Preaching is central to our full experience of the living presence and power of Christ in our worship. Although we do offer the Eucharist at certain times when silent reflection on the readings is judged to be sufficient, a homily will usually be preached at our regular community celebrations of the Eucharist. In preaching, Christ, who will be present to us in communion, comes first to those who are listening in “the word of God . . . living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,” and as the one who speaks words that are spirit and life.” The preached word is thus part of our experience of the daily bread of God’s nourishment. Continue reading
The life we live is permeated by Holy Scripture; it has a central place in our worship, our preaching, our meditation and reading, and our study. Through the scriptures the living voice of God is continually active to convert, nourish and transform us. The more we open ourselves to their riches, the more we have to share with others. And the more we open the scriptures to others, the more we discover in them for our own lives.
In the Daily Office and the eucharistic liturgy of the word, Scripture is continually absorbed into our beings as we pray the psalter and canticles and listen to the readings and preaching. In our worship the Spirit sometimes touches us immediately through a word, an image or a story; there and then we experience the Lord speaking to us. But we shall often go unaware of the ways in which the images and words of Scripture are seeping into the deepest level of our hearts. These hearts of ours are not empty vessels but inner worlds alive with images, memories, experiences and desires. It is the Spirit dwelling within us who brings the revelation of Scripture into a vital encounter with our inmost selves, and brings to birth new meaning and life. Gradually we become aware of the deep resources of truth that this inner process of revelation has formed in us, and are able to draw upon them for our own needs and for the building up of others in ministry. The effect of the scriptures upon us in the liturgy is largely subliminal, but this fact does not justify inattentiveness. We should take care to read the scriptures with a clarity and energy that does justice to our love for them, and to listen as attentively as we can.
In our personal lives of prayer we shall feed on the scriptures and trust in expectant faith that God will be present in them for us. If the Spirit draws us to ways of meditation and prayer that do not directly engage with the scriptures, then we would be wise to keep ourselves open to them by means of reading and study. Often the scriptures will become most vivid and alive to us as we prepare to expound them in preaching and teaching. However, we need to guard against the temptation to let our call to preach become the chief motive for investigating the scriptures. We should learn to listen to the needs of our own hearts and search the scriptures for our own healing and revival.
The disciplines of critical biblical study and the spiritual appropriation of Holy Scripture in the heart are commonly treated as incompatible or kept separate. Our community bears a valuable witness in the Church when we demonstrate that intellectual honesty and contemplative openness belong together in our life with Scripture.
If we are truly called by God into this Society we can be sure that the Gospel of John will be an unfailing source of life and light for us. If we become intimately familiar with it by prayer and study, its riches will prove to be limitless. In times of difficulty, when we are tempted to turn away, we should trust that this gospel will be our rock and mainstay. Entering into it again we shall find ourselves praying the words of Simon Peter to Christ, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
A ceaseless interchange of mutual love unites the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our prayer is not merely communication with God, it is coming to know God by participation in this divine life. In prayer we experience what it is to be made “participants in the divine nature”; we are caught up in the communion of the divine persons as they flow to one another in self-giving love and reciprocal joy. If we hold before us in wonder the mystery of the triune life of God our prayer will realize its full potential. The conception of prayer as homage paid to a distant God will fall away.
We shall find ourselves full of awe and gratitude that the life of divine love is open and accessible to us, for God dwells in us. “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” If we begin to accept God’s generosity in drawing us into the divine life, and grasp the dignity bestowed on us by the divine indwelling, prayer will spring up in adoration and thanksgiving.
We shall find ourselves adoring the Holy Spirit who is poured out into our hearts and gives us the love with which we can love in return. Our hearts will be filled with thankfulness that the Spirit stirs in the depths of our being and unites all that we are, even what is broken and not yet formed, with the risen Lord. We shall worship Christ himself with adoring love, full of gratitude that he abides in us, and that in him we enjoy the fullness of the Father’s acceptance and love. Our contemplation of his undiminished humanity will continually encourage us to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies in all their humanity, to God through him. Through Christ we shall adore the Father in whom we live and move and have our being, the life-giving mystery of love, who is beyond all words and above all thoughts.
There are many conflicts on the way into the experience of divine love. Sinfulness originates in a deep wound to our humanity that hinders us all from accepting love. As the Spirit exposes it to Christ’s healing touch in prayer, we shall often have to struggle with our reluctance to be loved so deeply by God. Christ himself will strive with us, as the angel strove with Jacob, to disable our self-reliant pride and make us depend on grace. Our love must be purified and tested by many times of darkness, loss and waiting. The nearer we draw to God, the more we will sense our vulnerability to the “cosmic powers of this present darkness” that seek to isolate us from God and one another. So there are sufferings to be expected in our prayer but through them we come to the peace Christ promised. “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, support, strengthen and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”
God the Holy Spirit longs to inspire in us prayer that includes and embraces the whole of our life. It is a great privilege to be called to the religious life, which offers us every opportunity and encouragement to welcome the Spirit’s transforming grace so that prayer may enter more and more into all that we are and all that we do.
