contradicts the reality of the immense majority of
young people entangled in conflicts of identity, of self-esteem, rooted in the
broken experience of human relationships proper to these times on our
In fact, youth is a typically modern creation. It implies, in
fact, a culture that created an intermediate social space, characterized by
schooling that is more and more generalized and prolonged. In traditional
societies, youth practically does not exist. And we should not forget that the
great majority of the young people on our continent come from social classes
emerging from traditional culture, as if the son of the Inca Manco Capac
(founder of the Incan dynasty) had fathered Michael Jackson. In fact, this type
of cultural "no man's land" supposes a society that is trying to assume
collectively the transition from childhood to adult age through its formation.
This is a typical modern achievement, let us not forget. It is an achievement in
serious danger of death nowadays from the deterioration of popular schooling and
its progressive transformation into simple guardianship, often violent and
mediocre, of a young multitude for whom we have no serious social, economic and
The previous statements make us understand that, perhaps,
youth is many things, depending on social classes and whatever real
opportunities are available to them. But, at the same time, the proposal of the
cultural and economic market to this youth is unique. The prefabricated youthful
model is the same for all young men and women, for a few an invitation to
unrestrained and irresponsible joy, and for many a dream that is frustrating and
unattainable, except through violent means or at the cost of superhuman effort.
It is not chance if, on our continent, even for monasteries traditionally more
bound to the national aristocracies, almost all the vocations come from the poor
and even very poor popular world. They come with these characteristics of
frustrated ideals which they seek, consciously or unconsciously, to compensate
for or to achieve in our institutions.
But this ideal, which I would dare call perverse, presents
itself not only to young people themselves. In truth, for the first time in
human history, youth is proposed, in the complex and confused sense indicated
above, as the ideal model for all of society.
In traditional societies, the aspiration is to reach adulthood
with its own signs of collective responsibility and prestige. In fact, the most
prestigious is old age, deserving all the respect of the group. Today the scale
of values has been reversed, presenting youthful irresponsibility as a permanent
ideal and aging as a misfortune that must be camouflaged in some way. In our
culture, what is considered as a value is not acquired wisdom but rather the
constant volubility of successive forms of knowledge. The postmodern ideal is
not the wise person but the "excellent one," that is to say the one who manages
adequately the permanent innovation of the system. It is not difficult to guess
that this juvenilization of culture is a true catastrophe for every adult
proposal based on responsibility and reliability, and especially for the
proposal of monastic wisdom with its characteristics that are traditional,
This youth culture, however, is not static but volatile. So
the proposed model is no longer that of the revolutionary and careless youth in
the style of 1968. On the contrary, today one values an exquisite, aesthetic and
somewhat feminine image of youth. I feel, personally, that this model indeed
reflects the turbulence of identities, genders, ages and specific groups, proper
to a time of radical questioning. This is a culture of networks in perpetual
movement where identity has lost its references and is transformed into an
anxious search. Youth reflects in its forms and contradictions this cultural
passage of the storm.
Attempting an x-ray.
I now propose to outline a type of x-ray of the postmodern
young person, selecting four dimensions that seem particularly significant to
me: emotion, ideology and intellect, the body, and, finally, the spirit, hoping
that this profile helps us to understand our perplexities and to respond more
suitably to reality.
In a culture characterized by dramatic break from
institutional references, the relationships and identities that flow from them
also seem broken. It is not surprising, then, that emotion is the core of
behavior, of the forging of personalities. Perhaps the paradox resides in the
fact that the world of emotion in young people is at the same time tremendously
hurt and that, nevertheless, perhaps for precisely that reason, emotion is the
global and exclusive reference of every behavior, every decision, every
attitude. We have seen how the communication of feelings in the family, social
and school milieu is rapidly becoming impoverished, how the bridge of word is
reduced more and more, leaving a larger space for face-to-face relationships
with communication almost solely through sexuality. Emotional relationships,
because of the crisis of the word, seem cruelly and almost exclusively
eroticized, with an extreme burden of violence and insecurity, especially in
adolescent and adult gender relationships.
