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Monastic Life is an Encounter

Monastic Life is an Encounter

November 19, 2023
Dom Godefroy Raguenet De Saint-Albin (1970-2023)

In the recent newsletter from Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, the sisters had a tribute to D. Godefroy (shown above) following his tragic death this summer.  To quote D. Godefroy from the newsletter: “The fruitfulness of monastic life, of which our seven brothers of Tibhirine are a shining example, is less a matter of doing than of being.  Those who are seasick are often those at the bottom of the ship’s hold, who have no horizon.  With the shocks of the global health, ecological, economic and political crises, our society is sick for lack of a horizon.  Monastic life, by its simple presence, opens a breach towards an Other, who is a promise, opens possibilities towards a horizon of meaning.  This is the experience of those who come to a monastery” (October 2023).  I find this text from D. Godefroy very moving.  Monastic life by its ‘simple presence’ opens a ‘breach’, a breach is a gap, a space towards the ‘Other’, God, the Spirit.  In this opening the larger horizon of Divine life is beheld.  We don’t have to do much…being has precedence over doing in monastic life.  Of course, we have to ‘do’ things, to get a meal on the table and so on.  Still ‘being’ is the foundation of monastic life.  And if we were to reflect on the quality of being, what would we say about this quality of being that we all strive for?

Monastic life is an encounter: our humanity meets Divinity and Divinity meets us.  We cannot encounter Christ outside of our humanity.  I think we could say that today’s gospel (Mt 25: 14-30) gives us some insight on this dialectic of being and doing.  Could we see ‘being’ as the foundation of our ‘doing’?  The gospel of the talents is a challenge to a horizon that is so reduced by fear!  First, note that even one talent is a lot of money.  One scripture scholar says it was worth, at that time, 20 years of wages.  But ‘fear’ cripples the person with the one talent.  Each one of us is graced with gifts, ‘talents’ from God.  When our horizon is so narrow, we cannot see beyond those voices that are critical of others and that limit us with fear-based excuses.  Here is what Pope Francis says: “‘Upon the master’s return, this same servant explained to him the reason for this action, saying: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground’ (vv. 24-25). This servant did not have a trusting relationship with his master, but was afraid of him, and this hindered him. Fear always immobilizes and often leads to making bad choices. Fear discourages us from taking the initiative; it induces us to take refuge in secure and guaranteed solutions, and thus end up not accomplishing anything good. To move forward and grow on the journey of life, we must not have fear; we must have faith” (Angelus, November 19, 2017).  ‘Being’ and ‘doing’: we see in the encounter how the horizon of the one-talent person is so limited and reduced.  His quality of being is paralyzed by fear.  There is no authentic sense of the ‘Other’, of God in the encounter.  He ends up going against his deepest and truest self by giving into fear.

What would you say precipitates the fear of the one talent person causing him then to bury this talent and reducing his capacity to bear fruit?  The image of God projected in this encounter is clear: God desires our fruitfulness.  Thus, do we see God as harsh, exacting, punitive like the one talent person?  Or compassionate, merciful, forgiving, loving us to the end?  If we hold Jesus close in the encounter there in him, we behold the God of unconditional love and mercy.  Let us keep in mind that as we strive to have our ‘being’ more Christ-like, that this becomes foundation for bearing fruit…fruit in the sight of God.  It seems to me that looking at ourselves in the encounter is also important:  God has faith in each of us to bear fruit.  There is no one who has not been gifted by God.  Do we have the attitude that I have nothing to give?  Is our image of ourselves and our sense of self-worth negative?  Or can we accept our woundedness, holding it in the heart of Divine love along with the gifts God has blessed us with?  Let us not bury the one talent out of fear, let us renew our lives in the encounter with God, let us use both our weaknesses and strengths in our service to God and to one another.  Let us strive to become more Christ-like in our ‘being and doing’.  These two go together; they unite the inner and outer dimensions of our lives.  Being is foundational for a doing that leads to fruitfulness, and ‘being’ itself even without ‘doing’ enlarges the horizon of Divine life beyond what we can imagine.  In other words, just ‘being’ is fruitful to others and to a community.  Amen.

Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess

(Chapter Talk – 33rd Sunday of the Year – November 19, 2023, cycle-A)

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