Resisting the tendency to restrict prayer to set times, we are to aim at eucharistic living that is responsive at all times and in all places to the divine presence.
We should seek the gifts which help us to pray without ceasing. The Spirit offers us the gift of attentiveness by which we discern signs of God’s presence and action in creation, in other people and in the fabric of ordinary existence. We are called to spiritual freedom by which we surrender fretfulness and anxiety in order to be available to God in the present moment. There is the gift of spontaneity, which gives rise to frequent brief prayers throughout the day in which we look to Christ and express our faith, hope and love. There is the gift of prompt repentance, which encourages us to turn to God and ask for forgiveness the instant we become aware of a fall. Through these and other like gifts, prayer comes to permeate our life and transfigure our mundane routines.
The life of prayer calls for the courage to bring into our communion with Christ the fullness of our humanity and the concrete realities of our daily existence, which he redeemed by his incarnation. We are called to offer all our work to God and ask for the graces we need to do it in Christ’s name. In our prayer we are to test whether God is confirming our intentions and desires or not. We are able to pray about one another, our relationships and common endeavors. We are to bring him our sufferings and poverty, our passion and sexuality, our fears and resistances, our desires and our dreams, our losses and grief. We must spread before him our cares about the world and its peoples, our friends and families, our enemies and those from whom we are estranged. Our successes and failures, our gifts and shortcomings, are equally the stuff of our prayer. We are to offer the night to God as well as the day, our unconscious selves as well as our conscious minds, acknowledging the secret and unceasing workings of the Spirit in the depths of our hearts.
This deep intention at the heart of our life to find God in all things means learning to trust that divine companionship continues undiminished even when we feel only boredom and frustration. We can learn to stay still in our experience of numbness and resistance, and trust that Christ is just as truly alive in our hearts in these times as in those in which we enjoy the sense of his presence.
The more we discover through prayer how completely the divine presence permeates our life, the greater will be the integrity of our ministry as we teach others to pray. Men and women come to us not merely to learn to pray, but to learn to pray their lives. The prayer that has spread its roots into our whole life bears fruit a hundredfold as we use the resource of our own experience in guiding and initiating others.
In our meditative prayer each of us seeks intimate communion with God. Quietness and freedom from interruption are needed for us to enter deeply into this prayer. Accordingly, each house of the Society shall have one hour of strict silence set aside each day so that all the brothers can spend this time in meditative prayer completely undisturbed. Occasional necessity may compel a few of us to have their hour of prayer at another time of day, but the community hour is sacrosanct. Although we usually pray alone we are especially close in this hour, bearing one another up.
In times of struggle the sense of unity in prayer will be a great support. When we are away on vacation or mission we shall aim at spending half an hour in prayer each day.
“There are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit.” We shall not all have the same ways of prayer, but we will be united in seeking to open our hearts to “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.” The focus of our meditation may be on the Word of God in Scripture or holy writings. We may use our imaginations to enter into the deep meaning of a scriptural story. Or in slow, reflective reading we may wait for the Spirit to alert us to the words or image that are to be the means of God’s particular revelation to us on this day: “The Spirit of truth . . . will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Then meditation opens our minds and hearts, and our response to God’s gift and disclosure is kindled by the Spirit within us. God may touch us through icons, images and symbols, impregnating our hearts with grace and furthering our transformation “from one degree of glory to another.” Sometimes God’s word is waiting to be heard in our own current experience. The call may be to sift through it in company with Christ to see how he is at work in our lives and where he is leading.
Our prayer may distill our heart’s desire in single words or hallowed phrases lovingly repeated, while we lay aside discursive thoughts in order to be unified in Christ. Or we may simply wait on God expectantly until our affections are kindled, and our hearts find a few words to give voice to our worship. When God wills, we may be drawn to contemplation. In the radical simplicity of contemplative prayer we surrender ourselves to the mystery beyond words of Christ’s abiding in us, and our abiding in him close to the Father’s heart.
Meditative prayer is the receptive and responsive prayer of our whole selves. Our bodies are at prayer in the postures and breathing that enable us to be centered. The solitude of the cell gives us the freedom to be spontaneous in expressing prayer through gestures, movements, tears and singing.
Father Benson taught us to look always to the glory of the ascended Christ and find the meaning of all we do in union with him. We shall enter into the mystery of intercessory prayer only if we realize our oneness with Christ the great High Priest, who lives forever to make intercession for all the world. Christ makes this prayer to the merciful Father through the prayers of all the faithful who are baptized into his body. His voice does not appeal to God separately from theirs; “They are . . . so many mouths to Himself; and as they pray . . . His voice fills their utterance with the authority and claim belonging to Himself.” The Father hears the voice of his beloved Son in our prayers and accepts them as Christ’s.