This reality affects directly our monastic communal life where
discretion, solitude, enclosure and silence conceal, often, this wound of the
postmodern generation. But this concealment does not manage to avoid what I call
here the eroticization of relationships, even in monasteries. Perhaps, on the
contrary, it can favor it. In this cultural context are not silence, enclosure
or solitude also glorious opportunities for violence, jealousy, fearful relapses
and recalcitrant attachments? In a word, does not our system today attract
mainly personalities that are pathological on the emotional level, that find and
develop, under the shadow of monastic asceticism, true psychological illnesses
brought from the damaged milieu where they grew?
If emotion is the spinal column of the fragile personalities
that approach us, we will also understand that the ideological and intellectual
dimension of their personality is quite fragile as well. I will not speak of
elementary things like reading, spelling, basic understanding of speech,
dramatically deficient, by the way, even in the universities, but of more
fundamental things like all that concerns independent thought. It would seem
that popular schooling looks more toward transmitting competency, information
and training (often also obsolete) than toward teaching to think personally and
creatively. They are excellent, today's young people, at starting the motor and
handling information with competency. But when the goal is to choose, to decide,
to think, we find ourselves facing an abyss of uncertainty. When I affirm this,
it is not in a pejorative way. This situation is the responsibility of the world
of adults and the mediocrity of their institutions of transmission.
What can one say of the preceding topic in the face of
monastic life? In what we called in the previous presentation Benedictine
communal favoritism, the capacity to think for oneself, to ponder, to read and
to imagine is a condition sine qua non for being a happy monk. I am thinking in
particular about lectio divina. I leave you with the question.
In this new human profile that is being drawn in
postmodernity, the body becomes one of the preferred areas of communication and
of self-image. In a civilization that is talkative but practically mute when it
comes to words for what is essential, the body is transformed into a preferred
message. From there the enormous importance of appearance, of dress, of scent,
of hairdo, etc. even, and perhaps more, among young men. The body is messenger
and bastion, bridge and wall. With it one tries to enter into relationships,
behind it one hides the congenital insecurity of self.
In the monastic perspective, where many of our conversations,
implicit or not, tend to deny, to hide or to silence relationships with the body
or relationships through bodily gestures, this is transformed into a deep
Finally, what type of spiritual experience flows from this new
culture? Evidently, today's young people are thirsty for God. But it is a
mystical experience that is somewhat confused, vague and unstable, an aspiration
for community and harmony much more than a search for salvation or ultimate
meaning. In this experience, the senses and the emotions are foremost. The
desire to experience sensibly the mystery that surrounds and envelops us,
inspires in the postmodern generation a constant search for new sensations
through a type of spiritual pluralism that is outgoing and hybrid. The insight
of the New Age goes, somehow, in that direction.
We are quite far from monastic pondering, from the sober
repetition of the same Word more deeply examined, from the Benedictine search
for tents in the austerity of the inner desert.
Youth culture and crisis of adulthood.
Behind this youthful panorama, what is actually hidden is a
deep crisis of adulthood. In fact, if youth is the ideal proposed to all
confused generations, the criteria that once characterized the adult person seem
radically questioned. This situation goes side by side with the broken status
of institutions of identification like family, nationality, school,
Church, gender, etc. This lost horizon of identification explains why biological
adulthood no longer corresponds either to social adulthood (political
indifference, endemic dominance of unemployment, inadequate schooling, etc.) or,
much less, to intellectual or emotional adulthood. Reflection on mid-life crisis
is fashionable. It is nothing other than the revelation of a lack of maturity,
which is endured and hidden for a long time, and which explodes at age forty or
One of the areas where this crisis of adulthood is manifested
more clearly is gender identity. In fact, the feminist movement and its
victories have provoked a downfall of traditional masculine and feminine
categories. Men, in particular, experience at this moment a great insecurity
with women. We can affirm that this search for new, and more just, paradigms of
what is feminine and what is masculine, affects deeply the question of
adulthood. In many cases, young people, despite their incoherencies and
contradictions, show more adulthood than those who supposedly are adults, and
who are entangled in irresponsible childishness (the meaning of the word
partner, for example).
