Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(1) Metamorphosis

It would seem that I wasn't the only one concerned about the
future of the Benedictine Order, to quote:

"Clearly thtis order of monks which once provided the very
structure of early medieval European society is in no position to
play the same role in post-modern America. A few thousand
monks have no chance of affecting this vast and complex
society the way their predecessors influenced the fragmented,
rural peoples of the Old Country in the Dark Ages."
[Terrence Kardong, O.S.B., THE BENEDICTINES, 1988,
pp. 199-200.]

As for myself, I had to admit that when I get this uptight over
an issue It has to be personal. Long a student of History, I've
read about movements that come and go. I knew about the
rise and fall of empires and governments, even religions.
There's a life-cycle involved in all this. It's in the nature of
things that everything is born and dies.

Yet we cling to the idea of rebirth, of resurrection, of
transformation--the idea of "metamorphosis," which is about
a "change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a
completely different one."

So here I was, before my abbot's death, seemingly ready to
identify in Benedictine terms. I really had set forth heart-and-
soul on "seeking God," whether via scholarship or contemplation.
Also, I began to understand another ingredient that predisposed
me to the Benedictines. It's best told in a small story I heard.
It's about a news reporter encountering a Jesuit priest and a
Benedictine monk. The reporter asked about what the Jesuits
were best known. In turn the Jesuit mentioned their great
intellectual character, talked about the great universities their
Order had created. As for the Benedictine monk, he said simply,
"We are Civilization."

I never forgot that story. From the very beginning of my meeting
the Benedictines, I felt that these people were the most "civilized"
I had ever met. They were not only cultured, but they were
virtuous and upright people. And historically they had uplifted
countless others down through the ages!

So the Benedictine character had become my ideal, and now it
seemed that the Benedictine future itself was in jeopardy. Perhaps
selfish, I had to wonder how I would work through my own sense of
being a monastic--especially if the Benedictine under-pinnings
might eventually collapse.

I worried too much, and in the end I need not have worried at all.
At this point an interesting priest popped into my life and made
the situation better. An expert in inter-religious dialogue, Raimundo
Panikkar taught at places like UC Santa Barbara and Harvard.
But most important for me was a conference held sometime around
1980, over which he presided as the respondent. It was sponsored
by the Aide Inter-Monasteries (A.I.M.), which is the Secretariat of the
Benedictine Confederation. Coming out of this monastic conference,
Raimundo Panikkar published a book in 1982 entitled BLESSED

When I saw this book, especially the monk as "archetype" as part of
the title, it only took me about 20 seconds to decide to buy it. (I'm
glad I did, because it is now out-of-print.)