It is the Spirit of Christ who stirs our prayer and weaves the movements of our hearts into his great offering. Because the Spirit moves so deeply within us we cannot always be conscious of the full meaning and substance of our prayer. Often our intercessions will feel weak and incoherent. Yet the Spirit is helping us “in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Through faith we see Christ not only in his majesty in heaven, but in his lowly presence in every creature. He suffers with and in everyone in need. Our intercession does not call down the divine presence to come to the place where we have seen a need, for the Christ who fills all things is already in that place. It is his Spirit who calls us to join him there by offering our love in intercessory prayer and action, to be used by God for healing and transformation.
It is a wonderful thing that God makes us his fellow-workers and uses our love, acting in intercession, to further the reconciliation of all things in Christ. We offer thanks with joy whenever prayer results in the transformation for which we had hoped. However, we must often suffer the pain of seeing no visible result to our prayer. But we should let no frustration wear down the trust that sustains our waiting on God. Every offering of love will bear fruit. “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
According to an ancient monastic saying “A monk is separated from all in order to be united to all.” The pioneers of monasticism believed that the monk was called to the margin of society in order to hear within himself the deepest cries of humanity, and to discover a profound unity with all living beings in their struggle to attain “the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” In our intercessory prayer this solidarity will find its deepest expression. We shall also experience through faith our communion with all the saints in glory who pray unceasingly with us and for us.
From the beginning the Church has entrusted to the monastic communities a special responsibility for intercession. Our hearts must always be open to those who ask for our prayers and depend on us to share their burdens. We will rejoice with them when the gift we have sought together from the Lord is given them. And we will stay joined to them in their struggle if God’s response seems to deny their request or calls them to wait.
Our prayers for one another, those we serve, the Church and the whole world, the living and the dead, are gathered up in our worship, particularly at the prayers of the people at the Eucharist. We should gladly use the opportunities provided in the liturgy of the Eucharist and in the Daily Office to offer our intercessions aloud as the Spirit moves us.
Once every quarter the community devotes a day to the offering of prayer and fasting. On these days it is our custom to pray together in the presence of the eucharistic elements. Through our fasting and these special times of prayer, we open ourselves so that the Spirit can draw us into the prayer of adoration, and move us to offer intercession for all the people of God.
We shall intercede also in our personal prayers day by day, appealing to God to pour out his saving grace on particular people and situations. In intercession we shall discover the power to love those we find difficult. Father Benson taught that “in praying for others we learn really and truly to love them. As we approach God on their behalf we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal Love, and as we go into the being of him who is eternal Love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there.” God will also inspire each one of us to make certain causes our special concern. We may also be moved to draw the needs of the world into our contemplative prayer, holding them silently in the radiance of God’s mercy within our hearts.
Intercession is not an intermittent activity, restricted to those times in which we are deliberately praying for the world and for people. The entire life of each member of Christ’s body is intercessory. Christ takes up our actions and everyday experiences into the eternal offering of his whole self to the Father. If we abide in Christ he will show us that he accepts our labors, our struggles, our afflictions and the ordinary actions of our daily lives as sacrificial, and uses them to bless and uphold the world.
The Father of all whom we seek to love is a hidden God. Therefore we take to heart the words of Jesus, “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” The cell is the place of this secret encounter and reward. From time to time we may choose to pray in chapel, where the icons and sacramental presence of Christ in the tabernacle draw us to contemplation. Or we may pray in a quiet place out of doors. But the cell is the primary place of prayer where we are to stand before God. The cell therefore must be ordered as a space for prayer and treated as sacred.
God has promised to be there for us: “Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” As we enter our cells we renew our commitment to meet God there by praying these same words.
We will experience our cell as a place of divine presence and companionship not only in our prayer but in our studying, resting and sleeping there. There is solace in being alone with God, but the privacy of our cells is not meant to shut us off from one another. We gladly welcome one another into our cells for quiet conversations.
Maintaining a balance in our life between solitude and engagement with others is not easy. We are subject to many pressures that deter us from experiencing solitude: the claims of work, the fear of loneliness, and the reluctance to face ourselves as we are in the company of Jesus before God. Without solitude we would forfeit an essential means of inner restoration and encounter with God in the depths of our own souls. Therefore we must find times to be alone. We need to love our cells and take opportunities to stay quietly there in reflection, and in restorative activities such as reading and listening to music. We will need to be disciplined in our use of the radio and recordings so that we use them as means of enrichment rather than of empty distraction. Whenever staying in the cell becomes repugnant to us, or it begins to lose its attraction as a place of solitude, we must remember that we are called to life through death: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” In persevering in our cells we shall discover for ourselves the wisdom of the ancient saying, “The cell will teach you all things.”
Our close proximity to one another in our houses means that further solitude may need to be sought elsewhere. We should value opportunities to be alone out of doors and in places where we can be replenished in spirit by ourselves.