Behind these unrefined observations, we notice a radical
change in social roles, a change whose full consequences we cannot guess nor
even anticipate. What is in play here is the birth of a new category in which to
understand adulthood. Perhaps to be an adult in the future will no more be
identified with a personality that is "jelled" and complete and able to assume
long term responsibilities, but rather with flexibility and capability for
constant adaptation. This new adulthood prepares for us a radically different
Is a monastic proposal conceivable from these new categories
of adulthood, in a tradition where the old person is the reference point and
where stability is the founding virtue of the spiritual life?
Monastic formation tradition and the new
With the personality profile that we have just outlined
quickly, we can question our formation tradition and now confront it with the
complex reality in which we find ourselves.
From spiritual paternalism to spiritual
Spiritual formation, in the Christian tradition, has both many
modes and sensitivities and a single goal. The idea is to form true men and
women disciples of Jesus into the school of a basic personality.
This diversity has been expressed through time by formulas
like spiritual paternalism, proper to the old tradition of the monastic desert,
the spiritual friendship of the Cistercians, the Franciscan and Dominican
spiritual brotherhood or the spiritual direction of the counter-reformation,
especially along the Ignatian line. Each one of these expressions insists on a
dimension of discipleship experience, like family in the monastic tradition,
reciprocity for the Cistercian, companionship in travel for the mendicants, and
obedience to a guide experienced in the perspective of spiritual direction.
Each tradition, as well, has its limits and its risks such as
monastic paternalism, omission of needed asymmetry in the Cistercian or
mendicant case, authoritarianism and infantile dependency for the Ignatian
proposal. But each school refers to its own wisdom that, finally, usually
corrects these risks very intuitively.
Nowadays it is preferred to speak of spiritual companionship
to emphasize the fact that the person who manages the spiritual process is
really the disciple of Jesus. It is evident that the new expression arises from
a more democratic mentality and from a culture where the person affected is in
the center of decisions. We could speak, with spiritual companionship in mind,
of an inculturation of tradition within the world of postmodern
For us monks, the idea is to listen to this new culture to
incarnate the best of the our wisdom, leaving aside all patriarchal
characteristics and incorporating the subjectivity of the new candidates. There
is now a whole literature on this matter and there are now several centers of
formation in the companionship method, especially within the framework of Latin
American religious life.
The monastic symbolism of the Good Samaritan.
Far from being a proposal for saints and perfect persons, a
kind of elite military service, the Benedictine life has very many similarities
with the merciful and compassionate feeling of the Good Samaritan approaching
the person wounded on the road. If I refer to the description of the postmodern
humanity that knocks at our doors, I cannot but think about this victim of
attackers, left "half dead" by the road. They and we are all victims of a
history that bypasses no one. We cannot dream of a "monastic ethnic cleaning" in
these times, rather we ask ourselves how to heal, what we can heal, to what
extent and what disease of society exceeds our capacity to heal. The monastery,
in this sense, is a spiritual hospital. But, it is clearly evident, in this
shelter not everything can be cured, far from it.
How do we welcome and accompany this "half dead" victim,
giving every opportunity for life to win the battle? I believe that, in our
monastic treasure, we have much of this Samaritan secret of the presence of
A first Samaritan dimension of the monastic tradition is,
indeed, the welcome. Benedictine hospitality is, in itself, a shelter on the
way, not only nor primarily for guests but for the brothers themselves,
particularly the beginners. Formation begins as an unconditional hospitality
toward the wounded person whom Providence brings to us.
But our communal life, through group solidarity and
interpersonal relationships, is something like the road to Jericho where,
constantly, we change our route to approach the other person, to clean his
wounds and to carry him on our mount, spending on him what little we are and
what little we have. In this sense, without reviving human kindness among us,
our monastic formation has no chance of success. And, in fact, as we saw above,
it is perhaps this simply and naturally human dimension that is most damaged in
our rigid institutional systems.
