Third Canonry Chapter
Santa Maria de la Vid
August 25, 2014
As we enter
our third year as a young Norbertine abbey, the youngest in our almost 900-year
tradition as Norbertines, it perhaps is helpful to remind ourselves why we are
here. Some place along the line, for a
number of good reasons perhaps, it has been unfashionable to say that the one
and only purpose of religious life is the single-minded search for God. Other answers were suggested to justify our
life: ministry, public witness,
community needs, and so forth.
them, however, seem to survive the heat of day.
At rock bottom, we are called to religious life only to seek God. Only to seek God. That answer stuns in its simplicity, in its
universality, in its demands. The truth
of that answer changes everything.
life is not just another way of life. It
is a way of life intentionally organized to pursue the human quest for
God is the concept that brooks no other greater than itself. It’s the question that undergirds every day
of our life, the longing for which any kind of loss, any amount of change, any
degree of effort is acceptable.
however, too often been seduced by other explanations for religious life, all
of them valuable and all of them true to a certain degree. We have sought to be “relevant.” We have set out to be “incarnational.” We have given ourselves untiringly to “the
option for the poor.” We have devoted
ourselves to “the transformation of structures”. We have evangelized and renewed and revised
and reformed until we’re pretty tired.
And all of
those commitments are good and necessary, holy and worthy of attention,
fundamental and imperative. But through
it all, one thing and one thing only can sustain religious life, can nourish
religious life, and can justify religious life:
the religious must be a person who first and foremost, always and
everywhere, in whatever circumstance, seeks God and God alone.
religious must be a person who sees God and God alone in all of this confusion
in our world and in all the uncertainty that surrounds us. The religious must be the person who speaks
God and God alone in whatever the situation.
It is not what we do that makes us religious. It is why we do it and how we do it that
sounds the bell of authenticity in a world that pretty much dismisses us.
seeking God and the reign of God that makes religious activity really
religious. Being steeped in the heart of
God is the essential religious activity.
Everything else simply follows from that.
totally committed to the spiritual quest means to respond over and over again
to whatever beckons us beyond where we are, to something even closer to the
heart of God for us. Where God is, the
spiritual quest demands that we go there.
Where God is not, the spiritual quest demands that we bring to that
situation the vision of what that moment lacks.
sign that something has gone wrong with religious life, then, is when work, any
work becomes more important than the quest itself and what the quest demands of
us here and now. The work of teaching,
the work of healing, and the work of pastoring are not as important as the
are, whatever we do, we must do it with the greater will of God in mind. It is not a particular work that must
captivate us as religious, however good that work might be, however much it is
needed. What must captivate us is the
God whom we hold in our hearts. It is
the God we find in prayer, in people, and in the transubstantiation of the
planet into the reign of God that must impel our life.
of our life as religious is then the pursuit of the spiritual quest, the
preservation of the spiritual questions, the articulation of the spiritual
challenges from age to age, in whatever form and whatever season.
heard a Benedictine speak at a conference over the internet. The question asked was what was the strength
of her Benedictine Community. The answer
was we are small, we are local, and we are autonomous. That’s our strength. But she added, but it could be our weakness too
if we allow it to be.
We live in a
competitive world that reckons value in numbers and measures its mark by its
size. We stake our advertising claims on
the dimensions of the thing, rather than on its quality. You hear phrases like “the largest institution
of its kind”… “the biggest graduation class in history”… “the most extensive
system in the world”…
in our culture we know almost nothing about the vitality of smallness, let
alone the desirability of smallness. We
know hardly anything about the hand of God in situations of crisis. We know pitiably little about the power of a
single person whose heart is on fire in contrast to the ineffectiveness of many
who are apathetic. In our culture we
specialize in size, not necessarily commitment.
It is no
wonder that religious life is so stunned by its recent loss of numbers. No doubt its value is being gauged in terms of
size by many. No wonder we’re talking
about the inevitability of its decline when we should be talking about the
effects of its smallness, positive as well as negative.
It has been
suggested that what religious life needs at the present time is a spirituality
of smallness, the understanding that the function of religious life is to be
voice and call, presence and prophet to the world, not simply a labor force.
