+THE GRACE OF COMMUNITY Chapter Talk 2 Feb. 2020
In recent years there has been a growing sense of the value of community as the means of providing ambient or support for human growth and maturity. As a starting point, I thought to draw on Michael Casey’s treatment of the subject in this book GRACE, On the Journey to God. The topic deserves two or three sessions so I will touch on a few aspects of it here.
Casey begins by drawing on the thought of a professor of psychology, Nicholas Humphrey, who shows how:
“the emergence of creative intelligence in human beings correlates with community living… This is because essential tasks are shared, there is more leisure, more time to think of creative solutions, the possibility of pooling knowledge and experience, the possibility of collaboration on tasks too great for one, and the incremental growth of knowledge from one generation to the next.”
Again and again in recent years I have heard of how the young are in search of authentic community. Communication has greatly increased with the growth of modern technology but this does not necessary mean that it provides the caring and loving atmosphere in which the young are able to humanly grow and reach maturity. This I suspect is not just the case for the young but is the crying need of all who are searching for creative solutions for their own inner growth and the urgent issues of our time such as the effects of climate change, the growing divide between the rich and poor, the rising occurrence of violence in our society etc.
Pope Francis has often reminded us of the value of applying the gospel to our everyday lives, of carrying the gospel into our places of work and family life. For us living the monastic way vocation this means applying the Good News to every aspect of our lives. The Word of God to which we are exposed all day long is to resonate in us wherever we may be and especially in our relationships throughout the day.
This will inevitably demand some renunciation on our part both externally and internally. As Casey says of the newcomer to our life:
The recruit is required to abandon components of the lifestyle that was previously followed.. [like] relinquishing some of their opportunities for social media. Internally, there are other more fundamental demands: adopting means appropriate to the common goal of the group, cultivating appropriate beliefs and values, having a different attitude to sexuality, .. to authority, .. to self-assertion, ..to others. Underlying all this is the challenge of being open to the mystery of an invisible world, where the rules and expectations current in ambient society are not always relevant.
There is a renunciation that continues throughout our monastic life. While this demands a lot of detachment, it is inspired and sought after because of a religious experience that has taken place in our lives. St. Gregory the Great pointed this out long ago. We are in search of God because we have been deeply touched by a divine initiative. We became willing to give up whatever because of something far superior having taken hold of us. The surrender may demand more than we ever thought possible at the beginning of our monastic lives, but with faith we are able to stay the course. Its end is eternal life in a divine embrace.
A lot of things may change over the years but there is real value in recalling from time to time what inspired our undertaking of this way of life. God’s grace never falters, what moved us in our early years gathers momentum, penetrating every aspect of our lives, some of which we only gradually become aware of. While this will be challenging, perhaps even threatening at times, it becomes wonderfully liberating as we allow God’s own love to heal all our wounds. We in turn, become messengers of healing love to all those around us.
Casey writes that:
“Because Western culture is individualistic and other cultures are fast becoming so, most of us have been formed in this way… The opposite of individualism is mutuality: living in the context of others. When individualism yields to mutuality, selfishness is replaced by sensitivity, conflict is replaced by harmony, stalemate is replaced by dialogue, obstinacy is replaced by adaptability, aggression is replaced by patience, withdrawal is replaced by participation, dysphoria is replaced by euphoria. Of course, this beautiful state is not achieved effortlessly; it demands a lot of self-denial on the part of all.”
What inspired so many of us in coming to the monastery is, I believe, this very desire to practice self-denial, confident that it would unite us to the living God. Community life gives us countless opportunities to do this very thing and as we do, we can be sure it will guide us to our desired goal, a participation in God’s own Trinitarian life.