Another precious and essential dimension of this Benedictine
Samaritan secret is patience. Some say that the Rule shows a "geological age
patience" with the weak, the sinful and the obstinate. This affirmation has some
certainty when we read, for example, the disciplinary chapters of the Rule and
their constant exceptions, their holy imprecisions and opportunities of
retraining offered to anyone, however obstinate, however limited, however
perverse. The patience and hope of Saint Benedict are so "exaggerated" that our
modern constitutions have had to correct some things that are apparently
inapplicable, canonically, today.
Nevertheless, this infinite
patience of love that comes from reality and not from a preconceived ideal, is
one of the productive keys of Benedictine wisdom in times like ours.
In the spirit of Benedictine patience-confidence, I think
that, in the present conjuncture, it is best to leave ample time, very ample
time, as allowed by canon law, for the prolongation of temporary vows. At the
same time, it seems necessary to mark symbolic and significant stages in this
prolonged process. In fact, three years of temporary profession seems somewhat
unrealistic in today's culture, with the serious crisis of adulthood and the
consequent immaturity for making responsible decisions.
In what we suggest here, I see the monastery more and more as
a modest but valuable school of humanization even in things very, very
elementary like the art of eating, sleeping, getting dressed, speaking with one
another. In fact, most of the candidates come from family and cultural histories
where elementary human coexistence has been frustrated by emotional, economic
and sociocultural violence. This places a task in formation that is prior to all
mystical adventure: to humanize. The monastic tradition has a unique art of
evangelical humanization which we should reevaluate. Perhaps it would be
interesting, in this sense, to consider aspirancy and postulancy (which many
monasteries do not have) as prior stages of humanization of the
In this Benedictine Samaritan art, I want to emphasize a last
point: insight. Through our custom of silence in listening and solitude in
community, we monks should have developed a kind of sixth sense: insight. In our
postmodern society, however, each individual is an island and nobody bothers to
sense and to guess how the other person is, through what climate he is passing.
The dialogues of Saint Gregory present to us a Benedict who is very intuitive.
Even praying in his cell, Benedict manages to see the boy who is drowning in the
lake or the secret intentions of the king or of the envious priest. This insight
should have equipped us with antennas sufficient to throw aside the
entanglements of the demon, the psychological ambiguities without end that can
be at the same time a healthy experience of security, and an invitation to
openness of heart by the candidate.
Crisis of institutional references and monastic
We have indicated above the deep crisis of teaching
institutions such as the family, school, religion and the state. On the other
hand, we have also observed the exaggerated institutionalization of the present
monastic scheme. How to clarify this impasse in a formative project truly
adapted to today's reality?
Here first I take up again the central institution of
monasticism: the father-son relationship with the abbot and with the spiritual
older persons. On one hand, most of the candidates have not had a satisfactory
experience of this relationship in their family nor in school. Adults, as we
have seen, have been stripped of this responsibility to such an extent that, for
most of today's young people, the true trustworthy relationship is the
relationship of peers, with all that this brings which is incomplete and
frustrating. In such a context, the image of the monastic father is at the same
time an object of face-to-face rejection in thousands of circumstances, and of
anxious search for what has been lost or never experienced. The monastic father
is thus transformed into a contradictory figure, an object of rather weak
polarization in one sense or another.
