Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Day 14 of the General Chapter

What would a General Chapter be without a cold going around and a great number of people getting it? Whatever this year’s bug is, it seems to hit some people worse than others. Poor Dom Augustine of Conyers has been out for several days. This is his first Chapter, and not exactly a pleasant experience so far. I saw him today and he seems to be looking a little better. He asked to borrow some electric hair clippers I brought along in my suitcase. One of the latest victims has been Fr. Jan from Caldey who has been writing half of these blog posts. He felt it coming on last night and warned me that I might have to cover for him today with an entry. He was out all day, but looked a little better when I saw him this evening. 

Our liturgy this morning was in Italian. The Mass, with so many of us gathered together, is such a wonderful experience each morning. Everyone is so respectful and reverent. Work began in the aula at 7:00. We wished a Happy Birthday to Dom Lino, Titular Prior of Boschi in Italy. Mother Rebekka of Klaarland in Belgium was our main moderator for the day. She always does such a fine job. I marvel at her ability to lead a group like that with such grace and good humor. She is in my commission too, and a real gem in our Order. Born in 1967, she still looks quite young. 

Then we moved on to voting. The first two votes were fairly significant. I would love to share what they were but I might get fired. Next, we voted for two members of the Abbot General’s Council. After that, we voted for the members of the law commission. There were some more votes and some other business, and we finished out the last half hour of the morning working in our commissions. The two periods of the afternoon were also devoted to work in our commissions. We have some very likable people in our 2nd Commission, and we seem to be making rapid progress in the tasks assigned to us. We’re hoping to finish early and have an extra day or two off. A lot of that is due to our phenomenal secretary, Dom Erik Varden, who is able to compose brilliant-sounding summaries of our discussions on his tablet right there during the meetings and read them off to us at the end as if it took no effort at all. Our commission president, Dom Mark of New Melleray, and our vice president, Mother Rebecca of Mississippi, have also been putting in stellar performances.

Impressions: A theme that has come up several times in our work in the aula is a concern for handing on the Cistercian charism to the next generation. We have received such a rich tradition. It has been handed down through the centuries, and we are now its custodians. The decisions we make will affect this passing on of the baton. When we look around, we see a lot of diminishment in our Order. Will there even be a next generation? In a great number of places, vocations aren’t exactly booming. Is what we have to offer still relevant? The culture that our youth are coming from is so different than it was in the 40s and 50s when our Order was flourishing. How much should we adapt to that culture? Like the wise householder, we need to be able to bring out things old and new. We also need to be able to listen to the young without compromising any of our fundamental elements. This will take a lot of wisdom from the Holy Spirit. We can also count on the motherly care of Our Lady. Our Order is dedicated to her and she has guided us thus far. She will not allow us to flounder. I see many signs of hope in this General Chapter of 2017.

Fr. Stephen, Genesee

Monday, September 18, 2017

Day 13 of the General Chapter

 Well, we started the day “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” after the refreshing afternoon off yesterday. Members of our houses in the British Isles led us in the liturgy. Dom Roberto of Cardena in Spain was our main moderator for the day. Today is the birthday of Fr. Godefroy from Aiguebelle in France and currently chaplain for our sisters in Syria. He is a usual face at these Chapters for his interpreting skills. He was the equivalent of a Navy Seal before becoming a monk, and still looks very fit. It was noted that it was a national holiday in Chile – I think their Independence Day. Today was our last day of having Lauds at 7:15. It will be moved up to 7:00 in response to some of the suggestions in our mid-Chapter evaluations. 

After the announcements were out of the way, Dom Erik Varden from Mt. St. Bernard in England gave his presentation of “The Vision of the Order”. I think that is number 5 in a series of 7. It was excellent! Outstanding! He is such a gift to our Order. We were told earlier in the morning that these papers on the Vision of the Order in the 21st Century will be made available on the OCSO website at the end of the Chapter. Time is needed to render all the translations. Anyway, I would highly recommend seeking out Dom Erik’s presentation once the texts are posted. To give you a taste: “I feel gratitude. I also feel perplexity. My perplexity springs from what I see as a crisis of transmission. It is on this I wish to reflect. When I entered the monastery in 2002, I was conscious of entering a flow of continuous life. I was no less conscious of entering a history of rupture.” As you can imagine, much stimulating discussion followed it. 

Then we went on to the 7 remaining reports from the commissions on Fathers Immediate. After the mid-morning break, Dom Gregory Polan, the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order, gave a presentation. It was mainly about an inter-religious dialogue he had been involved in recently with Shiite Muslims. Before being chosen Abbot Primate, he was the abbot of Conception Abbey in Missouri, USA. 

After accomplishing some other business, we broke for two hours and another wonderful midday meal. I made use of the opportunity to run up to Assisi and take some more photos. Such a wonderful place!

We met back in the aula at 2:30 for None and then nominations for two positions on the Abbot General’s Council. That was followed by nominations for the Law Commission. Afterwards, we finished out the afternoon with work in our 14 commissions and ad hoc commissions. 

I would like to reflect on what a central role the House Reports play in General Chapters. Someone remarked to me, before I even left for the General Chapter, that the House Reports are really the main work of the Chapter. At the time, I had a hard time making sense of that statement. Now I see the truth of it. A tremendous amount of time is devoted to having commissions study them. The abbot of the house is invited into the commission to ask him questions and make comments. Often, the Father Immediate of the house is also invited in to get his input. It is all done in a spirit of solicitude and genuine caring. Picture the gathering of a close-knit family where people are asking each other how things are going at home, and each has the opportunity to share his burdens, his struggles, his joys and successes. All is done in a spirit of trust and transparency. There is much mutual concern. As mentioned in our commission today, we receive inspiration from some of the abbots and abbesses we interview, and learn things that we can take back to our communities. At the same time, the abbot or abbess connected to the House Report under review feels the support and love of the people in the commission. They are genuinely seeking the health and well-being of the community in question. Often, too, we would ask what the abbot or abbess was doing to take care of herself, in order to make sure she wasn’t letting herself get spread too thin and allow her life to get out of balance. Even before all of this, when the House Report is being drawn up by the individual communities, the members of the communities have the chance to air their concerns and get things off their chest. It is a call for the community to take a good, hard look at itself and do a self-evaluation. I realize now that House Reports play an important role in fostering the health of the Order. 

Fr. Stephen, Genesee

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Day 12 of The General Chapter

After Mass, animated by the African Region, with songs in different African languages, we started our half day of work, with a presentation by the General Secretary for Formation, Sister Marie Mouris of Val d’Igny. The main part of the conference, with the additional Q&A, was the presentation of Experientia, a program of Reflection and Sharing, that would start in 2018. 10 themes were chosen with fitting texts from our Cistercian patrimony to be studied personally and then shared within the community. This could be a very good help in the ongoing formation of monks and nuns personally and as community.

After this interesting talk, we listened to the evaluations of the different commissions, as we are half way through the chapter. The evaluations were very positive, although some minor issues could be addressed. Every one agreed that the Sunday afternoon free was a very good idea, and we all enjoyed it today, as we did last week. After this the General Chapter took some votes and worked a bit more in the different commissions. And this concluded this half day of work.

Fr Jan,
Region of the Isles