Theology does not demonstrate the truth,
but exposes it nakedly, in symbols,
so that the soul, changed in holiness and light,
penetrates without reason into it.
Dionysius the Areopagite
Yesterday was my last full day in Rome, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. I sang for Pope St. John Paul II on this feast back in 1987 and even composed some music for the occasion, so I have a special love for this feast. And today at 6:30 AM, I get the treat of celebrating Mass with Mother Teresa’s sisters who share our building, for Our Lady of Sorrows.
The gruppi di lavoro–workshops at the Congress have been a bit of a struggle, especially since they are held in the afternoon when it has been as hot as Hades in the rooms where they are held. But there were a few highlight moments. I signed up for the workshop on Contemporary Monasticism, wrongly thinking that it was going to be about the “new monastic” movement (a là Rory and Adam), but instead it was mostly about problems that traditional monasticism is facing: technology, multi-culturalism, the LGBT movement. Two moments stood out for me. One Italian, after a long philosophical discourse on the recovery of the idea of “person” and “the subsistence of the subject” against rampant individualism, ended by saying something I was happy to hear: Why is Enzo Bianchi––the founder of the very successful Bose Community in northern Italy––the most popular monk in Italy? “Dove siete, benedettini?––Where are you, Benedictines?” And then the prior of a community in Nigeria offered his response and clearly delineated the difference between First World problems and his situation. In their country there are 248 different tribal languages, and in their own monastery they come from 14 different tribes. They are bursting at the seams. He also very humbly told us about all the problems with the political situation there, including Boko Haram, though he said they get on well with their Muslim neighbors. He also, without any drama, told us about he himself getting shot at. And in spite of the fact that their monastery has experienced a number of armed robberies, after the last one they decided as a community to let their security guards go! Talk about a prophetic sign.
We also had a keynote from the Abbot General of the Cistercians. I am waiting for the text of his talk to be put online and I will copy some sections of it. He spoke very frankly about the fragility of his own order and their individual communities; and of the community as a richezza sinfonica–a symphonic richness that requires humility and a sharing of fragility, the blessing of fragility. And something interesting and consoling to hear: as much as formal formation and the passing on of techniques is important, he thought in this day and age and with this generation of young people the most important element now in formation is accompaniment. That’s the pastoral challenge, because young people today––a phrase that I used to cherish when I was out working––are like sheep without a shepherd. And the life of communion itself is the major formatting tool, otherwise there is lots of instruction but very little wisdom. The dangers is that our communities (this was very funny in the Italian) come to be seen as wrinkled up boring old widows, sometimes even we see ourselves that way, whereas God always sees us as his young beautiful bride. We look at ourselves too much, he said. We ought to let ourselves be looked at by God.
I wound up spending my last afternoon yesterday wandering the streets of Rome again. Alessandro has also been skipping in and out of sessions at the Congress (we both played hooky Monday to spend an extra day at Camaldoli), so I don’t feel so bad. At any rate part of the aim of this sojourn was to get lots of down time, and I have enjoyed praying and meditating in my upper room here at San Gregorio in the early mornings and late evenings while it is still cool. I also found a new church yesterday, the church of I Quattro Coronati––the four crowned ones (martyrs)––which was very dark and cool. It’s also the chapel of the Augustinian nuns and just as I sat down they entered and sang None in Italian. It was quite beautiful.
Today, my last day, there is a plenary session, addresses from the ecumenical and other guests, which might be interesting. Then in the afternoon there is to be a great gathering of all the Camaldolese superiors here in Rome––Alessandro, of course, with Giuseppe Cicchi, Joseph Wong and Mario from the consiglio generalizio, plus Alberto from the Sacro Eremo, Giovanni Dallpiazz, Marino from Monte Giove, Gianni Giacomelli from Fonte Avellana (it’s their feast today, by the way), and yours truly, and we have a meeting with Msgr. Paciolla from the Congregation for Religious to discuss some aspects of our Constitutions in preparation for next year’s Capitolo Generale. I can already imagine myself being completely submerged in a storm of Italian discussion. I am practicing a knowing smile with my eyes half shut, attentive, dreaming of gelato.
Then tonight at 10 I leave for New Zealand, by way of Abu Dhabi. It promises to be at least 27 hours of travel, not arriving ‘til Saturday morning, flying straight through the feast of Cornelius and Cyprian (by the way, happy feast day, Cornelius!.) I’ve written ahead to the next three stops, requesting that they schedule in lots of down time and desert days for me, and everyone has been very accommodating. But mostly I am looking forward to being with our oblates and friends who are so excited about living out the contemplative life in the world in new ways. I come away from this Congress thinking even more how important it is for us monks, religious in general, to be in conversation with go the world, listening both to the hunger and the earnest attempts at solutions. Believe me, as the current prior of our community I know how hard it is, but as soon as all our energy is spent shoring up our own superstructures we start dying. The questions that I did not hear asked very often are the ones I used to ask myself all the time: What does the church need of us right now? And, what does the world need of us right now? What do we have to offer? What do we have to learn? We have to be careful about spending too much time looking at ourselves.
Here's the official portrait of us all gathered... Dove siamo, benedettini?