How to make of this relationship a true opportunity for
liberation, learning the freedom of the children of God in a relationship of
family and spiritual discipleship? Undoubtedly by first removing from the
paternal image in the monastery its patriarchal clothing to restore its
Chríst-like appearance. A father who is first son and brother, as Saint Benedict
suggests in chapter 2 of the Rule and as Saint Augustine describes it so
beautifully speaking of Christian shepherding. It is necessary to reduce the
abbatial figure from its authoritarian and absolutist overweight and to make it
pass through a healthy diet of monastic discretion and humility. But it is
necessary also that this figure be firm and contrasted with the blurred figure
of father and mother in postmodern society. This dual reform is as hard for the
father himself as for the children who are, culturally speaking,
But the postmodern drama affects not only the relationship of
parent and child. Every relationship of community and of comradeship seems
harmed by the violence, the individualism and the extreme competitiveness of a
system of jungle survival. The postmodern generation's tiny capacity for
coexistence frightens me and worries me more and more. And if we add to this
illness the competitiveness, the poverty of the system of interpersonal
communication of the majority, we will understand that the initial challenge of
monastic formation is fraternal love. How to teach these wild beasts of survival
fraternal tenderness, admiration and tolerance, listening to the other person
beyond the stubborn prejudices imported from the surrounding society? It is an
almost superhuman challenge to transform the antisocial attitudes of many into
habits of evangelical love.
Facing this pain of relationships, both symmetric and
asymmetric, our tradition proposes a wise mediation of witnesses. Those whom the
Rule calls persons in charge of the different sectors of community life, can be
transformed into loving witnesses and seekers of a profound and urgent process
of healing of relationships. When I speak of witnesses I see them as persons
who, from diverse angles of community life, make sure that the candidate is not
locked up in his cage of capricious solitude. They are, in some way, the
socializers of the "wild beast."
Finally, our wisdom proposes two extremely concrete areas for
channeling the dispersed energies of our young people: work and liturgical life.
The humanization of our candidates happens not mainly through our moralizing
speeches but through the test of daily living in the dual task of monastic
conversion: work and prayer. We Benedictines believe more in the healing force
of daily living than in the good intentions of both sides.
challenge of the spiritual life.
All the preceding could let one think that formation, in the
present context, must be content with the humanization of a wounded generation;
that if we obtain something at this level, we then can be satisfied. I think, on
the contrary, that this humanization, so necessary and so hypothetical, is the
leading question of all formation. But the objective of the spiritual life,
especially of our monastic life, goes further. It does not merely try to heal in
the shelter of monastic mercy the person wounded on the road to Jericho. The
goal is resurrection, the "new man and the new woman" of which Saint Paul
This second stage of formation which I here call metanoia, or
good news conversion, is today an extremely difficult challenge and one that we
will only be able to propose to a few, this small remnant of harsh exile in
postmodern Babylonia. In this sense, I believe if we achieve something on the
human level for most of the candidates to the monastic life, and by this process
of liberation, these "rehumanized persons" leave the monastery to venture on the
paths of lay life, then formation already has meaning as a service to the Latin
American human society that surrounds to us.
That some few of these "rehumanized persons" opt for monastic
life because they have discovered that their happiness is in exclusive search
for God and in putting nothing before the love of Christ, we will have to
consider it as a grace to be welcomed, the grace of the small remnant, the
prophetic minority that, in its process of human liberation, listens to and
welcomes a more specific call. But prophets are always a minority. This fact
does not cease to be, nevertheless, an urgent need. We cannot cease to propose
this stage of metanoia to all and, on the contrary, we cannot reduce the
monastery to a hospital of wounded humanity. To be a monk is to enter the
newness of the gospel and not simply to take refuge in a shelter for times of
The experience of awakening.
The first stage of spiritual metanoia is, to all of our great
tradition, the awakening. The great challenge of monastic formation is to wake
up the consciousness of mystery, the desire and restlessness for more, for God,
for the desire to look for God. This awakening implies having overcome one's own
emotional self-centering on existing personal insecurity. The seeker of God is
one who, to some degree at least, stops looking at his own navel for his center
of balance and goes looking further. It is there where reading, liturgy,
communal discipline, obedience and humility act as true awakeners. The "awake
person" is the one who has begun to free himself from himself.