Our cells are meant to be congenial and personal places so we are free to have around us plants, pictures and other things that beautify them in simple ways. If we clutter the cells with a profusion of objects or make them chaotic and untidy, our rooms will be a hindrance instead of a help to centered, prayerful living. Therefore at least once a year the Superior or Senior Brother shall require each brother to renew the order and simplicity of his cell.
The gift of silence we seek to cherish is chiefly the silence of adoring love for the mystery of God which words cannot express. In silence we pass through the bounds of language to lose ourselves in wonder. In this silence we learn to revere ourselves also; since Christ dwells in us we too are mysteries that cannot be fathomed, before which we must be silent until the day we come to know as we are known. In silence we honor the mystery present in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, strangers and enemies.
Only God knows them as they truly are, and in silence we learn to let go of the curiosity, presumption and condemnation that pretend to penetrate the mystery of their hearts. True silence is an expression of love, unlike the taciturnity that arises from fear and avoidance of relationship.
Silence takes root through our cultivation of solitary prayer in which we are free to take delight in our aloneness with God undisturbed. The Spirit helps us through our struggle with distraction to return to that inmost place of mutual love where God is simply present to us and we to God. If we are faithful here in our movement into silence, we will bring the same spirit into our liturgical worship and cherish the silences observed before and during the Eucharist and Offices. Without this constant opening of the heart in silence alone and together we are unable to feel the touch or hear the word of God. Silence is a constant source of restoration. Yet its healing power does not come cheaply. It depends on our willingness to face all that is within us, light and dark, and to heed all the inner voices that make themselves heard in silence.
Our ministries demand silence for their integrity, in particular our speaking to others and our listening to them in Christ’s name. Without silence words become empty. Without silence our hearts would find the burdens, the secrets and the pain of those we seek to help intolerable and overwhelming. And our ethos of silence is itself a healing gift to those who come to us seeking newness of life.
Each of the disciplines that protect silence in our common life calls for respect. The Greater Silence makes the night and early morning a healing time for recollection. Silent meals and those accompanied by music and reading accustom our guests and us to enjoying fellowship without needing to converse. Appointed days of retreat and quiet invite us to deepen our awareness and prayer. Our cells welcome us into the silence of God’s company, and we spurn that welcome if we rely unthinkingly on radio, music and conversation. We cultivate a thoughtful respect of one another’s need to stay focused by avoiding unnecessary interruptions.
Our own strength is not sufficient for weaving silence into the fabric of daily life. For the hours of the day to be permeated by mindfulness of the divine life we must be engaged in constant struggle, depending on God’s grace. Powerful forces are bent on separating us from God, our own souls, and one another through the din of noise and the whirl of preoccupation. Technology has intensified our risk of becoming saturated with stimuli. We who are called to maintain a lively interest in our own culture, so that we can bear witness to Christ within it, can never rest from the effort of discernment and resistance or we shall fall captive to scatteredness and stress.
Jesus chose to work the first of his signs and reveal his glory at the wedding feast at Cana, and he was the chief guest at many meals held to celebrate the new life he was bringing through the gospel. His joy will abound in us when we celebrate by feasting on the holy days that commemorate the great acts of creation and redemption, and the glories of the saints. He will continue to reveal his glory among us on the joyful occasions when we have festal meals to mark professions, clothings, anniversaries, holidays and special turning points in our life.
These feasts are another expression of our eucharistic life, and anticipate the heavenly banquet which the risen Lord is preparing for those who love him. The careful preparations that make our festivities so pleasing are sacred tasks. Our ministry of hospitality finds one of its richest expressions as we welcome guests to join us in these festal liturgies and meals of celebration.
Just as we feast to celebrate the abundance of the risen life, so we also fast because the end is not yet and the bridegroom is still to come. Our feasts will be holy and joyful if we are equally prepared to enter from time to time into Jesus’ desert fast. When we fast we should be following him, moved by the Spirit, to offer to God the experience of emptiness and want. This offering is made in faith simply to God’s glory, yet from time to time it will open us to the Holy Spirit’s work of revelation. In our fasting the Spirit may disclose our need to grieve for sin, ours and the world’s. There may be some temptation we will experience more sharply when fasting, and the Spirit can encourage us to struggle with it more directly. Or Christ may want us to sense our connectedness with his countless brothers and sisters who suffer hunger, and embrace their cause in prayer. Above all, the hunger of our fast can open our hearts so that we discover again our hunger and thirst for the living God and have our desire rekindled by the Spirit.
During Lent there will be a common discipline of abstinence with simpler meals and no meat. We will fast by abstaining from food until evening on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the four quarterly days of corporate retreat. We will join our brothers in a fast of preparation on the day before they make their vows. On fast days the Superior will give dispensation to those who require some food for reasons of infirmity, medical condition or unavoidable duties. Those dispensed can participate in other ways through prayer, silence and recollection. We may also fast on our personal retreat days.
