In early times, the daily Chapter was a traditional feature of the monastic timetable. The monks left church at the end of the office of Prime and processed to a room near by, where a portion, or "chapter," of the Rule was read and the abbot commented upon it. It was also the natural occasion for announcements to be made affecting the life of the community and for a blessing to be given upon the day's work. Soon the room itself came to be called "the Chapter Room, or House" or simply "Chapter." Even today some form of this practice exists in many monasteries, including our own. Each month this page will feature a chapter talk given to the Community, as well as news and features. We hope you will visit us regularly.

 
 
 

DONUM DEI ALTISSIMI

I turned to the Veni Creator for the theme of tonight’s reflection.   In the second verse, the Holy Spirit is seen from the perspective of unity: he is the Donum, the supreme gift of God; the fons vivus; the fountain of life or living fountain.  In the third verse, his diversity is brought to our notice : Tu septiformis munere, sevenfold in your gifts ; seven streams, as it were, flowing from the one source of grace.  Tonight, our meditation will focus on some aspects of the Spirit as source of unity.

            There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all who is above all and through all and in all”.   (Eph. 4: 4-6)

            In this passage, Paul has listed the elements of unity, if not in an obvious order.  It suggests strongly that we do not return to God solely as individuals but in union with others, that is, as members of his Body, as members of his Church.   If, then, we go to God with other people, the Church constitutes a visible organism animated by the one Spirit of the Father and the Son.  It is represented variously in Scripture by images all suggestive of unity or oneness; for ex: remnant, field, temple, house, city and bride.  The Pauline image of Body is, however, particularly apt to express a harmonious unity or a unified harmony, constituted by one baptism and realised, built up and nurtured by the one Bread of life, the Body and Blood of the one Saviour.  It has been remarked that Church unity is a given from the first, something present, concrete and historical, not a mere general ideal.  Bl. John Henry Newman never stopped marvelling at the concreteness or givenness of the Church, its objectivity :  “It is really most wonderful to see the divine presence looking out almost into the open streets from the various churches…I never knew what worship was, as an objective fact, till I entered the Catholic Church…the Blessed Sacrament ready for the worshipper even before he enters.  There is nothing which has brought home to me so much the unity of the Church, as the presence of its divine Founder and life wherever I go – all places are, as it were one …”

            The Church’s unity, then, is something that already exists, something effected by the Holy Spirit and not simply by an agreement among ourselves.  We enter into this unity by our faith and baptism, by our sense of the one call to belong to the Lord Jesus, in whose promises we share by the same hope.  Our task then becomes one of preserving this unity, or more precisely, of making what is already there shine forth.  Dom Delatte illustrates our active co-operation in this process by the image of a sheaf of corn, into which the individual stalks are securely bound.  As well as recognising a legitimate plurality in the Church, this figure suggests a  unity.  We are all held together in the bond of peace, which is one of the Spirit’s names.  It is also a mission with which we are entrusted.

            Similar remarks could be made about the community, the little church. It is also something into which we enter by our shared vocation or call, by our voluntary engagement in the common life, by the fact that we are all looking in the same direction at the one Lord. That is why individualism can cause shipwreck to a vocation.  Sharing the one hope of attaining eternal life and walking by the same light of faith, we have a mandate to build up this unity by our attitudes and actions.  Our actual or realised unity depends on our renouncement, first of all, of those things which harm unity.  The nuts and bolts of this process means bidding farewell to selfishness and any form of self-promotion.  Nor can we be fully unified if we hold anything back that we can truly give; if we lock ourselves into isolation or even independence.  As disciples of Christ, we have to act as he does, which means a freely given obedience, a self-giving to God and the other.  We encounter Christ in this other person, a recognition which is related to our common baptism, for by this sacrament we share the same supernatural life.  We recognise by faith the same image of Christ in the other as exists in ourselves.  The meeting with the other, then, constitutes a meeting between ourselves and Christ, as well as with the other who is in Christ and in whom Christ dwells.  Whatever we say to the other, however we look at and act towards her, we say, look at and act towards Christ, so real and unbreakable is our interior bond with our Lord.  The same Spirit and life ought to circulate in the monastery as in the Church. In the Monastery there is one Rule, one way of life, a shared work, one Abbot or Abbess at a time. One word of God on which we are fed; one liturgy, too, which is connected with the one liturgy of heaven.

            Since the Son offers the only adequate worship of the Father, we enter together into his worship; and since we are a community of worshippers, we experience both the hard work and happy result in trying to create a harmonious unity of minds and voices.  We learn how to blend, to efface ourselves before the others and at the same time to take responsibility  - and the judgement to make the distinction.   We might say the same of community life as a whole.  Dom Delatte speaks of a “divine levelling” in monastic life, which, on the one hand eliminates differences, but acknowledges and welcomes them, on the other hand, when they enrich our community living.  Our unity, as in the Church’s unity, is that of an organised body where each member has her meaning and value and contributes to the whole.  All this variety of capacity and function proceeds from the one life of the Spirit; and in the monastic as well as the ecclesial body, there is a faith at work which enables us to penetrate the multiple appearances to reach the one transcendent Lord, who is  “above all and through all and in all.”   This faith, which gives us the standpoint of transcendence, permits us to see and accept the place assigned to ourselves and to others in the Body of the Church and in the monastic ecclesiola.   We may even at times glimpse how that place chosen for us and our sisters in Christ by God is irradiated by his light.  Here is a very faint adumbration of heaven, where our little “society of praise” on earth will be taken up into the Communion of Saints.

