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the common life
May he lead us all together to eternal life!
Photos : J. C. Ciceri et Ph. Maupetit
We lead a common life. That is to say both a life in common and a life that is all in all rather banal. THereis a technical term to express it: a cenobitic life. A brief look at artistic representations of Paradise allows better understanding… the blessed are always together and give themselves up to mundane activities: in Paradise there are no solitaries and no heroes.
It is the same in the monastery. The ordinary round of our days, in its passing from meal to rest to work to prayer, is the place where supernatural life is received. The Rule does not ask us to accomplish great works, nor excessive asceticism. It demands, by contrast, a humble faithfulness in little things.
We take on the ordinary in order to lead it to its assumption. All the places of life are common places; there is no private space. We pray together in the oratory, we eat together in the refectory, we read together in the scriptorium . . . The presence of the brothers is at the same time encouragement, comfort, and exhortation. It is also the place of battle.
How will you be gentle if there is no one to oppose your desires…
Basil of Caesares, Long Rule, no. 7
In this intense fraternal life, the respect for silence is the guarantee of recollection and respect. In silence, each dwells in God. In silence, welcoming the word of a brother or welcoming the Word of God become possible: silence is the choice for a quality of relationship.
It is also necessary to recognize that words are often used for “cursing those who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9 NRSV) and thus it is much better to remain silent.
But learning to watch your tongue is a long road: “For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3: 7-8 NRSV) In order to help us tame this wild animal which is the tongue, we have places and times for speaking, and other places and times to keep quiet.
This choice of cenobitic life is also expressed in a way of governance : all the important matters are discussed in community. For those things of less importance, we discuss in specific councils. Each is invited to give his opinion in all humility and submission (Rule of Saint Benedict). In everyday life, it is not only the abbot, but each brother who is able to put into practice the council of the seniors, according to the word of Scripture: do all with council, and, once the thing is done, you will not have reason to repent.
We make the choice to live together until death. Our seniors give witness to long faithfulness: they have endured hard things! They need support and affection during the great trial of old age. The young bring their dynamism. They need to learn the “monastic way.” Brothers of an intermediate age carry the weight of the day, they need the strength of youth and the hope that great age offers. Thus, strengths and weaknesses mesh together harmoniously.