Both our feasts and fasts have a part to play in achieving a wise balance in our daily eating and drinking. In our feasting we learn to savor and appreciate what we eat and drink, in thankfulness to the Creator who gives them. Fasting can help us to become more attentive to what our bodies really need so that we can moderate our appetites and be liberated from greed.
Times of retreat are essential elements in the rhythm of our life. They enable us to celebrate the primacy of the love of God above all else. Whenever we enter retreat we seek to be more available to God so that we may enter more fully into the divine life. The community shall have one week of retreat together every year under the direction of a retreat leader. The experience of shared silence and prayer deepens our solidarity in the Spirit and unites us in a common response to the living word. In addition each professed brother shall have a week of individual retreat every year.
The arrangements about the time and place of this retreat will be made in consultation with the Superior. In each quarter of the year there will be a day of corporate retreat, fasting and intercession. Each brother will have an individual day of retreat every month in which there is no time of community retreat.
Brothers who feel confident of God’s call to go forward in the Society will use their retreat before clothing or making their vows to deepen their self-offering to God. If a brother needs further confirmation of his call, the focus of the retreat will be on the discernment of God’s will.
Retreat is an opportunity to experience the intimacy we have with God through our union with Christ. Our availability to God will normally be expressed by setting aside three periods for prayer each day, and leaving all distracting tasks. We seek an inner silence for communion with God and therefore refrain from conversation. Exercise and gentle recreative activities in solitude will help us be open to the Spirit.
Retreats will often be times in which we hear Jesus inviting us to be at rest with him: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” But we must expect retreats to expose us to spiritual trial. We may be tempted to tire ourselves or waste the time in busy work and preparation. We may find ourselves staying on the surface to avoid an authentic meeting with the living God. And the emptiness of retreat time may compel us to face the painful signs of our need for healing that it was easier to overlook during our usual routines. So our retreat times will be opportunities to strive against everything that would discourage us from radical dependence on the love of God.
Those of us who guide the retreats of others should be creative in their own use of retreat and guard against mere routine. Our own experience must be real and vital if we are to draw on it when we guide those who are seeking God.
In our own prayer Christ will come to us as a servant seeking to wash our feet, but he also seeks to attend to our needs through the ministry of others and the Church’s sacraments of nurture, forgiveness and healing. We fall and fall again so we should be glad of the opportunities that the sacramental rite of Reconciliation provides to encounter Christ again in the places of our brokenness and poverty, and allow him to bind up our wounds and set us on our feet. If we ever feel reluctant to use this means of grace, we must remember how Peter was tempted to refuse the touch of Christ and how the Lord had to warn him of its necessity.The Superior ensures that each brother has regular access to a confessor outside the community. We are to make our confessions at least every quarter.
We cannot keep pace with the risen Christ who goes before us if we are encumbered by guilt. If we stay estranged in our hearts, we jeopardize the communion we have with our brothers and our fellow members of the Body of Christ. Regular sacramental confession enables us to shed the burdens of remembered sin, and move forward encouraged by the Spirit. We enter the fellowship of the community again with fresh gratitude for the reality of forgiveness. Father Benson has taught us to live as penitents, “to rise thus to live in the full light of the presence of Jesus, to rise to have nothing hidden, to live in openness of heart to Him, and in an openness of heart to one another also, which the world does not know of, to tear away the veil which hides our hearts, to have our inmost life standing out in the presence of God.”
Each brother in vows, after consulting with the Superior, will find a spiritual director with whom to meet regularly. Christ is not only the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but “the Way, and the Truth and the Life.” In spiritual direction we make progress on the way which is Christ, learning how we go astray and discovering the paths of prayer and mercy. Our spiritual directors help us enter into the truth which is Christ, uncovering our illusions and guiding us to explore the freedom for which Christ has set us free. They challenge us to seek liberation from all that is narrow and superficial so that we can find the abundance of life which is Christ. Anyone who tries self-sufficiency in the spiritual life soon falls prey to illusion. From the earliest days God has given members of our Society the calling and gifts for the ministry of spiritual direction. It is especially important for those of us who are called to be spiritual directors to receive direction ourselves.
Christ will also make himself known as the good shepherd through the teaching and counsel of our retreat leaders. In times of retreat we should open our hearts, expecting to hear his voice speaking through the one we have invited to guide us.
Christ sends us with the same passionate trust and love with which the Father sent him into the world. Our mission is to bring men, women and children into closer union with God in Christ, by the power of the Spirit that he breathes into us. Christ is already present in the life of everyone as the light of the world. It is our joy to serve all those to whom we are sent by helping them to embrace that presence in faith. Our mission is being fulfilled as our prayer, worship and daily life in community draw people into life in Christ.
