Tuesday, September 6, 2016

managers and prophets

Nourish yourself internally
in peace, tranquility and perfect emptiness.
The original hidden light will shine
illuminating the entire body.
Close and lock the mouth
to reinforce the mysterious pearl.
Search for it and you will not be able to find it,
and yet it is nearby and easy to grasp.

A big wind blew through Rome last night and brought with it thunder, lightening and a good little rainstorm. The breeze has not stopped blowing all day, thanks be to God, so things have cooled down considerably. We got let out early today so I just had another long walk around the Forum and up Via Cavour to the Church of St. Mary of the Martyrs and Angels again, and then around, finding new alleys and ways back home.
My usual daily walk. The big blue dot is San Gregorio.

This was the first official day of the Congress. We are about 300 in all, I think. I saw a lot of familiar faces today, the abbots and priors from America for the most part. Our meeting space in the church felt even more like the Second Vatican Council, with all the simultaneous translators set up in their booths and the Book of the Gospels enshrined in the middle of the nave. Abbot Primate Notker Wolf began the day, after we sang Terce together (we never miss any of the canonical hours, and wow, is it ever an impressive sound, a chorus of men well-acquainted with the Gregorian chants). He spoke for almost an hour, a review of his mandate, the challenges and the accomplishments. He is very much and can-do kind of guy. I think he has been criticized for not being enough of a spiritual leader (I have heard that myself), and he must have been addressing that head-on when he said that his spirituality was nel fare–in doing. Nevertheless he has been very popular, very well travelled and very well conversant in several languages. As a matter of fact he delivered his short homily at Mass today in five languages!

Then the rest of the day was given to reports from the various congregations. That was interesting, to actually get a first hand acquaintance with the congregations from all over the world. We Camaldolese are not the smallest, by the way: the Slavic Congregation has only 30 monks! Every congregation was asked to prepare 3 questions (which somehow never made it to the American Camaldolese…): the five desired qualities of the next Abbot Primate, the five challenges and the five ways we can help him. Most of the answers were similar and what one might expect: ease with languages, capacity with finances (which came up a lot!), leadership, support of Sant’Anselmo, unity of the confederation, the challenge of diminishing numbers and fragile communities. I was impressed to hear that AIM and MID came up often––Alliance for International Monasticism, which aids monastics in developing countries (our Emanuele Bargellini, now in Brazil, is active with them) and Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, on whose board I have served for five years now.

One abbot from South America said two things that were very interesting. He said that he had heard from an Italian about Pope Francis that “He speaks Italian in a way that only Spanish speakers understand,” and he didn’t mean linguistically, but culturally. I assume he was referring specifically to the southern hemisphere. He also said, “The Holy Spirit has already chosen a new Abbot Primate. We must now discern who that is.” But my favorite intervento came from our own Prior General Alessandro, who was among the last few to speak. (Some of the monks around me thought he was an Olivetan and I quickly disabused them of that mistake. The Olivetan Abbot General, Diego, for some reason, was actually not here. I really wanted to meet him since we are in an agreement with him over the Monastery of the Risen Christ.) Alessandro said that all the qualities mentioned were fine, but we need more than a “manager.” (He used the English word.) We need a profeta–a prophet. Much like what he said to us when he was in California in May, he said it is important for monasticism to be significativo nella vita della Chiesa–meaningful in the life of the Church again. He and Gianni Giacomelli from Fonte Avellana and I had only spoken briefly before, but both Gianni and I had mentioned the situation with migration, and inter-cultural and well as inter-religious dialogue (“welcoming the stranger”), both of which Alessandro also mentioned. He spoke about having a charismatic leader in the New Testament sense, and of us needing a grande trasformazione. We nominated Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception in Missouri, who was the only one to get nominated by every single speaker, and Abbot Bernard Lorin of Maredsou in Belgium, who I do not know but of whom Gianni and Alessandro speak highly. I hope to meet him tomorrow. The smart money is on Gregory, who is a good friend of ours. Abbot Richard Yeo of the EBC also got several nominations, as did Elias Lorenzo from New Jersey, the newly elected president of the American Cassinese Congregation. I was surprised by the latter not realizing he was so well known and highly regarded. At the very end a Benedictine woman from the CIB (the confederation of Benedictine women, consisting of 14,000) spoke. Though not voting members, the Abbot Primate is also theirs and it was mentioned many times how important it was to keep alive a strong bond with the women. She was an American and spoke with what I think of as a typical American frankness; she ended by saying, “We did not come up the name of any woman or man that we would like to nominate for the office of Abbot Primate,” which took a while to translate and decipher, but did get a pretty good reception.

Another sculpture from the Certosa.
I turned to Abbot Lawrence of Shawnee Oklahoma after Alessandro spoke and said, “That’s my boy!” I think he really got peoples’ attention. During my afternoon walk I thought over and over again what it might mean for Christian monasticism to be prophetic. I will continue to ponder it, I suppose, but I came up with these things: simplicity of life in a counter-cultural sort of way, including a proper relationship to consumerism and technology; I do believe the inter-religious and inter-cultural elements are of prime importance; tapping into the great desire for contemplative practice and its transformative power; our relationship to the environment, global warming and stewardship of earths riches; and of course I want to add into that integral spirituality, the new asceticism that goes with a new depth anthropology.

Sometimes I must admit that with my role in administration at New Camaldoli I feel as if even my energy for those things is low, and that saddens me, but I am praying for a boost, an inspiration. I certainly don’t want to be merely a functionary keeping the bills paid and the trains running on time. We don’t need more managers; we need prophets! Our very life ought to be a prophetic witness.

Now, off to meditate. Good place to start the transformation.