            A word about the place of humility and love in this context, though it belongs principally to a discussion of the charisms.  There can be no room for envy, says St Augustine, for “if you love the unity, all that is in it and everything that belongs to anyone is your possession, too.”   Love makes me love the Church or the community in which I live, and within that unity all the charisms are ‘mine’.  And Cantalamessa has a further fine thought : “If you love the unity more than I do, the charism that is given to me is more yours than mine.” It is possible for me to grow complacent or proud about a charism I possess and become a ‘cymbal clashing’ or a ‘noisy gong’.   But, he continues, “because you love, you possess without any danger to yourself what another possesses at great risk.”

            We turn now to the unity of the individual person.  Apart from the obvious fact that each individual is a visible unity distinguished from others by his or her body, interior unification of the person is more difficult to gauge, as it is, indeed, to actualise.  Unredeemed man is a restless, unfulfilled being, never content with what he has; or if he thinks he has something for a time, he expects to see it pass or fade with the years.  He becomes disillusioned with so-called progress; he is afraid of suffering and death.  He cannot enjoy anything completely, because he never really possesses it, but is forever looking over its shoulder at the next thing.  Von Balthasar sketches an answer to this apparent impasse of mankind in every generation, not only in our own fragmented times: “Only that God who became man in Jesus Christ, who took all human guilt and unfulfillment with him onto the Cross … and who as man was resurrected and placed in the divine eternal life by God the Father – only he is able to unify our existence. … Here alone, through the hope of our resurrection in Christ, everything unfulfilled in our individual moments of life receives a hidden fulfilment and in the same stroke, the loose pearls of our individual hours and days are strung together on a strong thread.”  That God makes good our deficiencies, mistakes and sins is the consequence of his love.  Balthasar again: “With him is the place where the flowing brooks of our existence, despite all appearances to the contrary, collect and run into a single stream.”  Our part is to give the single, undivided heart to God, to give him the care of our unity, which he protects for us in his eternity (Ibid).  “There you will find your life one day in its true underlying unity, which never appears on earth.”

            However, we may be in touch with that healed, unified self even now, through the Spirit which Christ has sent into our hearts, crying Abba, Father.  Although we should not and cannot construct our own unity – its centre not lying in us – we must seek it in the Son.  Children attain self-awareness through being loved by someone other than themselves and human beings frequently try to live up to the image a beloved person has of them and may even end by approximating to its nobility.  The Christian, likewise, may come to resemble Christ, whose Spirit indwells and yet transcends him. “The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life; but it is a life of faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).   That he loved and gave himself for me, reminds Balthasar, is an accomplished fact; it is another given, not dependent on any subjective impression I might have.  The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me, gathering up the loose and untidy ends of my existence into himself.  We are not yet the person we should be and would like to be, but meanwhile we live in faith and hope in the promises of Christ.  We can be confident and free, because we know that we are not essentially a shapeless ragbag of conflicting pulls and emotions but someone unified, loved and indispensable in God’s eyes.

            This requires, as we have noted, faith which is an obscure knowledge of God and a living adhesion to him through the Son in the Spirit.  Although dark it is a real knowledge of the one God-man, the centre and head of humanity, into whom all the baptised are grafted and in whom humanity is resumed.

            Our prayer, particularly our contemplative prayer, is a means to this superlative knowledge of God.  The more unified or “one-pointed” it is in itself, the more it pierces the clouds or plumbs the depths, in its efforts to establish and maintain contact with God.  Once more faith underpins our prayer.  It is faith, asserts St John of the Cross, which is the “only proportionate and proximate means for attaining God.”  It leads one into “the supernatural world and into that region of the spirit where God acts and gives himself” (P Marie-Eugène).  Here it may repose silently on its divine object.

            How do we normally exercise this faith which unites us to God?  According to P Marie-Eugène, this is done less by formulae than by “keeping the gaze of the soul fixed on God, by maintaining an interior attitude which consists in an orientation of the soul toward him, a peaceful and actual attention and an opening up of itself to his action.”

            Throughout this talk, we have often noted the givenness of the principle of essential unity, which is the Holy Spirit, and, at the same time, our need to appropriate, preserve and promote it, so that its expression may be perfected in our world, in the Church, in our communities and in our supernatural lives.  We have seen, too, how faith, itself purified and perfected by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, is the privileged means of effecting our journey back to God, our origin and our goal in the beautiful words of Dom Delatte, the first tenderness and the last tenderness, the Donum Dei Altissimi.