The Grace of the Liturgic Word
In offering Holy Mass and in preaching here at the Monastère-Sainte-Anne de Montmahoux, I am profoundly moved at the gracious condescension of God who deigns to speak to us though the texts and chants of the Sacred Liturgy. How important it is to go to the Holy Sacrifice fully expecting to hear the Word of God and to experience an inbreaking of His merciful love. Yesterday in my homily I reminded the Sisters of that life-changing episode in the life of Saint Antony of Egypt, the Father of Monks: entering church at the moment of the Holy Gospel, he heard the word of Jesus addressed to him personally and was compelled, by the grace that always accompanies the liturgic Word, to leave church straightway and conform his life to what he heard.
A Long and Crucifying Fidelity
The Sisters here at Montmahoux are embarking on a new phase of their monastic development. The story of a vocation unfolds over a lifetime; it is a story written by the hand of God in a series of chapters, each one of which is rich in surprises, in sorrows, and in joys. More often than not the development of a vocation over a lifetime involves setbacks, contradictions, and apparent — I say apparent — instability. Happily, God does not judge the changes and chances in one’s life as men do. Good people, and even members of the monastic establishment, can be harsh in judging as instability what God may well see as a long and crucifying fidelity to the underlying values of Benedictine life: the search for God in humility and obedience, perseverance in His praise, and the resolve never to despair of His mercy.
The Germination of New Life
Each of the Sisters here began her monastic journey in a different monastery. Each one was led, after a number of years, to embrace another expression of the same fundamental Benedictine vocation. And each one found herself again, after a number of years, called to collaborate in giving life to a new monastery, a mature expression of the seed of life that, silently and imperceptibly, has been germinating for so long in her heart. I am sympathetic to the monastic journey of these women because it so closely resembles my own. As I discern the provident Hand of God in their life, I am able to see more clearly that same provident Hand in my own.
Just as an apparent stability can veil an underlying instability, so too can an apparent instability veil an underlying stability. Many years ago, when I was very young, foolish, and immature, I encountered, at Subiaco in Italy, a wise old monk of the French Abbey of La-Pierre-Qui-Vire. I opened my soul to him, and told him of my search for place and a community in which and with whom I could, as the Holy Rule says, “truly seek God.” The wise old monk comforted me, explaining that, at the end of the day, the only stability that matters is stability in the Heart of Jesus.
There are those who look upon new monasteries with suspicion, forgetting that, in every generation, the age-old and deeply rooted Benedictine trunk puts forth new shoots and branches. Some of these will thrive and become strong; others will flourish for a time and then be pruned away. Some of the grand abbeys that are today renowned for their solidity and prestige began as little nuclei of risk-takers advancing step by step in obscurity, in poverty, and in uncertainty.
Far more dangerous to the Church than the burgeoning of new monastic communities is the systematic practise of spiritual contraception by which every fragile manifestation of new life is either thwarted or aborted. While prudence, discernment, and a healthy scrutiny are always necessary, it is equally necessary to reject the mentality of spiritual contraception by which new endeavours of life for God alone are snuffed out while still in their embryonic stage, thereby depriving the Church of signs of vitality that are, at the same time, signs of an irrepressible hope.