The Holy Father’s homily to the Carthusian monks of Serra San Bruno in Calabria, on Sunday, 9 October, is a message to all who profess the monastic life in the heart of the Church. The commentary in italics are my own.
Pastoral Service and Contemplative Vocation
I would like our meeting to highlight the deep bond that exists between Peter and Bruno, between pastoral service to the Church’s unity and the contemplative vocation in the Church. Ecclesial communion, in fact, demands an inner force, that force which Father Prior has just recalled, citing the expression “captus ab Uno,” ascribed to St Bruno: “grasped by the One,” by God, “Unus potens per omnia,” as we sang in the Vespers hymn. From the contemplative community the ministry of pastors draws a vital sap that comes from God.
This is the premise upon which our little monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle was founded: that from the contemplative community the ministry of pastors, i.e. diocesan priests, draws a vital sap that comes from God. This is why I accepted the challenge of beginning a monastery characterized not only by the worthy celebration of the Divine Praise, but also by daily Eucharistic Adoration for the sanctification of priests.
Seized by the Immense Love of God
“Fugitiva relinquere et aeterna captare”: to abandon transient realities and seek to grasp the eternal. These words from the letter your Founder addressed to Rudolph, Provost of Rheims, contain the core of your spirituality (cf. Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 13): the strong desire to enter in union of life with God, abandoning everything else, everything that stands in the way of this communion, and letting oneself be grasped by the immense love of God to live this love alone.
This is the vocation of every Christian, but in a particular way, it is the vocation of the monk and of the diocesan priest: to be seized by the immense love of God. In our particular expression of Benedictine life, this seizure of the soul by Love takes place, in a privileged way, in adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. The monk or priest who daily exposes himself to the radiance of Our Lord’s Eucharistic Face will come to discover that His Sacred Heart is a burning furnace of Divine Charity. Perseverance in adoration will compel him to surrender to the love of Christ and to lose himself in Its flames. There is no apostolic work more effective and more fruitful than this.
The Monastery: A Well of Living Water
Dear brothers you have found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value (cf. Mt 13:44-46); you have responded radically to Jesus’ invitation: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). Every monastery — male or female — is an oasis in which the deep well, from which to draw “living water” to quench our deepest thirst, is constantly being dug with prayer and meditation. However, the Charterhouse is a special oasis in which silence and solitude are preserved with special care, in accordance with the form of life founded by St Bruno and which has remained unchanged down the centuries. “I live in a rather faraway hermitage… with some religious brothers”, is the concise sentence that your Founder wrote (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4). The Successor of Peter’s Visit to this historical Charterhouse is not only intended to strengthen those of you who live here but the entire Order in its mission which is more than ever timely and meaningful in today’s world.
My vocation, and that of my brothers, is to persevere, humbly and patiently, in allowing the deep well of living water to be dug out within our own souls, so that others, especially priests, may come to the monastery and drink deeply of the supernatural stream that irrigates it. This can happen, as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face teaches us, without any direct contact between the monks and the priests for whom we offer our lives. The irrigation is, as it were, subterranean; it is, nonetheless, extensive, and its effects are far-reaching.
Virtuality and Reality; Noise and Silence
Technical progress, markedly in the area of transport and communications, has made human life more comfortable but also more keyed up, at times even frantic. Cities are almost always noisy, silence is rarely to be found in them because there is always a lingering background noise, in some areas even at night. In the recent decades, moreover, the development of the media has spread and extended a phenomenon that had already been outlined in the 1960s: virtuality that risks getting the upper hand over reality. Unbeknownst to them, people are increasingly becoming immersed in a virtual dimension because of the audiovisual messages that accompany their life from morning to night.
The youngest, who were already born into this condition, seem to want to fill every empty moment with music and images, as for fear of feeling this very emptiness. This is a trend that has always existed, especially among the young and in the more developed urban contexts but today it has reached a level such as to give rise to talk about anthropological mutation. Some people are no longer capable of remaining for long periods in silence and solitude.
Increasingly, the monastic way of life is difficult for men to embrace, precisely because it deals not in virtuality, but in reality. Saint Benedict’s Twelve Steps of Humility are a school of reality. While many of those who come to monasteries experience a true thirst for silence, this true thirst for silence can, paradoxically, coexist with an inability to live in silence. One does not become a monk overnight. One needs patience, perseverance in taking very little steps, and a sense of humour.
Exposure to the Presence of God
I chose to mention this socio-cultural condition because it highlights the specific charism of the Charterhouse as a precious gift for the Church and for the world, a gift that contains a deep message for our life and for the whole of humanity. I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, “expose” themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent “void,” which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most royal Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every created thing: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones…. God, Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.
Saint John of the Cross and Mother Mectilde de Bar would recognize themselves in the Holy Father’s teaching here. To the senses, exposure to the presence of God appears to be exposure to nothing. Indeed, it is exposure to No Thing because, beyond all things grasped by the senses, there is the Source and Fullness of Being, the Adorable Trinity. Similarly, to the intellect, exposure to the presence of God is perceived as nothing that can be processed and conceptualized. There is a point beyond which human understanding cannot go. That point — encounter with the Presence of the Living God — is the object of the monk’s seeking.
