Recently we had our annual retreat, and we enjoyed it. Our retreat master this year was Dom Joseph Delargy, O.S.C.O., who is the abbot of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in England. He gave two talks a day and they were wonderful.
Dom Joseph is very down to Earth, very approachable, and is gifted with a great sense of humor. We are always interested in the histories and stories of other monasteries and Joseph did not disappoint.
He drew us into his life as a monk, and shared stories about his growing up and his experiences as an abbot at this critical time in the history of the church and the Cistercian Order. I found him to be practical, wise, and hopeful. Good stuff for a retreat.
He spoke often about changes and the challenges that come with them. In our own country, as well as in England, there are not as many monks as there used to be. This drop in numbers has brought a welter of problems.
Many of our houses lack the strength and vitality of young monks. Properties are large, like our own place here in Conyers, and there are communities that are struggling to keep their heads above water.
Joseph shared with us a recent report pieced together by the Cistercian monasteries of Wales, England, Ireland and Scotland and, looking at it one way, prospects for the survival of the status quo are indeed grim.
But it can be looked at in another way, too. The very fact that the superiors of that region met and discussed at length the looming problems facing the communities promises an outcome that shines with more than a glimmer of hope.
In an age so mesmerized by the allures and enticements of size, success, the big, the powerful, the manageable, we too can fall victims to the siren-like voices that beckon from the rising seas of the future. But, as Joseph calmly and convincingly reminded us, we as monks are called to listen to a different song, a song that has nothing to do with perfection, with quantum growth, corporate-like plans and the like.
All we are asked by God is to follow Him and be faithful -- as He has promised his fidelity to us. This seems to mean that no matter what happens to us down the road, He will be there. His presence will have nothing to do with numbers, magnitude, largesse.
Obviously, we should plan for the future as best we can. I do not think that any of us will lack a roof over our heads, or food on the table, or basic human care. But it is a sure thing that change lies down the road and we must simply deal with it as best we can, with help from each other and from God.
Joseph revived in me a sense that therein lies the genius of this way of life. We may seem a bit off the beam to a lot of people, especially people who look at us with expectations that are deeply informed by business or corporate policies. We are not primarily about profit or management acumen. These are secondary to following the ways of God, the ways of the Gospels.
Winds of change are coming our way. And we know that God rides those winds. We believe that God is love, and so change must bring with it a good dose of new ways of seeing, of loving, of struggling in a world and time that is, really, always on the cusp of the new and creative.
Dom Joseph, in his kind and easy going way, brought to us a reminder that we can and should ride the winds, too. They are moving toward the future, toward God's world in the making.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.