Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 27th Week in Ordinary Time

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Oct. 4, 2009

Readings: Gen 2:18-24; Heb 2:9-11; MK 10:2-16

We are continuing our series of homilies on recent teachings of the Church on communities of vowed men and women. Last week we looked at the taking of vows as an act of consecration to follow exactly the life of Jesus as obedient, single and poor. The issue today is: how are these communities to live together? What should be their style of life? In Starting Afresh from Christ, the Congregation on Institutes of Consecrated Life states directly: "The spiritual life must have first place in the program of the families of consecrated life; it should be above all a spirituality of communion suitable for the present time. To make the Church the home and school of communion is the great challenge facing us." (# 28) ) The phrase, spirituality of communion, appears over and over in these Vatican documents. What exactly are they referring to? (Let me say right now that you aren’t going to hear very much new in this phrase; it’s what all of you have been trying to do for years. But it’s good to have this official approval from the Vatican documents.)

This "spirituality of communion" is rooted in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church. It is a community where there is unconditional love and respect among the members. It is a community in which everyone seeks to share their own gifts with others in the community. It is a community where members feel that other members are part of themselves. This is especially to be shown in Chapter meetings and other meetings of the community. These meetings should proceed by methods of dialogue and discernment. This requires the active participation of all, and not just a few. These documents are going to be quite challenging for those communities who have retained a pre-Vatican II notion of community where the superior did everything and consulted with practically no one. I remember visiting the monastery in Heidelberg, Germany in 1974, nine years after the Council closed. There was no evidence that the Council ever happened. At community recreation they all sat in a circle of chairs. The abbot introduced the topic of conversation and invited a monk to comment about it. After the monk finished, the abbot corrected what was deficient in the monk’s observations and moved on to the next monk. The entire recreation period passed that way. It’s that style of community that these Vatican documents say "has to go."

To make this "spirituality of communion" work, each individual member has to have the courage to speak his or her views. And for a lot of people raised in the old system, that’s not easy. The Vatican documents know this. So much effort should be devoted to revamping formation programs. If there’s anything that we might find new and striking, it’s the emphasis given to continuing formation in a community. There’s as much attention given to ongoing formation as there is to initial formation. Learning how to dialogue is not easy. Dialogue begins by listening without judging. Way back in the third century the old Egyptian desert monks knew that was one of the hardest things to achieve. Seventeen hundred years later it still is. The Vatican documents note that dialogue and discernment should be the methods of interchange between superiors and community members.

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life wants to see this spirituality of communion aimed at in all communities. At the World Synod of Bishops in 1994 it was asked that all institutes draw up a ratio institutionis , that is, a formation program inspired by their particular charism, presenting clearly all the steps in the course to be followed to assimilate fully the spirituality of the institute. (This coming Apostolic Visitation has been 15 years in the making.) The spirituality of communion is something to be sought for, and one that you already practice. Keep up the good work.

1 comment:

Hail3N1 said...

Wonder what St. Benedict would have to say about "Sr" Nicolette's bare head and no habit?

Not hardly an example of Catholic tradition. But of course, they judge tradition as something "antiquated". But not their nationality heritage and tradition. But Church tradiiton, oh yes.

Put your veil one Sister, if you even own one!