The Apocalypse speaks of the other death, which is, precisely,
the lethargy of the soul, the falling asleep of the inner being. I believe that
the crisis of society that we live is, for many, another death, even before the
death of the body. Drug addiction under all its forms (ideology, pleasure and
forgetfulness) is indeed the other death. Metanoia is a true resurrection, "a
rising" awake from this tomb of the drug society. This process happens through
very concrete means like, for example, a clear distance from the communications
media and, today in particular, from the world of the Internet. "No one steals
my body, I give it," says Jesus. Today the principal thieves of life could be
the postmodern communications media – a collective drug addiction.
The fruitful experience of the "night".
The stage of awakening goes on a par with the loss of
emotional, intellectual, ideological and religious assurances. Like Jonah in the
Whale, it is necessary to pass through the contest of proofs. Monastic life is a
radical experience of silence and destruction of inherited images. In this
sense, it is not necessary to avoid the spiritual and moral crises of the
candidates even if many remain there, halfway, defeated. This pedagogy of
"avoidance," so common in our times, forms persons who are permanently
adolescent. True spiritual pedagogy is one of confrontation and of inner
conflicts. To be a disciple of this "impractical Jesus" supposes leaving aside
almost all that was previously understood and assuring. Spiritual night is today
a sine qua non condition for being able to become a monk. This implies periods
of time, in the community, when dialogue with the older spiritual person will be
cut short or will become extremely difficult. It is the price of the true
In Latin America, especially, this stage will have to reject a
series of ambiguities of the imaginary cultural monk of the continent to face
the fruitful desert of unadorned faith.
The experience of "illumination" as grace.
The great challenge of spiritual formation is of mystical
mode. Everything that we said of the phase of humanization could be said of the
ascetic dimension of formation. But the true objective is the experience of God,
the expansion of the heart of which the prologue of the Rule speaks. If we are
content with pious and submissive personalities, with "good people,"we will not
have achieved anything. And, unfortunately, often these types of somewhat chilly
personalities are those that, spontaneously, feel attracted by our monasteries.
As for me, I prefer enthusiastic, rebellious and unsatisfied personalities. They
are a richer raw material for true mystical experience.
The illumination of which we speak here is the grace of a
basic encounter with God and Jesus Christ. The risk, among us, is prudent
moderation of our monastic contemplative aspirations. If we are content with the
liturgical routine and the fulfillment of "acts of piety," we will never have
mystics among us. It is necessary to open paths to the mystical adventure of the
desert and of the flowing spring, of the night and the noon of God. How do we
enhance in persons in formation an impatient thirst for God and his Kingdom,
more than learned fulfillment of the norms of our school? How do we bring forth
personalities that prefer thirst for God to the cheap and mediocre
gratifications of our religious discourse? I would suppose that this mystical
passion is in itself the ardent heart of the community. It seems to me, on the
contrary, that the most serious sin of our monasteries, the place where we show
our decay, is mystical tepidity. If we would do a survey to learn where, at the
moment, are the sources of mysticism in the Church, I suspect that very few
would think of us. They see us, rather, as civil servants of religion more than
as a burning fire of the love of God in the heart of the world. In mysticism is
the true marrow of our refoundation. But we are no more than a folkloric body
without danger but without importance.
The monastery as a "school of the Lord's
I know that this expression of the Rule, school of the Lord's
service, has been the object of many discussions in the Benedictine world. I do
not want to enter this controversy. My intention is here simply to rescue two
essential elements of this school in relation to problems that are specific to
formation in the postmodern Latin American context. I would like to present the
monastery first as a school of peace and nonviolence and, in another moment, as
a true school.
School of peace and nonviolence.
One of the most serious dramas of our continent is generalized
violence from the family and the street even in school and at work. Racial and
cultural violence, economic violence, violence of gender, physical violence.
Even more, violence is interiorized from childhood through more and more hard
exposure to mass media. We are in a structurally violent society at all levels.
It is not enough to pass the door of the monastery and to pass under the
peaceful motto of our order so that all that was lived outside disappears like
by miracle. Rather, I perceive a heavy load of violence, explicit or suppressed,
in communal living in general.