The noted pioneering
anthropologist, Margaret Mead once wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of people
can change the world. Indeed, that is
all that ever has.” So consumed are we
as a Church, as a culture, by the seductiveness of numbers that a spirituality
of smallness, a call to poverty of spirit, escapes us entirely. We too easily see as failure what may be our
reduction of the size of religious communities, ours included, has brought to
religious life the opportunity to begin to live in new ways, with new insights
and new appreciations. Never before in
the recent history of religious life, for instance, has it been so clear how
important older members are to the group or how competent younger people
are. Everyone counts now. As a result, both the level of maturity and
the sense of ongoing life and formation have increased in communities. Strategies designed to bring order to larger
groups have given way to more personal processes to the genuine appreciation
and discovery of individuals. Our
community days are just one example.
But this is
an important moment for those whose souls are still alive with God. Smallness requires more life of us than we
have ever known before. It leads us to
be ourselves, to give everything we’ve got, to know the power of God at work in
us, far beyond our own strength, far beyond our own vision. Smallness gives us the opportunity, the
reason, the mandate to examine our lives, to begin again, to pull up what is
best in us and to share it broadly. Smallness
throws us back, whole and entire, small and trusting, on the living God. And life in God is anything but dead. It is glory, beyond glory, beyond glory.
said, I think we can draw hope and courage from the almost 900-year heritage of
religious life in which we are rooted.
We are encouraged, of course, that two of our young brothers, Stephen
and Graham will make their solemn commitment to our way of life on the Feast of
If you know
anything about the history of our Norbertine Order, you know that there have
been many ups and downs, ebbs and flows, dyings and risings in our long
history. We are presently 45 Canonries,
ours being the youngest in the Order, represented in 23 countries and on all
continents. We come out of a whole host
of different cultures with different skin colors, languages and theological
I was pleased that at the 2006 General Chapter held in Freising, Germany at
which Bob Campbell and I represented our community, we were able to adopt a
common vision-mission-statement. This vision-mission-statement
expresses our self-understanding as Canons Regular. Our call as religious is based on the grace
of Baptism that was given to us through God’s gracious goodness and mercy. Baptism is the basic sacrament that binds us
together with all Christians and commits us at the same time to a life
dedicated to God.
But to this
general Christian call is added the call to religious life, which responds to
the Christian choice in a way that is more radical and in accord with the early
Church. The way of life of Canons
Regular is realized in a life in community that depends upon sharing and
life with one another in liturgy and ministry, in contemplation and action, all
centered in a living religious community that knows that it is inwardly rooted
in Christ and outwardly missioned to the people. This model of life together, as you know, is
expressed in the words that were found in the Acts of the Apostles concerning
the first Christian community and that are found at the beginning of the Rule
of Augustine, our Rule: namely, “becoming
of one heart and one mind on the way to God.”
aspect of community is especially
stressed and the goal of monastic and canonical life clearly marked out. It is namely to live and strive together
toward God, in which this “together” first of all means our own relationships
in our resident community but it reaches beyond that, especially to our Oblates
and Associates and to the people whom we encounter in our various ministerial
This vision-mission-statement situates canonical
life within the people of God. So, what
is our vision and mission? May we read
its formulation by the 2006 General Chapter.
Drawn by our merciful and Triune God,
we are called as baptized
to follow the poor and risen Christ
in a radical and apostolic way of life
according to the Gospel, the Rule of Saint Augustine
and the charism of St. Norbert,
the founder of our Premonstratensian Order.
Our way of life is marked by:
a lifelong seeking after God through fraternal community,
a never-ending conversion by giving ourselves to the church
of our profession in communion with the self-emptying of
in imitation of Mary pondering God’s Word,
and in ceaseless prayer and service at the altar.
From the choir and altar we go to serve the human family
in a spirit of simplicity, hospitality, reconciliation and
for the benefit of the Church and the world,
especially where Christ is found among the poor, the
and among those who do not know him.
We pray that what God’s Spirit has begun in us
may be made perfect in the day of Christ Jesus.
four areas of practice that have developed from our tradition and history. They are four pillars of our life, if you
will. They are: a life-long searching
for God, a constant conversion of life, a contemplation of the word of God, as
Mary was able to do, and never-ending prayer and service at the altar. It is here that our contemplative life in
community is fed, is nourished.
together is “the prayer of the Church.”
