(Readings #779: Prov. 2:1-9; 1 PETER: 5:1-4; Luke 22:24-27)
There is a specific instruction in the rite of the Blessing of an Abbot telling the presiding Bishop to direct his homily to the abbot-elect, the religious, and the faithful.
Now for that part of the homily directed to you the Faithful. It is important for all of us gathered here to see our celebration in the light of Benedict's vision of monastic life. For me, there is no better place to begin than with the next to the last Chapter of the Rule, namely, Chapter 72, entitled, The Good Zeal of the Monks. In that Chapter we find Benedict's vision of monastic life. There he presents a portrait of Christ and of the Church that the monastic community is called to image. The monastic community is to focus on the person of Christ, his life, his way, his truth, so that as the years unfold each monk can utter the words of Saint Paul with ever greater truth: "I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me." This life in Christ is to become visible in the way the community lives its daily life together, a life under a Rule and an Abbot. The members of the community are to manifest that good zeal which frees them from sin and leads them to God and everlasting life. It is love, that love that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that enables the community members to bear each other's weaknesses whether they be of body or behavior, as Christ has borne ours. The members of the community are called to love and obey and serve one another as did Christ, that is, as he served us, gave his life for us and restored us as his brothers and sisters.
Saint Benedict then adds: "Let them all prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life." How is it that we can expect this to occur? Precisely because we know that Christ preferred nothing, nothing, to us and our salvation, for that is what his Father sent him to accomplish. It seems to me that all the other Chapters of the Rule are focused on assisting the Abbot and the community in realizing this vision.
The Spirit calls men to a monastic way of life not to isolate them from the Church, but rather to build up the Church in holiness through their lived rhythm of love, which manifests itself in prayer, lectio divina, work and the common life. The Second Vatican Council reminded us of how important it is for monastic communities to live the monastic charism in its true spirit. Why? Because the example of a fervent monastic community in love with its Lord actually empowers the faithful, to grow in their love for God.
My dear brother monks, here is that part of the homily directed to you. For any monastic community, the occasion of the blessing of a new Abbot is certainly a time to reflect, not only on the role of the Abbot but also on your role as monks. It is a time to give thanks for the gift of the vocation that is yours in the life of the Church. From the beginning of the Rule to the very end the call is addressed to men who truly seek God; men who are eager to image the Lord Jesus in his love for the Father and in his love for us and the salvation of all. This love, this communion with the Lord, is meant to ever deepen, so that through you the reality of God's love will be made present in the here and now. This love is meant to be evident in the way you pray together, obey and work with the Abbot and one another; the way you relax and kid; in the respect you show to one another, to your colleagues, the students, the guests and all whom you are called upon to serve; in the give and take that must go into any fruitful dialogue; in the way you cooperate with those in positions of authority; and, in the way you work with them in decisions you may not particularly like. Anyone who comes to know you, should be able to say: here are men who have been grasped by Christ and have opened their hearts to him, and are eager to embrace him and to give flesh to his word.
Abbot Mark, this is your section. I'll never forget, shortly after you began your senior year here in College, you came up to me and said: "I want to make an appointment with you." Having just returned from a holiday together - he is my nephew you know - my response was: "Sure, any time." And without missing a beat you added: "No, I want to set up an appointment with you now." Then it dawned on me that this was indeed serious business. That appointment was the beginning of the process relative to your becoming a monk. But at that first meeting I realized that you had already given your decision much serious thought. At that moment who would ever have thought you were being prepared by the Lord to become the fifth Abbot of Saint Anselm. Such are the ways of the Lord, and to his plans we bow and in them we rejoice!
From Chapter 2 of the Rule, entitled, Qualities of the Abbot, it is easy to see that the Abbot's primary function is to assist the monks in their search for God and in their living the life of charity as described in Chapter 72. This you will do especially through the zeal you bring to your own prayer life, your community conferences, your admonitions, and your solicitude for the work that has been entrusted to the community, namely, St. Raphael Parish and the College, by Bishop Bradley, the first Bishop of Manchester.
You have been chosen by the Lord to assist the monks here at the Abbey, along with our monks at Woodside, so that they might become an ever clearer sign of God's holiness, so that they might make God's love present and operative in the daily rhythm of their lives. As Pope Benedict stated so well: "What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people who are enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and who are capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end." A wonderful goal to keep in mind, applicable to both our prayer and our work.
As you come to fulfill your duties as Abbot it will be easy for you to understand Saint Augustine's words to the faithful of his diocese. I might paraphrase them as being said by you to the community: "My brother monks, I am a monk with you, and that is a joy. I am an Abbot for you, and that is a burden." However, it is only when you think you can or must carry the burden on your own that it becomes overpowering. How well the newly elected Abbess in the Novel, In This House of Brede, understood this. After her election she went to the Chapel, fell on her knees before the Lord and simply said over and over again: "I can't, I can't, I can't," until her "I can't", evolved into "therefore you must."
I conclude with the words the Lord addressed to you in the second reading and in the Gospel. Through Peter you heard the Lord himself calling and encouraging you to be a true shepherd to the flock he has entrusted to your care, serving them willingly, with love and patience. And in the Gospel you heard the same message, that is, of your need for great patience. Why? Because your flock, like yourself and all of us on this side of the Kingdom, have not yet arrived but are still in via, still on the way. Thus the need of relating to them as one who serves willingly, patiently, and encouragingly. Today the Lord encourages all of us here present, not only to come to know and experience his love for us, but also to share the love he gives us with those we daily live, work and relax. It is in following this vision, that your motto - that all may be one - will be fulfilled.
Bishop Joseh Gerry, O.S.B.
10 September, 2012
At the Celebration of the Eucharist and Abbatial Blessing of The Right Reverend Mark Arthur Cooper, O.S.B.