A WORD From the Abbot
October 1, 2010
Memorial of St. Thérèse of Lisieux
My dear confreres, this weekly reflection on monastic spirituality will draw upon the obvious source that is most special to us, viz. the Rule of St. Benedict. It will be a brief reflection in the manner of what some might call a “fervorino,” or, in more monastic or “desert” terminology, simply A WORD, as explained by Benedicta Ward in the foreword of The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (pg. xxi-xxii):
In this context of a whole life of prayer, the role of the ‘abba’, the spiritual father, was vital, literally, that is to say, ‘life-giving’. The abba was the one who, really knowing God in his own experience, could most truly intercede for his sons. He was the one who discerned reality and whose words, therefore, gave life. The key phrase of the Apophthegmata is, ‘SPEAK A WORD, FATHER’. This recurs again and again, and the ‘word’ that was sought was not a theological explanation, nor was it ‘counseling’, nor any kind of a dialogue in which one argued the point; it was a word that was part of a relationship, a word which would give life to the disciple if it were received. The abbas were not spiritual directors in the later western sense; they were fathers to the sons whom they begot in Christ. A monk had only one abba, and he was not continually discussing his spiritual state with him. There is a great economy of words about the desert. …
Let us not refer to these as “culpa conferences,” as I do not intend to focus on “culpa”. This is not at all a denial of culpa or sin, which St. Benedict would put in terms of “the sloth of disobedience,” but I believe that it is from the faithful and honest proclamation and hearing of (and lectio on) the word of God and the positive Gospel command of love that the also-honest awareness and humble admission of culpa, or sin, or non-conformity with the word, must emerge. Recognizing the spiritual value of such humble admission, we will continue the monastic practice of public culpa at the end of the “Word” on the first Friday of the month.
Finally, allow me to recall what I said at my abbatial blessing on the 26th of February, 2010:
“…, as for all that is worthwhile in life, there is a price to pay for peace. It is for those who dare to dream dreams and allow themselves to be driven by a vision, for those who seek peace and integrity through their conformity to the vision… Yes, I have not only a motto—“He Shall Be Peace”—but also a vision for Mt. Angel Abbey, although I am not the architect of that vision. If my discernment is correct, my present calling is not to something radically new, but rather—like St. John the Baptist—to be one who points to him who is the supreme Architect of that glorious vision of what it means to be Christian. Thus, in word and in deed—but primarily in deed—I must point out Jesus, so that all together we may challenge ourselves day by day to conform to the Spirit and to the Gospel of Jesus, to walk by the pathway of the Gospel, as St. Benedict says. Indeed, it is also to St. Benedict that I must point, for he, too, provides us with a vision that remains eminently viable in our day—the vision of a monastic community dedicated to prayer and work, a community of monks who take to heart those two great preferences that St. Benedict proposes when he says “Prefer nothing whatsoever to CHRIST” (RB 72:11), and “Prefer nothing to THE WORK OF GOD” (RB 43:3). If the monks of Mt. Angel persevere in their commitment to both the Christian vision that has the risen Jesus as its source and center, and faithful also to the vision of Benedict that for more than 125 years has drawn men to this spot to seek God in lives of prayer and work, then Mt. Angel won’t happen to be just a lovely wooded knoll rising from the floor of our beautiful Willamette Valley; it will be a “holy mountain,” a Mount of Communion where God is encountered by those who seek him, and where Jesus reveals himself and speaks to those who listen to him in the depths of their hearts.”