It is ecclesial prayer. Each one
of our canonries is an ecclesiola, a
church in miniature, with the altar in the center, which represents Christ and
on which we as Canons make our solemn profession. This prayer always takes place in
church. In other words, it is always
public and everyone is invited to participate in it. Therefore, the Liturgy of the Hours is prayed
in the church and for the Church, for the concerns and needs of the people, for
the world and its manifold need for salvation, for reconciliation, and for peace. Simply stated, the Liturgy of the Hours, the
Prayer of the Church and our daily celebration of the Eucharist is considered
the principal focus of canonical life.
to the four-fold unfolding of the contemplative side of our religious life is
five important mission thrusts in which we, as Canons Regular, are called to
invest ourselves. They are: our service of radical hospitality, our
service for reconciliation and peace, our service for the building up of the
community and the Church, our service for the poor and the suffering, and our
call to evangelize those who “do not yet know God.” These could be considered the five milestones
for our pastoral, missionary and active work.
from the beginning, Norbertines have devoted themselves to parochial and
pastoral care of people, our Norbertine Order is generally considered a
pastoral Order. That is also true in our
Canonry in New Mexico, but not exclusively.
We have two vibrant parishes in Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary and St.
Augustine. But we also offer pastoral care
to the sick and dying in hospitals and elsewhere, and involve ourselves in a
whole host of ministries that relate to social justice, ecumenical cooperation,
theological and spiritual education, spiritual direction and counseling,
etc. Most importantly we have opened our
Abbey through our Hermitage Retreat to offer people space where they can refuel
and re-orient themselves.
our vision to our mission, we no doubt encounter the sharpest challenge that
marks us as Canons Regular, namely to live out this tension between
“contemplation” and “action.” We are
called to hold onto this tension in daily life and so work on balancing it in
its two basic parts. To balance it in a
life “of one mind and one heart on the way to God” and in a life of ministry
and service to God’s people.
overarching vision-mission statement of our international Norbertine Order finds localized expression
in our own Abbey’s mission statement.
Inspired by those two statements and internalizing the values they
express, allows us to offer the local Church a young abbey with a distinct
important for us not to forget that in large part we are who we are and we do
what we do because of two covenants we have established: a covenant of brotherhood with the
Mananthavady community in India and a covenant of friendship with our
oblates. We should not underestimate
what our three Indian brothers and our four oblates have generously contributed
and continue to contribute to our life and ministry by their presence. They are all Norbertines and in some ways our
young abbey reflects the diversity of people who gathered around Norbert in the
Valley of Prémontré in those early days of the founding
of our Order.
As a young
abbey in a pastoral Order, we are called to develop and to refine a
spirituality of ministry. In that
regard, I was struck by the address Pope Francis gave on February 27 of this
past year to the congregation of bishops at the Vatican. As you know this congregation makes
recommendations to the pope about future bishops around the world. The pope said that he wants bishops who are
“genuine pastors” and who “would argue with God on behalf of their
people.” The pope said he did not want
prelates, new bishops, who were mainly concerned with doctrinal matters.
Francis said, needs “guardians of doctrine not so as to measure how far the
world is from doctrinal truth, but to appeal to the world, to charm it with the
beauty of love and to seduce it with the freedom bestowed by the gospel.” He went on to say, “the Church does not need
apologists for its causes nor crusaders for its battles, but sewers, humble and
confident of the truth who… trust in its power.”
defining his meaning and ministry, said, “My flesh is food for the life of the
world.” We can easily miss what’s
contained in that. Notice that Jesus is
not saying that his flesh is food for the minister or the life of the
Church. His body is food for the life of
the world and the world is larger than the minister or the Church. Jesus came into the world to be eaten up by
the world. It’s no accident that he was
born in a manger, a feeding trough, a place where animals come to eat.
We need to
keep that horizon in front of us always as we do ministry. Perhaps the biggest danger in ministry is not
so much that we will burn out, but that we will be too self-concerned and too
self-protected to live the vulnerability that lies at the heart of Jesus’
is meant to be vulnerable, vulnerable enough to let himself or herself be
wounded, taken for granted and ultimately, “eaten up” by the needs of the
world. If we don’t constantly remind
ourselves of that, our ministries very easily become a matter of feeding ourselves, looking good to others, or
creating safe, little enclaves against the world.
to Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation.
Francis writes: “More than by
fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining
shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules
which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our
door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, “Give them
something to eat.” (Mark 6: 37) (49)
In his address
to religious superiors this past year, Francis noted that while a radical
choice is asked of all Christians, religious are called to follow the Lord in a
special manner. He challenged us by
saying that we are meant to “wake up the world.” We live in a broken world and in a broken
Church and that is why the new evangelization is so important. And we’re called to be part of that
movement. One thing all of us have in
common is the desire to love and to be loved (especially by the ones we
love). Love brings a great deal of joy
and fulfillment, but it also includes the risks of misunderstanding, conflict,
division and alienation.
