Monday, September 26, 2005
Dom Armand Veilleux on not going to Mass on Sunday and other nonobservances:
Read also the sequel, from which comes:
When we study the history of Christian monastic life, we immediately realize that every time there was an important new foundation or a significant reform, it was at a time of profound social and cultural changes and as an answer to those changes. I know that a lot of people like to say that monastic life is or should be counter-cultural. I know what they mean; that is, that monastic life runs counter to the negative aspects of our or of any culture. That is true, but that way of speaking, which goes back to 1968, is ambiguous. In reality every time there was a significant monastic movement, it was when a group of monks were particularly sensitive to the culture of their time, and found in their own way of living an answer to the challenges and aspirations of their contemporaries—an answer that was valid not only for them, but for every other person. . . .
We have to be aware that monks have often been called to fulfil roles that do not necessarily belong to them, at a time when nobody else was available to fulfil those roles. . . . During a large part of the Middle Ages, and even before, when most of the nations and the various feudal lords were constantly at war, monasteries were often the only place where there was enough stability to preserve the culture of the past, to copy manuscripts for the future generation and to offer education, hospitality and various forms of social and medical care. When Saint Augustine of Canterbury was sent here by Pope Gregory, or when Saint Boniface and his monks went to the continent to evangelize the “Barbarians”, they were doing something that nobody was available to do at the time. When Cistercians developed new forms of agriculture and revolutionary forms of land management, they were making possible a quick transformation of the feudal system and new forms of relationship between the various classes of society, and provoking a cultural evolution. There was none of those ecclesiastical of social involvements that were incompatible with monastic life, just as there was nothing in the nature of monastic life that required such an involvement. For each community the question is: is the form of social, cultural and ecclesiastic or pastoral involvement that we have know in the past still necessary or simply opportune nowadays. The answer to that question, in each case, involves a careful analysis of the situation—past and present—and can never be solved by a simplistic approach like: “This is monastic and that is not monastic”. . . .
We constantly have to make choices. In making those choices in these various areas [of monastic life], we have to be aware that most of our monastic practices and observances have essentially a symbolic value and that a great cultural shift has occurred in the last half-century or so; a type of shift as they happen only rarely in human history and has deeply affected that symbolic value. Monastic life as all of us have known it, developed in a long phase of history that was called “Christendom” (in French “Chrétienté”). Whether we like it or not, whether we are nostalgic or not, that phase of history is finished and every effort to restore it is bound to be a pathetic failure.
. . . a symbol is really a symbol only when its meaning is spontaneously perceived. . . . Very few of the traditional Christian symbols, including the liturgical ones, are perceived as symbols by most men and women of today , including the good Christian. In most cases, those rites and gestures have lost their symbolic value. My personal conviction is that we should not try to invent new symbols with the hope that they will speak to today’s men and women. We should rather try to recognize the symbolic value of everything we do in our daily life and of everything around us. And this is linked with something still much deeper, culturally as well as theologically. I mean the place of the “religious” dimension in human life. This is probably the most important cultural change of our time, touching not only Christianity but all the great religious traditions of the world; and that change is, to my mind, a fruit of the Gospel, at the end of a long evolution of humankind. . . .
All cultures of the past, including Judaism and early Christianity, lived in a sacral world. For that sacral world, the language of religious rituals was more important than the language of life. The centre of gravity was the sacral and ritual activity, by which human beings could enter in relationship with God. The teaching of Jesus on that point was so revolutionary that it has taken two thousand years for its meaning to be gradually grasped. For Jesus, the centre of gravity was not the ritual activity, but the quality of daily life.
In the Western world, since the time of Jesus, and certainly as a consequence of its teaching and influence, the centre of gravity has constantly moved from the area of the religious and ritual expression to the area of daily life. The new awareness of human freedom has led people to a deeper sense of personal responsibility. The temple of stones has become less and less important and the living temples have acquired more and more importance. . . .
The difficulties met nowadays by the Church in our old Christian countries of Western Europe (and rapidly so of Eastern Europe too), as well as of North America come most probably from the fact that its heavy institutional structure often reposed on foundations that have crumbled. Besides the phenomenon of the loss of Christian attitude or Christian sense, which is real in our time, we must be aware of another phenomenon that is quite different although apparently similar. And that other phenomenon is precisely this gradual shift from the ritual to life—a move that was started with Jesus himself. Many authentic Christians nowadays are very attentive to practice the Gospel values in their daily life—in their family life as well as in their professional life—but are not interested any longer in what we call “religious practice”, like going to Mass on Sunday. . . .