It is also expressed through ministries that demonstrate the wide range of the Spirit’s gifts. These ministries spring from our baptismal vocation; only a few of them are the specific responsibility of the ordained. The Society’s identity is not defined by any particular ministries, since the Spirit is free to change them. Nevertheless our tradition, experience, and discernment of the signs of our own times encourage us to be alert for Christ’s invitation to serve in the following ways:
We are ready to respond to the needs of those who desire to learn how to pray, to understand the things of the Spirit, and to press forward on the way of conversion. Some brothers therefore make themselves available, as the Spirit enables them, for ministries of spiritual formation, initiation and guidance with individuals and groups in the Church, and with seekers outside it. We will be alert to the claims of those who seek solid nourishment for the heart and mind, and be open to God’s call to preach, to teach, and to provide written resources through books and publications.
God may prolong our tradition of service to those who are exercising, or being prepared for, ordained ministry in the Church by calling us to support them with our hospitality, to act as guides and confessors, and to offer such training as we may be qualified to give. Equally, we are ready to support and equip lay men and women for their ministries.
God can call us to further the work of healing and reconciliation by reaching out to the sick, offering the sacraments of healing and forgiveness, befriending the alienated and perplexed, serving those in prison and seeking the company of the marginalized.
We are to be prepared for God to call us to be active witnesses for peace and social justice, bearing witness to Christ’s presence on the side of people who are deprived and oppressed. We expect our calling to continue to bring special resources to bear on the needs and claims of children and their families who are impoverished and at risk.
God may call a few of us to special ventures in mission in other places and countries, or to hold office in the Church. In rare cases where a brother would be separated from community life for long periods we would look for clear signs that this was indeed a call coming from God. In our understanding and discernment of ministry we must be careful to recognize how broad is the range of talents that God uses in ministry, and be prepared for ministries which draw on artistic gifts, and engage our concerns for the environment, and the renewal of society.
All our ministries are expressions of our community life; they are carried out in the name of the whole Society, supported by its prayers and the labors of those who carry on the other regular work of our daily life. All of us share in the graces that flow from them. While strictly respecting the confidentiality that covers many aspects of our work, we should share the rest of our experiences in ministry with one another so that we can appreciate them and give praise to God together. Wherever possible we shall go out on mission in twos and threes rather than singly so that we can express our companionship in ministry.
Certain brothers bear their part in our mission chiefly by sustaining the life of the community with their work, witness and prayer at home. It is important to express our awareness of their vital role within the body. This sense of our interdependence and equality will be especially important for the infirm and elderly.
Christ has promised that if we abide in him, and consent to his skillful pruning, we shall bear fruit that abides. If the results of our labors are to last, we need to root our endeavors in Christ and draw on our intimacy with him. This involves prayer for ourselves and for those whose lives we have the opportunity to touch. Knowing that grace is powerful in weakness, we hand over to Christ any anxiety about our own adequacy. We are to trust our own experience of God and draw directly from it so that our witness can be authentic. We also need to let go of any grasping for immediate results; much of what the grace of God achieves through us will be entirely hidden from our eyes. We also expect to experience failures. Some of these contain lessons that can help us become more skillful in the future. Other failures are means by which we enter further into the mystery of discipleship; we are not greater than the master, and many went on their way without accepting his words or deeds.
If we give freely of ourselves, we should expect abundant gifts in return, according to Christ’s promise. We should enter into our ministries expecting to receive as much or more than we can give. Christ will make himself known to us in wonderful ways in those we serve, especially in those who suffer and are poor in spirit. Ministry itself will draw out from us gifts, insights and strengths that we never knew we had. We will be continually taught, humbled, surprised and stretched. Ministry is itself a vital means of our conversion by Christ and its disciplines are central to our asceticism. We must also expect power to go out of us in ministry and to experience fatigue that may sometimes be severe. Seasons of rest and relief are important for individual brothers and the whole community.
Discerning which opportunities for ministry we should respond to brings into play the wisdom of the whole community, the responsibility of particular brothers and the skillful supervision of the Superior. In deciding which ventures to pursue or invitations to accept we take into account the resources of the community, the availability of particular brothers and their needs, the mission priorities of the Society, as well as the needs of those whose claims upon us are under consideration. We must remember that we are called to exercise demanding ministries within the community for one another and amongst our employees and those who work alongside us. The prudence that informs this practice of discernment, however, is not meant to hold us back from responding generously and spontaneously to unforeseen and urgent claims that the Spirit makes upon us.
The coordination of our tasks, responsibilities and ministries means that we must often turn down requests and opportunities. Without faithfulness to our limitations we can jeopardize our community life and its balance. It will often be painful when we are unable to respond to the needs that touch our hearts. It is important to share this frustration in prayer. Christ can help us to accept our limitations as expressions of our poverty, and the constraints he imposes as ways in which he is shaping and molding our lives. In a community such as ours it is unrealistic to expect that the balance between meeting our own needs and those of others can be kept always in perfect equilibrium. Instead we must be resilient enough to embrace the emergencies and stresses that belong to apostolic life.
