For a New Beginning

Last June 29th, on the Feast of our patron saints Peter and Paul, the buildings enlarging our monastery were inaugurated and blessed. The new space responds to the Community’s most urgent needs (refectory, kitchen, library, some monks’ cells) and enables us to offer more suitable accommodations to those who wish to share our life more closely for a few days.
The Holy Mass of inauguration was presided by His Excellency Msgr Giovanni Giudici, Vicar General of the Diocese of Milan. About four hundred people participated cordially, the sign of a people that has accompanied us along our journey and supported also this enlargement project in various ways.
At the end of Mass, the Prior thanked everyone. “In this circumstance,” Fr Sergio said, “the truly great thing has been the discovery of so many people who love us and perceive this work to be a great sign that sustains the hope of all. In the face of this miracle, we ask that a new beginning in the faith in Jesus Christ may happen, for us and for everyone.”
As preparation for this “new beginning,” in the months before the inauguration, we took up again what Fr Giussani said here on February 12, 1982, in response to some questions we had about the growth of communion among us. We would like to share with the readers of Traces the richness offered to us on that occasion, because it helps us in the continual work of renewal to which the Lord invites us.
The monks of the Cascinazza, Milan

From quickly reading through the sheets you gave me, it seems to me that the most urgent stress is on the communion among you.

First of all, let us not ever be scandalized by our faults or shortcomings, the errors into which we find ourselves falling, because we are young children who have to learn God’s road. Therefore, let us not marvel at being limited, let us not be scandalized, above all, if communion is not lived very much. So many times, communion is not lived much; many times we ourselves discover we are not in the right position, many times we discover that others are not in the right position. If someone is scandalized, paradoxically it is because at that moment he is not committed, he does not truly care. If someone truly cares, if he truly desires, he is not scandalized at feeling himself to be a sinner. Therefore, first of all, let us avoid any kind of scandal and amazement at ourselves and others.

It is true that this could mean indifference, but I am not saying it in this sense. I say that if one is full of passion for a virtue, for a value, then he is not scandalized at seeing it so little fulfilled, in himself and others, but it is a pain that urges and incites him even more. This is an important premise, as it were, so that the accusation that instinctively wells up in me, when someone else errs in something that interests me, may not keep me from growing (since another’s error is also a way God uses to ask me to grow) and may not hinder my relationship with him, and therefore not hinder my communion, my charity, with others. This, I was saying, is a premise.

Now, we must also say that to live communion is not a small matter; it is all of Christian life, because Christian life is Christ among us who makes us one sole body. And this, I believe, is the heart of the original Benedictine tradition, with which our Movement felt itself to coincide from the beginning. The heart of our Movement is this, and I really believe that it is being disciples of the original Benedictine history that has made our Movement like this. Therefore, it is no small matter; it is the example that has to happen.

Christ present! The Christian announcement is that God became one of us and is present here, and gathers us together into one body, and through this unity, His presence is made perceivable. This is the heart of the Benedictine message of the earliest times. Well, this also defines the entire message of our Movement, and this is why we feel Benedictine history to be the history to which we are closest, without any comparison with the other paths. St Francis, too, is this; St Francis, too, emphasizes this (as do all the other Christian forms). It is just that Benedictinism has emphasized the organic character, the organic implications of this: it means, for example, that even earthly reality has to be placed inside this body–this is the “liturgy”–and that human labor expresses this liturgy and spreads it out over the entire day. Then all of life becomes the life of the Body of Christ. At any rate, this is the example that you are called to give to the whole Christian community. The attraction you must be for the people who will come here is this, it has to be this. Therefore, it is no small matter!

Now I would like to emphasize something written by one of you in your letters, “the consciousness of why you are all here together.” What has always struck me, ever since I was supposed to join the Comboni missionaries–in senior secondary school I had already applied to join the Combonians–what struck me the most, made me most afraid, was that I would have had to go into a group that had maybe fifty people, fifty different characters! When someone goes into a monastery, what does he know about what he will find? He finds out afterwards–that’s the point! You understand that the consciousness of why you are here together is truly the paramount thing!

More than one of you has pointed this out; this is really the question: consciousness of why you are here. How else would it be possible to put up with each other or, better, to understand each other, to forgive each other (“forgive” is the Christian word; “put up with” is the world’s term), to help each other? I see it in the companionship of the Memores Domini, where there are people who, humanly speaking, I would not have liked, I don’t know, with whom I would not have bonded especially; but when the Lord puts you together, afterwards it becomes really an affection, like among siblings, and even the distance of a non-bonding is changed into an affection as between brothers; you care about the other like your own brother. But what I want to emphasize now is the “consciousness of the reason you are here.” The “consciousness of the reason you are here” is the content of that vigilance by which the memory of Christ becomes precisely the consciousness that “follows” us everywhere. In short, you have to keep constantly before you the reason you are here together with the others, and the reason is the presence of Christ, so that you may bear witness, with your unity, to the world. If this is strong, then the problems that come from your living together can find a solution; it becomes easier to overcome indifference and lack of understanding. In short, would a mother, toward her child, act as we so many times act among ourselves? No! She would try to understand him. But then, is the flesh worth more than the spirit? We must have forgiveness for those who are different. I say it all the time: forgiveness is embracing what is different. However, for this to happen, much more than making the resolution to forgive, understand, and let things go, much more than directly resolving, it is better to resolve to be conscious of why we are together, of the reason “why.” If this consciousness of the reason why I must understand, not remain indifferent, and forgive, grows, then it becomes easier also to forgive, to understand, etc.

May this be the point this time. However, I have to add something. If your witness in front of God’s angels (the first witness is in front of God’s angels, because men, always, can not see it, or seem not to see it, but the angels always see it), if the characteristic of your witness is Christ present among you, uniting you in communion with Him and among yourselves, making you one sole thing (because witnessing to this “one thing” is the task you have in God’s Church), the safekeeping of this communion is dual; it has two poles, as it were:

1) The first pole is that you put yourselves in common without making any claims on the others. It is right. If you are here, it is because you want to be here with people who put themselves in communion. They do this without making any demands on the others, in the sense of “measuring,” because someone can be capable of putting 20% in common now, and in three years he will put 60% in common–it is a matter of growth. It is necessary to put yourselves in common, meaning your judgments, etc. In short, it is dialogue; dialogue is the first work in common. The first pole, then, is to put yourselves in common.

2) The other pole–this remains the point where the Mystery burrows into our flesh–is obedience to authority. Even if now the authority among you is so familiar and fraternal, you must not lose the advantage of the value of obedience, which is a dimension of the consciousness with which you do things. You have to value the fact of obedience (and this depends on your conscience) because it is this that, at the right time, when there are discrepancies, when the sparks fly, or when tiredness sets in, makes you more willing to “catch fire again”–in other words, more open to the impulse given by authority. I am not recalling this second pole of obedience–I hope it is not already necessary!–because there may be danger of division, but so that you may live it as a dimension of the spirit. Thus, when the need arises, even in disciplinary terms, you will be willing. One cannot slip away from obedience. Also, acknowledging the Bishop and the Holy See are acts of obedience, aren’t they? I believe that this is a topic on which you have to teach me: the value of obedience in St Benedict’s experience!