ENG – SERMON CLOSING MASS GENERAL CHAPTER – September 23, 2022
‘There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven’. (Eccl. 3,1)
There was a time, brothers and sisters, to begin this General Chapter and there is a time to close this General Chapter as well.
There is a time of working papers and preparation. There is a time of commissions, reports and votes. There is a time of arrival and a time of farewells. There is a time of elevating houses to a higher rank and a time of closing houses. There is a time of discussion and a time of unanimity. A time of joy and a time of sorrow. A time of great energy and a time of weariness. There is a time for tears, a time for laughter, a time for grief and even a time for flowers. Everything has its time!
Now is the time to return to our communities and we are sent on our way together (syn-odos) with the questions: ‘who do the crowds say I am?’… ‘who do you say I am?’ For me today, these questions of Jesus sound like: what do all these documents, meetings and words of the General Chapter say who I am? Is it about paving the way for a future?(John Baptist) Is it about fire? (Elijah) Is it about the prophetic dimension?(the ancient prophets) Or is it just a repetition of what has already been.
What do I say about this general chapter? For me personally, was it about Jesus, the Christ of God?
There was the time of dreams. The dreams of communio, partecipatio, missio and formatio. Dreams from all over the world that could be summed up in that one, shared dream about prioritising the contemplative dimension of our lives. There was the time when Pope Francis gave his personal commentary on all our dreaming. He placed our dreams in the heart of Jesus and thus pointed us insistently to the Christological dimension of our lives. After all, all our dreaming, all our toil, is vanity if it does not bring us to the Christ. Jesus does exactly the same thing today. Who do you say that I am?
Qohelet’s reading on time brings us back to the Easter vigil. Every year we bless the Paschal candle, the luminous symbol of the risen Christ in our midst, with the words: ‘Christ, yesterday and today. The beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age and forever. Amen’. This burning light in the midst of our times, sometimes strong, sometimes weak, is exactly what Ecclesiastes wants to tell us.
Many times during this General Chapter I have heard: where is the Order going? How should we deal with all these difficulties? How to live in these times? Qohelet’s words help us to live with sobriety, maturity and responsibility in the times in which God has placed us. For we must never forget that time – yes this particular time! – is God’s gift to us! It is good to face soberly that there is a time for all things. It is not exceptional that there is a time of being born and a time of dying. This sober observation can be difficult because ideally we either want to deny life or embrace death. It takes a maturity to accept changing times and know when to let go and when to start again.
Ecclesiastes teaches us to take responsibility in the alternation of time. When we need to let go, we also have the responsibility to do it. Just as much as we have the responsibility to let thigns go and take on new things. It is good that there is a time for everything. Sobriety and responsibility help us to take time as it is and not complain all the time.
These words of Qohelet seem fatalistic but they are not. It is unfortunate that the first reading today stops just when Ecclesiastes says: ‘He has made everything beautiful in its time’. There is a beauty in everything. These are surprising words and even shocking words. because what is beautiful about all that talk during the general chapter? What is beautiful about all those painful moments we experienced. Yes, we understand that the good moments can be beautiful but is everything beautiful in its own time? Even the most painful moments?
This hidden beauty in everything brings us back to the gospel question. Who do you say that I am? Christ came in the time and, thanks to his resurrection, he still remains present in our time. When we are able to discover Christ in everything or let Him speak through everything, it is true that everything is beautiful in its time. Great is this discovery of the beauty of God in Christ in the changing times of our existence. Is that not the prophetic and contemplative dimension of our Cistercian life together?
Brothers and sisters, we are sent home with this word of God. A word that helps us fulfil our dream of prioritising the contemplative life.
In everything that happens to us, may we discover the beauty of the Christ of God. That is our missio! To Him belong time and eternity. That is the philosophy of Christ! The only and true synodal way: He walks together with us in this time!