Our reliance on the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit in our ministry does not replace the need for training, preparation and supervision. We may only engage in ministries for which we have received training and whose disciplines we have embraced. It is especially important in those ministries involving confidential work with individuals that we observe those boundaries and guidelines binding on ministers of the Church. A brother must never be left feeling isolated in his ministry. The leaders of the community must make sure that resources of consultation and supervision are available to him.
We make it known to groups and individuals who call upon our ministries that the Society needs donations to support our work. Normally we help them in the exercise of their stewardship by suggesting amounts in proportion to our outlay of time and effort. God’s generosity in supplying all our needs gives us the freedom to make our ministries available to certain groups and individuals who lack the resources to make these normal donations.
The source of hospitality is the heart of God, who yearns to unite every creature within one embrace. Only in the fullness of time will God gather all things in Christ, yet God’s boundless welcome is something we already enjoy here and now in the Eucharist. Our life together as a community gives us a foretaste of the communion of saints. So we have the power to be a sacrament of God’s hospitality, a house of God, offering his nurture and protection to all who come under our roof.
It is not enough merely to offer accommodation to visitors. Our faith must recognize the one who comes to us in the person of the guest, the stranger and the pilgrim. It is the Lord, who has identified himself with each of his sisters and brothers. If we are to give them bread and not stones, and truly meet Christ in them face to face, we must realize the gifts the Holy Spirit has given us for the ministry of hospitality, and remember how deeply people are yearning for the things of God. We have silence for our guests, which protects the mystery of their hearts and brings healing. We have our ongoing stream of worship, which they can enter. We have the fellowship of our altar and our table. We offer security, where guests are safe from intrusion and free to pray. Our houses have simple beauty. We offer courtesy, acceptance and intercession. And the Spirit has given us gifts of guidance, teaching and encouragement by which we can help retreatants grow in Christ.
We must also remain true to the limits of our hospitality. The claims of our life together and our other ministries mean we cannot take in everyone who wants to come or meet a guest’s every need. We cannot offer the closeness that some are seeking and can seldom be available as pastoral counselors. Normally our guests can stay only for short periods. If we let our life as a brotherhood be overwhelmed by the claims of guests, we could endanger the resources by which we can serve them. We can be confident of the rightness of boundaries that contain and foster our own life together. Every house shall have a private area to which guests are not normally invited and there shall be interludes during the year when guests are not received. The brothers who are given primary responsibility for our ministry of hospitality know its cost more than any and they need our support. Not every guest will be easy to welcome. If we experience difficulties in our relationship with any guests we should pray specially to find Christ in them and consult one another about the most appropriate resolution.
Just as we enrich our guests’ lives, so they enrich ours. We welcome men and women of every race and culture, rejoicing in the breadth and diversity of human experience that they bring to us. Their lives enlarge our vision of God’s world. The stories of their sufferings and achievements and their experience of God stir and challenge us. If we are attentive, each guest will be a word and gift of God to us.
Among our many partners in ministry, the men and women who earn their living by working for the Society have a special place. We could not fulfill the mission to which God calls us without the contribution of their many skills to complement our own. Our concern and gratitude for them should find frequent expression in our prayers.
Our belief in the dignity of work and the honor due to all forms of labor and creativity should be revealed by the respect we show to each of our employees. The way we exercise authority as employers must reveal our belief in the equality of all as persons and citizens. We know that for many of our employees the work they undertake for us is the chief expression of their ministry within the Body of Christ. Their dedication often leads them to give more than duty requires. It is important that we regularly show our appreciation and gratitude in a variety of ways.
To help in maintaining the highest standards of integrity, fairness and clarity, we shall use a manual of guidelines setting out all the procedures to be observed in our professional relationships with our employees. It is an important feature of community discipline to be faithful to these rules. The brother responsible for human resources guides those who supervise individual employees. Our commitment to the well-being of our employees includes a concern for their professional development and continuing education as well as fair compensation and time off.
The nature of our community life and ministries leads us to require our employees to be especially respectful of our privacy, and to maintain confidentiality about ourselves and our guests. We, for our part, must demonstrate our commitment to this ethos of confidentiality and refrain from any kind of inappropriate intrusion into the personal lives of our employees.
New members bring with them the promise of new life for our brotherhood. They contribute new gifts for our common good and our mission, both personal talents and gifts of the Holy Spirit. This promise of newness of life and hope for the future should be a source of joy. We shall often pray to the Father for the gift of new members, trusting that our prayer will be answered: “Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”
It is an important responsibility for the novice guardian and Superior to lead the community in a collective process of discernment to discover whether an applicant is genuinely drawn to our way of life and has certain basic, necessary qualities. Through observation, prayer and conversation we seek to find that the candidate has a love for the gospel, a desire for prayer, an attraction to ministry and signs of personal adaptability. We also draw on the results of professional testing to provide evidence that his mental and physical health are adequate for the demands of our life.
