Four Days at the Monastic Institute

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Four Days at the Monastic Institute

Fr. Jerome TupaOn Sunday June 27, six sisters from St. Scholastica Monastery traveled to St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota to attend a four day Monastic Institute. Every year, monastic sisters, brothers, oblates and priests meet to hear nationally renowned speakers, writers and artists share their thoughts, images and experiences about monastic life and how it relates to the greater world. This year the topic was Monasticism: Soul of the New Evangelization. Here are a few highlights.

On Sunday evening, Father Jerome Tupa shared his unique vision of sacred architecture in bright colors and dancing, twisted forms that capture the essence of Pope Frances’ exhortation to live and proclaim the joy of the Gospel. As a prelude to the more cerebral discussions, he opened our eyes to a different way of seeing so that our minds were primed for the next four days’ presentations.

Father Tomas Rosica, a frequent media attaché at the Vatican, described the New Evangelization by saying, “If you want to see it in action, watch Pope Francis.” Evangelical joy means going out to meet the people where they are, in all their gritty reality, and embracing the Christ in all of them. We spread Gospel joy through honest, loving relationships with others. In a homily at Daily Mass, Pope Francis urges us to “be driven by a sense of urgency – do not wait for the time to be right and the Church to be perfect, for the Church has always been and will always be disordered and a little dysfunctional because it is made of sinners. The time is now! Conversion, then, will come in spite of everything as the mysterious fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit.” Father Tomas finished with, “Make no small plans, for they have no magic to stir the heart.”

St. John's  Abbey Church window

Sebastian Gomes, a producer and correspondent for Salt and Light Media in Canada, created a film of Pope Francis’s first year. It captures the moment when the Holy Father broke with tradition and humbly and lovingly washed the feet of teenage convicts on Holy Thursday. His message is clear: we must not let traditions and habits get in the way of loving. We will spread the Gospel through living it, and it is a prophetic message for all cultures. We in the Western world own many things but often have only superficial and often destructive relationships with each other, with other cultures, and with the earth that is our common home. Our cultural poverty is that we do not know God’s love.

When we are baptized, we are given a share in Christ’s priesthood that calls us to spend ourselves for others. The opposite of priesthood is the consumer who spends only for himself. Monastics and lay people alike consecrate time to God through regular prayer, adopting a radical life of simplicity and voluntary poverty in solidarity with the true poor.  We offer the world the discipline of authentic, relevant, mindful, listening and contemplative living where all are called to holiness and joy.

Francis wants the Church to stop protecting itself and instead become transparent, open and welcoming to all in their own cultures. “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.” To the young people gathered in Rio de Janeiro he said, “Let me tell you what I hope will be the outcome of World Youth Day: I hope there will be noise. … I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves.”

Francis asks us to stop name-calling – it is the sin of humans from our very beginning – and to build bridges through common prayer and work. We are all journeying home to Heaven together.

On Thursday, we closed with a discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing monastic communities, and how we share with others our Gospel joy. Abbot John Klassen recalled that when he was a novice he was told, “You should never say or sing ‘Alleluia’ without smiling.” Individuals may not all be prophets, but we become prophetic communities through being light and leaven, transforming the world a little at a time.

What do monastics offer to the world? We are good at listening to another’s story. When we sit with a woman who has been shoved to the margins, treated as worthless and ignored, when we enter into her story and begin a dialogue – it becomes a powerful, transforming moment for both. We live comfortably with ambiguity and the great unknowing; we ask more questions than we answer and don’t give facile responses. We are hospitable, sensitive and accommodating to the needs of each guest. We are good at keeping liturgies living, letting them grow and change with the times.

Over the centuries we have learned, “to be where you are, and to be there well.” In our communities, each person has a place, a job and a voice, three things sorely needed in this rootless and fragmented world.

Sisters Sarah O'Malley, Mary Catherine Shambour, Donna Schroeder, Therese Carson and Theresa Jodocy

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“Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?”
–(Ps.34:13)