Paradoxes and Communion in Monastic Life
(Note: From time to time I give chapter talks when the abbot is away. Below is one of those. I do not believe that monks
It is all one, our relationships. With God, others, and of course ourselves. In community how that is worked out is unique to each individual. What we bring to community, whatever our gifts, are used to build up community. We are called to step out and to develop them to the best of our ability. Some people are good at administration, others are insightful about how relationships within the community work, often on an unconscious level. Some are very goal-oriented and their service to the community can never be overestimated. There are those who teach and healers as well. No one has every gift.
So in community, our gifts can build up, but they can also keep us from entering deeply into relationships with all members. Humility can only be deepened when the realization comes to the fore on how gifts are truly given, all we can do is to receive them and develop them. If this is forgotten then actual deep communion with others, self, and God, are curtailed and in extreme cases, severed.
In the garden of life, we plant seeds, others water, but it is God who brings all to fruition. When this is forgotten then there is strife and a struggle for dominance and control. This can be seen in. I would say. in all communities. though gossip and what the Rule of Benedict calls murmuring. These situations often have their start in gifts that we bring to community.
Self-importance and feelings of superiority can be present without actually being named. However these can keep us isolated from the community, this can set the victim of such a painful situation in a place of deepening frustration and even anger that they are not listened to, or obeyed.
The remedy for this or one of them that the Lord uses is an experience that allows self-knowledge to grow. This comes about through our weaknesses, or as St. Paul would say “our thorn in the side”. We fall, or cause division in the community, and are brought to task. This experience, which is an invitation from the Lord, as well as the community, to deeper communion, can be embraced, though often with difficulty, or rejected, and there will be a hardening of one’s position. Which can be stated this way. This is from my own experience with my own struggle with my own community in my interior.
“I know what is best. My way of thinking is the only way to do things. My insights are more on point than others. I just want everything to go my way”.
I actually said that one time when I was 15 when my mother, in frustration, asked me what I wanted. So I answered with the cunning/simplicity of a young teenager: “Mom, it is simple. I just want everything to go my way”. So the above attitude comes from a place of immaturity. From a lack of ability to see oneself, or to actually see one’s community as the road towards deeper conversion. Not a project to control.
Without self-knowledge, real communion is not possible with anyone. True growth in this area is slow. Which is the normal path most of us follow. A slow, often painful process of purgation towards deeper union.
Purgation is not about punishment, but there is pain that flows from one’s own inner wounds and insecurities. Growth in humility takes the battle away from those around us, to its rightful place, a battle within our own hearts. That is why we make promises to live out ‘Conversion of Manner’, it is a daily struggle towards growth in love and compassion for those around us. It also brings us to the point where we can understand that there are other ways of doing things, of understanding how things work. We can either learn from one another, which deepens community, or we can fight, murmur, and slowly grow rigid, and unyielding.-BrMD