Convocation of the General Chapter 2017: Spirituality in the Camaldolese Monastic Life

Several of you have asked to see a copy of this and so, with don Alessandro’s permission, I am posting here his letter convoking our General Chapter at Camaldoli this September. We had several discussions of this letter in chapter here at the Hermitage, and parts of this letter will also be reprinted in our next newsletter as it is salient to its theme. This is my favorite line: “To live the highest in the deepest in communion”––which I suggested to Alessandro could be the sub-theme.

The Holy Hermitage and Monastery of Camaldoli
January 18th, 2017
Dear Priors, Vice-priors and Brothers,

We have now begun the last year of the current six-year term (October 2011–October 2017), and so we must prepare for the next General Chapter. Such preparation includes not only the institutional events (visitations, election of delegates, etc.), but also an examination of the fraternal life within our communities and a serious reflection on the significance of our monastic life and our spiritual quest.
As for the institutional acts, I have arranged for the anticipated canonical visitations to the communities of our monastic Congregation with the General Council, and we are preparing the draft program for the Chapter itself.
The assembling of the General Chapter
I invite you to read the articles of the Constitutions which address the nature of the General Chapter, its tasks, the convoking, the participants by right, and the election of delegates of the sui juris houses as well as the universal delegates (Const. 194-227).
Above all I would like to call attention to the two principal elements that characterize the convoking of the General Chapter:

  • it is the supreme authority and power of the Congregation, and it must preserve and cherish the common good of all communities;
  • it must guarantee fidelity to the original spirit of the Congregation, while strengthening its spiritual vitality.

Problems of recent years
The problems we have confronted several times at General Chapters in the last years are not new: the decrease of vocations in our communities, monastic initiation and formation, the increasing age of many confreres, the multiplication of commitments, the accelerating pace of our personal and communal time, fraternal relations, the ministry of hospitality, the issue of the economic situation in several houses, etc., and many other issues.

The bottom line: roots and significance
But I sincerely believe that we must not lose sight of the basic issue. In it are interwoven two essential elements: on the one hand, the roots of our Camaldolese monastic vocation in the specific spirituality of St. Romuald, keeping in mind the thousand-year history of our Congregation; and, on the other hand, the quest and the tension, personal and communal, to be able to express its deep spiritual significance. We have already spoken on other occasions about this legacy and task, which are verified through our presence in the Church and in the history of men and women today.
This is not simply to imitate or repeat the Romualdian-Camaldolese mentality according to ancient and, in many respects, obsolete forms, but to interpret it, resubmit it, and live it:

  1. in the light of a spirituality based on the kerygma of the Easter covenant;
  2. within the queries and spiritual sensiblity that are quickly emerging from the existential, relational, and evolutionary experience of our present age.

Some spiritual guidance in our day
It seems interesting to observe the living spiritual quest that one can notice on several levels today. I think I see––among others––two spiritual orientations that are attracting the attention of many people:

  1. The “spirituality with open eyes” as a mystic of the justice of God. I refer to the idea of J. Baptist Metz: “The Christian doctrine of redemption,” he writes, “dramatized the question of guilt in Christianity and lessened the question of suffering. But that has not crippled the most basic sensitivity to the suffering of others, nor has it obscured the biblical vision of the great justice of God … Have Christians not distanced themselves too quickly and too soon from the biblical appeal to matters of justice? … Have we not, too early and without worrying about it any further, banished the cry of people that wells up from the profound histories of their world from our language and experience of Christian faith? … These are eyes wide open, alert eyes that take a stand, responding to the senselessness of innocent and unjust suffering … The mystic of compassion does not aim at a blind experience of God that is devoted exclusively to one’s own interiority, but to the disruptive experience that occurs when dealing with others, in the dynamics of interpersonal encounters, face to face. This is an experience that is mystical and political at the same time … This Christian “spirituality with open eyes” does not deal only with public common life … Wherever this spirituality is in act, it teaches, primarily to Christians, that we must go and meet each other at “eye level,” face to face, more than what would happen in our community experiences … It is becoming increasingly important today for believers to share experiences with one another, an exchange in which the story of faith and one’s own life story can come together … However, is this not indeed the essential criteria that would be the starting point for new forms of ecclesial communities?”
  1. An eco-spirituality that leads us back to the earth, and to the entire world of the life and the mystery of the cosmos/creation. This spirituality invites us to live in the ecological era in which interdependence becomes paramount (our life, too, depends on the sun, water, plants, etc.), participating in the evolutionary transformation of every being. According to this spirituality, the main problem in our crisis is that an insufficient number of human beings have grown to levels of post-conventional, planetary consciousness in which they would be spurred on to care for the global community. This requires a profound conversion involving a new personal conscience and a new vision of the human person and creation: we can never truly respect and experience the supreme beauty and harmony of nature and the cosmos if we do not begin with ourselves and the world around us. In light of many authors it could be said that the cosmic unfolding of the universe reveals that every part is linked and in communion with all other parts to form a whole through a gradual unification of multiplicity. Hence the idea that everyone may celebrate with one’s own life the sacrament of hospitality and cosmic unity, and cultivate slow growth, silence, meditation and prayer.

I’ve drawn attention to these two perspectives of the spiritual life as current examples that can remind us that there is a living and articulated elaboration of spirituality both inside the church as well as in other diverse and unexpected human environments.

But I wonder: what is the Camaldolese spirituality that we monks and nuns have to offer to men and women of our time? What is the spiritual tension that animates us, that we are living at a personal and communal level?

The intuition of Karl Rahner and the urgency of an answer

In other words, just as Karl Rahner had forseen well that “the believer of tomorrow will be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or will not be” (1966), so the same insight also applies to monkhood. Allow me to make some quick considerations:

  • I believe that we cannot defer the matter until tomorrow, but we must sense the urgency of a response in our today.
  • I believe that we will have to envision a more precise spiritual life, starting with the monastic tradition and proceeding towards the future without obliterating the remembrance of the past.

Therefore, we are called to adapt our Camaldolese monastic life, living out a meaningful spirituality that, finding its roots in God’s Word and the Liturgy, will:

  • be Paschal, sapiential, ecumenical;
  • promote a new awareness of ecological connection and interconnection, living human relational energy empathetically with all living beings (water, rocks, soil, plants, animals and human beings);
  • accompany the ongoing human-spiritual evolution with silence, solitude, lectio, and prayer within a genuine eucharistic and community fellowship;
  • participate in the processes of transformation and achieve true justice,
  • bringing and uniting each part into the whole.

In this period of history I feel that there is a risk that Camaldolese monastic life may lose its most meaningful light, and that the salt of Romuald’s monastic experience may lose its taste. We have to keep our outlook on life open to mystery, and to the questions and audacity of faith.

During the following months I will try to return to these issues, which are particularly close to my heart, because I would love for a reflection to be started within our communities that would lead to making some concrete decisions towards a style of our monastic life that is filled with an increased spiritual significance: to live the highest (God) in the deepest (soul) in communion with the whole.

After consultations with the General Council, I hereby convoke the General Chapter from September 27, 2017 to October 15, 2017 in the Monastery of Camaldoli (Arezzo – Italy), whose theme will be: “Spirituality in Camaldolese Monastic Life.”

I remember you all with brotherly affection and ask God’s blessings for all of us.

Alessandro Barban, Prior General

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