The need of
healing, forgiveness and reconciliation is also common to all of us. The key to meeting this need is in our
willingness to accept our own brokenness and vulnerability, our dependence on
God’s love and forgiveness—and in our acceptance of others in spite of their
faults and failings. Opportunities for
healing, forgiveness and reconciliation arise every day in different ways in
our community, in our ministries, in our parishes, at the hospital ministering
to the sick and dying. Indeed, they
arise everywhere we go and with everyone we encounter.
What we do
with these opportunities can help us connect with others at a deeper level. Jesus tells us that we must do more than
co-exist with others; he’s calling us to live in intimacy with God and with one
another. He used the imagery of the
grapes and their connectedness to the vine to teach his disciples about intimacy.
(John 15:1-6) That image should have
special significance for us as members of Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey. The invitation to connect or reconnect is
what the new evangelization is about.
Spahn wrote a wonderful article on hospitality as a path to evangelization in
the current Pastoral Liturgy Magazine. It indicates how that effort is unfolding at
Holy Rosary on numerous levels.
is calling us to redouble our efforts in our dialogue with others and the
world. That effort is
Christo-centric. It derives from a real love for Christ and his Church.
Catholics do not practice their faith and abstain from the table of the
Lord. Some of them have simply drifted
away; some feel excluded from the Church or have been hurt by the Church; some
have been affected by the abuse of authority or the sex abuse scandals; some
are divorced and remarried Catholics.
Pope Francis’ openness on these issues is infectious. His argument that the Church should be open
to all people, that she should take people where they are, is very different
from the attitude of “you are either in or out.”
So we are
being called to be part of the new evangelization. I think we were all moved and challenged when
we spent several community days discussing Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation,
The Joy of the Gospel. In this context there is one quote that I’ve
come back to time and again. It has also
been part of my prayer. Pope Francis
writes: “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with the doors
always open. One concrete sign of such
openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone,
moved by the Spirit comes there looking for God, he or she would not find a
other doors that should not be closed either,” continues Pope Francis. “Everyone can share in some way in the life of
the Church; everyone can be part of the community. Nor should the doors of the sacraments be
closed for simply any reason. This is
especially true of the sacrament that is itself ‘the door’: Baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of
the sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine
and nourishment for the weak.”
goes on to say, “These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are
called to consider with prudence and boldness.
Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a toll house; it’s the
house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their
problems.” (47) It seems to me that those are words worth
pondering and praying over, again and again.
When I was
thinking about this talk in the context of the new evangelization, I was moved
one night to sit down and list everyone’s name in the abbey, including our men
in formation and our oblates. Then I
listed all of the wide-ranging contacts and ministries each of us has in the
local Church. And I’m sure I did not
list them all because I obviously do not know them all. But I found it an important exercise for me
to become more conscious of the impact that the men and women of our small abbey
are having in the Archdiocese. I believe
that our ministries flow out of a life that is being lived with integrity and compassion. And those ministries are not only deeply
appreciated but are also bearing fruit.
This is not
to forget the important contribution which our abbey land, our quiet
environment, our communal prayer, and our diverse buildings offer to the
seekers, retreatants, and visitors. This
is the hospitality of a sacred space animated by our presence.
So we now
move to the major top of the day:
Vocations. As I suggested, we
should develop a spirituality of smallness.
There is small, and then there is small.
We have no desire to follow the road to disappearance.
As you know,
the vast majority of religious communities in the U.S. are facing the challenge
of fewer and fewer vocations. A whole
host of reasons have contributed to that downturn. Percentage-wise, as a small abbey, we have
one-third of our members in formation.
While we are happy about that we know that it is not near enough.
for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) offers some insight into what
common characteristics are identifiable in those religious communities that are
attracting candidates. What are candidates
looking for? You have an executive
summary of the CARA report and I hope you spent some time with it.
Religious Vocation Conference has published a Culture of Vocations Assessment
Tool developed by a Benedictine from St. Meinrad’s Abbey. We will utilize that tool in a process to
assess our own vocation culture at the abbey.
Frances Vogel Montano, the former director of the Pastoral Ministries
division of our Archdiocese and a founder of the Ecumenical Institute for
Ministry, has happily agreed to facilitate our discussion around vocations.