The Monk Takes a Risk
The monk, in leaving all, “takes a risk,” as it were: he exposes himself to solitude and silence in order to live on nothing but the essential, and precisely in living the essential he also finds a deep communion with his brethren, with every human being.
Mother Mectilde-du-Saint-Sacrement understood and dared to live this risk in Eucharistic Adoration. One who adores Our Lord, silent and concealed beneath the sacramental veils, discovers the mystery of a God who, in the Sacrament of HIs Love, makes Himself wordless, and accepts to remain alone, utterly dependent upon a creature’s response to His silence and to His desire for company. Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus wrote that to find what is hidden, one must become hidden. So also, to engage with the Eucharistic silence of God, one must become silent; and to engage with the Eucharistic solitude of God, one must embrace solitude. It is a terrible risk.
Vocation: An Ongoing Process
Some might think that it would suffice to come here to take this “leap.” But it is not like this. This vocation, like every vocation, finds an answer in an ongoing process, in the searching of a whole life. Indeed it is not enough to withdraw to a place such as this in order to learn to be in God’s presence. Just as in marriage it is not enough to celebrate the Sacrament to become effectively one but it is necessary to let God’s grace act and to walk together through the daily routine of conjugal life, so becoming monks requires time, practice and patience, “in a divine and persevering vigilance,” as St Bruno said, they “await the return of their Lord so that they might be able to open the door for him as soon as he knocks” (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4); and the beauty of every vocation in the Church consists precisely in this: giving God time to act with his Spirit and to one’s own humanity to form itself, to grow in that special state of life according to the measure of the maturity of Christ.
I want my own sons, the young brothers in my monastery, to read this passage and take it to heart. It is as if it was spoken to them personally, and written for their benefit. The Holy Father has an amazing understanding of the monastic vocation. It is, he says, “an ongoing process.” “Becoming monks,” he says, “requires time, practice, and patience.” The monastic life is, in effect, akin to the daily routine of conjugal life, for it is bearing together the sweet yoke of Christ.
A Whole Life Barely Suffices
In Christ there is everything, fullness; we need time to make one of the dimensions of his mystery our own. We could say that this is a journey of transformation in which the mystery of Christ’s resurrection is brought about and made manifest in us, a mystery to which the word of God in the biblical Reading from the Letter to the Romans has recalled us this evening: the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and will give life even to our mortal bodies (cf. Rom 8:11) is the One who also brings about our configuration to Christ in accordance with each one’s vocation, a journey that unwinds from the baptismal font to death, a passing on to the Father’s house. In the world’s eyes it sometimes seems impossible to spend one’s whole life in a monastery but in fact a whole life barely suffices to enter into this union with God, into this essential and profound Reality which is Jesus Christ.
The monastic adventure is never-ending. It is the itinerary of one who, at every moment, says with Christ, “I go to the Father.”
The Church Needs You
I have come here for this reason, dear Brothers who make up the Carthusian Community of Serra San Bruno! To tell you that the Church needs you and that you need the Church. Your place is not on the fringes: no vocation in the People of God is on the fringes. We are one body, in which every member is important and has the same dignity, and is inseparable from the whole. You too, who live in voluntary isolation, are in the heart of the Church and make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through her veins.
Benedictine enclosure differs in its concrete expression from the solitude of the Carthusian. Both forms of real and effective separation from the world are, nonetheless, ordered to the vocation revealed to Saint Thérèse, and reiterated here by the Holy Father: to be “love in the heart of the Church and to make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through her veins.”
With the Virgin Mary
Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis [the Cross stands still while the world is spinning], your motto says. The Cross of Christ is the firm point in the midst of the world’s changes and upheavals. Life in a Charterhouse shares in the stability of the Cross which is that of God, of God’s faithful love. By remaining firmly united to Christ, like the branches to the Vine, may you too, dear Carthusian brothers, be associated to his mystery of salvation, like the Virgin Mary who stabat (stood) beneath the Cross, united with her Son in the same sacrifice of love.
Thus, like Mary and with her, you too are deeply inserted in the mystery of the Church, a sacrament of union of men with God and with each other. In this you are unusually close to my ministry. May the Most Holy Mother of the Church therefore watch over us and the holy Father Bruno always bless your community from Heaven. Amen.
There is no authentic expression of monastic life that is not essentially Marian. To stand with Our Blessed Lady at the foot of the Cross is to abide close to the wellspring of life, the pierced side of Jesus. It is to receive from His open Heart the Water and the Blood that others refuse, neglect, or pass by. It is to make reparation by surrendering to Love Crucified, and by consenting to feel, in some small way, the blade of the sword of sorrow that pierced the Virgin Mother’s Immaculate Heart.