It is, therefore, fundamentally important to make our
monasteries true schools of reconciliation and peacemaking. The key to this
peace, welcomed and built among us, is the word, the dialogue, the art of
confrontation and the debate. The tendency to recede into postures and
prejudices often seems favored by a false presentation of monastic silence and
solitude which become a pretext for not engaging in dialog and for staying in
virtually excluding situations. On the contrary, it is urgent to learn to
disagree, to diverge and to build consensus by other means than the congenital
violence of the humanity of this time and this place. Quarreling with a word
that is true, shared and patiently reconstructed is a condition for being a
human person and a monk.
In this school of peace, it is important also to reject every
dictatorial word, whether it be from the institution of power, or from the
dominant ideology. We have seen how monasteries are inclined to an exaggerated
institutionalization of functions and structures. We could add the spontaneous
tendency of monastic life to ideology, whether it be preservative, most of the
time, or progressive at other times. The truth is that all ideology is an insult
to the word, laboriously rebuilt in the onerous and modest search of
A true school.
Lies and deceit are another burden of our time. This
sociocultural disease is so general that our contemporaries have lost the sense
of what could be true confidence and true loyalty. No one any more, and above
all among young people, trusts the speeches of politicians, parents, priests or
professors. Doubt and the suspicion have become second nature to the
In this context, it is urgent to revalue, although it may seem
naive in our skeptical world, the beatitude of the pure of heart. How good and
necessary it is to rely on confidence and to choose what is reliable. Along this
line of the beatitudes, communal life must offer itself more as place of mutual
revelation, of vulnerability and risk of open heart than as a formal armor of
protection, pharisaical appearance and stereotyped relationships.
Communal life, like work, confrontation with the Word, prayer,
are traditional ways for not escaping questioning, for being truthful with
oneself, with others and with God. Remaking our monasteries into a school of
truth would imply rejecting the exquisite and superficial formalism of our
lifestyle, the exactly predictable routine of our liturgical life, the
stereotypical manner of our relationships.
Conclusion: ecclesial and cultural charisma of monastic
By way of conclusion, I would like to emphasize here some
elements of our monastics tradition and our charisma that we would do well to
reanimate strongly to be able to make our own the set of proposals contained in
In fact, I believe that the insight of Saint Benedict, in
particular, contains a vision of Church and society that is highly up to date
and fruitful. The monastery, understood in the perspective drawn here, is
something like a prototype of a new ecclesiality and of new social
relationships, inspired directly from the Gospel beatitudes.
I suggest that we rescue in the first place the revolutionary
insights of the Rule with regard to young people. Saint Benedict, in fact, gives
them a preferential place in discernment, considering them as privileged
prophets of the divine will. Undoubtedly, the refoundation of Religious Life in
general, and of monastic life in particular, will be with and from the young
On several occasions I have dared to speak, in the past, of
young people as co-founders. Today more than ever, God speaks through them,
through their questions, their insights, their incoherencies and their urgent
needs. It is not necessary to refound the monastery "for" the young people but
"from" them and "with" them.
Another insight to rescue is involvement in the world, the
identification of our stability with a particular people, place, time and sense
of purpose, until death. It is important, along the line of the trust, that the
monks can guarantee that they remain with the people and they are not passing
through, that they buy, truly, into the struggle of life of the poor and that
they are not an indifferent and foreign body, an island in the
Through signs like local presence, the welcome, manual work,
etc., monks become brothers and sisters who are affectionate and compassionate
toward their surroundings. Humility and affection are essential charisms in the
hardness of today's society.
Finally, throughout history, monasteries have always presented
themselves as fomenters of culture and receivers of culture. This cultural
permeability of monasteries, by their art of daily local presence, transforms
them into laboratories of the future for their surroundings.
God grant that, when we find again the Good News of our
Tradition, we may have the heart to cure our wounds, wash away our sediment and
allow ourselves to be created anew through the deep cry, full of pain and of
hope, of those who come to seek, confusedly, the God of Jesus in our
Simón Pedro Arnold o.s.b.