. . . I think that we should not spend too much energy and time trying to find new monastic observances more adapted to today’s culture. Let us rather put all our energy in trying to deepen in our own life as well as in the life of each one of our communities the communion—with God, with our brethren, with the Church, the World and the whole cosmos. Then let us be somewhat detached in relationship with our traditional observances, and new observances, more adapted to today’s culture will most probably appear of themselves. Good practices are not created or invented. They are born from life.
—Armand Veilleux, “Exploring the Essential”, Meeting of the UMS (Union of Monastic Superiors), Worth Abbey, Great Britain, June 1, 2005
Read also the sequel, from which comes:
The original meaning of the word monachos and of the Syriac equivalent ihidaya, is not so much the person who is alone as the person who has only one goal, one love, one preoccupation in his/her life. Maybe the challenge of any “reshaping” of our monastic life, or of any reform or renewal is to return to that simplicity. . . .
The only thing that can maintain the unity of our life through all the activities of our days is constant, unceasing prayer—unceasing contemplative prayer. Contemplative union with God is the goal of our life. Now “contemplation”, in its biblical and patristic meaning, is not something that happens once in a while, in the form of peak experiences. It is an attitude of the heart, a way of being. You are a contemplative twenty-four hours a day or you are not a contemplative. If I am not a contemplative at work and when I meet people, or when I attend a meeting, I will not be more of a contemplative when I will sing the office in choir or when I will sit in the lotus position in front of the Blessed Sacrament. . . .
Our identity does not reside in the services that we have fulfilled or are still fulfilling in the Church, but in what we are, spiritually.
One of the poverties that we experience is that we do not even have a renewed theology of religious life. In the whole contemporary theological reflection, there has not been any profound renewal of the theology of religious life. But, has there been, really, a real renewal of the theology of marriage, of priesthood, of the ministry of the bishop? Has there been, in Europe, since the Council a real renewal of theology? We are still waiting for a liberation of theology (please, pay attention to the order of my words). . . .
I mentioned yesterday the shift that has happened in the place of the “religious” dimension in human life. And I would like to stress again that such an evolution is a fruit of the Christian message. Jesus put an end to the sacrificial economy of the Old Testament and of all the ancient religions; likewise he replaced the religious rituals by his own life and his own death, inviting us to glorify his Father not through rituals but through the quality of our love. He taught us to recognize and to give a symbolic value to all the elements of our life and not to find a magic symbolic value in esoteric gestures.
Another important shift has been happening. Our forms of monastic and religious life developed in a period of history when, in the Roman culture an in that of all the new nations, there was an enormous importance given to the ranks and classes society. Ranks and classes had the same importance in the Church. Clear distinctions and separations existed between clergy and people, between monks, canons, mendicants and other religious. Those distinctions are gradually loosing much of their importance. . . .
We know that monastic life was not born in one local Church and then spread to the rest of the world. It rather appeared more or less at the same time in all the local Churches of the East as much as of the West, and—most important of all—it was born out of the vitality of the local Churches (and not in reaction to a lukewarm Church, as it is often erroneously said). . . .
It might sound contradictory, but I think that the fact that we belong to a tradition that has come through several centuries of communion with the universal Church, and the fact that most of our Congregations and Orders are spread all over the world, while being always implanted in a local Church, may give us a particular capacity to help each diocesan community in which we live to become more and more alive, with its own specific identity and its own specific religious “culture”.
It is a secret for nobody that the beloved pope John Paul II placed most of his confidence and hopes in the ecclesial “movements”, like Opus Dei, the Legionaries of Christ, the Neo-Catechumenate, etc. which often have an action and interventions parallel to or even above the authority of the local bishop. We also know how someone like Cardinal Martini, for purely and profoundly ecclesiological reasons, had problems with such an evolution and never made a secret of it. We have to wait and see how Benedict XVI will deal with that issue.
In any case, whatever may be the attitude of the Pope and of the Roman Curia, in this regard, as people totally dedicated to a life of communion, we have the mission to do everything we can to foster the communion with our local Church, and then between the local Churches. . . .
—Armand Veilleux, “Reshaping Monastic Life”