Postulancy is a preliminary test of a man’s calling. Normally it lasts for six months but the Superior may lengthen or shorten the time as he sees fit. The postulant takes part in the life and duties of the novices so that we can discover whether he has the resilience and maturity to set out on the path of formation. The postulancy culminates in a directed retreat. If the postulant then shows a strong desire to go forward, the Superior will decide whether to admit him to the novitiate, first consulting the novice guardian.
Integration into a brotherhood like ours is a slow process. Brothers are to be welcoming and supportive to those who are with us for a trial period. At first the bonds we establish with new members will be light, allowing them to feel unconstrained in their freedom to leave. Deeper mutual commitment comes later. It is important that the professed brothers express their considered reactions to the new member’s early days of adjustment when they meet to conduct evaluations.
Our sober recognition that only a few of those who come to test their vocation will go forward to life profession ought not to discourage us as we initiate new men into our way of life. We trust that God always uses a man’s time in our Society for good. Every call is entirely in God’s hands.
The novitiate is a time of progressive initiation into the life of the community. Novices are putting their vocation to the test of experience. At first they participate in our active ministries only in limited ways, so that they can devote themselves with a single mind to conversion of life. Their training is in the hands of the novice guardian; the Superior will help him and appoint at least two other experienced brothers to assist with the work of formation and discernment.
We are to help the novices to let go of their previous life and work, and to come to a changed understanding of their relationship with family and friends that makes room for their new and primary loyalty to the Society. We expect them to grow into our full life of worship and prayer and offer them training in spiritual disciplines. Recognizing that our novices will not have had equal exposure to the resources of Christian knowledge and wisdom, we will guide them in corporate and individual study that will help each brother explore the scriptures, Christian doctrine, history and spirituality. We help them to grasp the meaning of this Rule and to explore our particular tradition and the teaching of our founders. The novices begin to make the Gospel of John their own, and to understand the role of the monastic way in the life and mission of the Church, past and present. We give our novices work in which they have opportunity to practice obedience and cooperation, learn humility, and discover within themselves a readiness to act with generosity.
Growing into our life under this Rule is not a matter of mere adaptation but of inner change and conversion of life. We expect emotional and spiritual trials to be part of the experience of the novitiate; many stages of genuine transformation are marked by experiences of confusion and loss. The brothers who have a special responsibility for the work of formation help the novices to face these trials with courage and to gain insight into their meaning.
The other professed brothers participate in the formation of novices in many ways. Novices learn the meaning of our vocation from our daily witness to the mercy of God and the graces of the vowed life. Our encouragement enables them to endure the stresses of adjustment and change. Their readiness for commitment is fostered by the faithfulness of our prayerful friendship. And we contribute our insights into their development by means of the regular evaluation sessions.
Our hope is that the novitiate will lead to the discovery of an inner freedom to choose this life gladly, or to take up again the challenge of Christian life outside, if this seems God’s will. The novitiate normally lasts two years. Towards the end of the second year the Superior shall consult with those who train the novices, and decide whether to propose to the Chapter the election of the novice to profession in initial vows. The novitiate may be extended, but not beyond a third year. Every novice prepares for profession in a retreat of two weeks.
The whole community rejoices when a new brother is ready to make the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. His aim should be towards life commitment, even though at first he is allowed to bind himself by the vows for a period of three years only. This initial period gives time for the community and the brother to make certain that God is calling him to the life of our Society.
Through his discussions with the brother at the end of the period of commitment in initial vows, the Superior may conclude that it is wise to extend it for a further year. Three such extensions are permitted.
The years of initial profession are dedicated to further formation in the religious life. This is a time to begin discerning the gifts a brother may have for ministry, and providing opportunities for developing these gifts through training and practice. His studies should not be directed to these ministries alone, but should aim at a further consolidation of his knowledge of scripture and the classics of Christian theology and wisdom. During these years the brother develops a firmer grasp of his identity as a religious and seeks to intensify his self-offering to God in daily life and work.
The newly professed brother takes his place in Chapter and begins to take a full part in the community’s decision making. He becomes eligible for new responsibilities and tasks.
An important goal of these initial years in vows is the development of personal responsibility for one’s own growth in the religious life and a strong sense of accountability. To promote this development, each brother in initial vows will meet regularly to discuss his own progress with an experienced brother, or group of brothers, appointed by the Superior to provide him with support and advice. In addition, every nine months or so, the Superior and one or two of these appointed brothers will gather for a day of assessment with the brother in initial vows. In this assessment he gives a full account of his experience of life under this Rule, discusses goals to aim for in the coming months, and receives counsel.
We pray that when the moment of decision comes, our brother will find that Christ has given him the freedom and courage to choose life-long commitment. The foundation of this courage is a profound gratitude for salvation. “How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” Before accepting his application to be admitted to life profession, the Superior must consult with each member of Chapter to gather evidence that we share the conviction that God is calling him. The final decision rests with the Superior. The brother prepares for life profession in a retreat of at least two weeks.