Anniversary of Mother Anne's Abbatial Blessing - 4th November 2021
In a few minutes we will be singing “Where charity and love are found, there is God.” But what is love? That is a huge question which has given rise to so many writings yet the answer remains elusive. In the end love can only be lived, not defined. So maybe I should simply fall silent! Yet words can inspire and draw us deeper into love, and of course I am speaking to you now in words that I hope will inspire you in your journey into love.
The ultimate word of love is Jesus, the Word who was in the beginning with God yet became flesh and dwelt amongst us. As I said at this time last year, he calls us into abundant life, and that life is only possible when we are set free in knowing that we are loved, just as we are.
We will go on to sing “The love of Christ has gathered us into one.” As we say about the “work of God”, the “love of Christ” is firstly his love for us. Our rhythm of life here, our times of corporate and personal prayer and our simple service of one another are ways in which we open ourselves to Christ’s love for us and share that love with one another. We know how deeply unworthy we are of that love, yet as we turn our hearts to Jesus, pondering his words and actions in the gospels, we can come to know his loving gaze upon us as it was upon those he met in his earthly life. As that love flows through us and heals our broken places it gradually transfigures us into the likeness of Christ and we become more and more able to reach out to others with his love. In as much as we allow ourselves to be touched and healed we can then become a source of healing for others.
But opening to that love in our own hearts can be a painful process as places where we have been hurt or of which we are deeply ashamed are brought to the light. We need to know those places, not push them away, as they are part of us. Without them we cannot be whole. Christ’s love can heal and transfigure our brokenness so that it becomes a source of beauty and something that makes us uniquely who we are. This journey into wholeness is not one we ever complete in this life, but we are called at least to start on our way, knowing that Jesus walks with us in these dark places.
This love that gathers us into one does not erase our individuality and one thing that I believe Christian communities, Religious or otherwise, are called to do is witness to living graciously with difference. So often it seems we witness to something quite else as we throw grenades from our various doctrinal silos. That is such a sad betrayal of the way that Jesus taught. But it is a big challenge to know how to live with our own deeply held convictions whilst accepting others who hold very different views from us.
Ultimately it is our deep rootedness in Jesus Christ that holds us together, a unity in love that puts all our differences in perspective. Our different cultures, languages and spiritual journeys refract Christ’s love in different ways. The unity of mind that we seek is the mind of Christ, expressed in many richly different ways, a diversity to be celebrated. We seek an absence of discord and contention, not an absence of difference.
The love of Christ gives us an inner stability that enables us to transcend our vulnerabilities and open to others, to receive them as they are and to welcome them as companions on the journey into God. From that place of inner stability we do not need to make a point of our own views but can graciously accept differences, knowing that we are being called to find the deeper truth that is beyond our individual imaginations and understanding.
In these coming years I hope that we will be welcoming new members within our community and that we will allow ourselves to be challenged to open our hearts to new ways of living out the call of St. Benedict to community life. Our world faces multiple crises and we, as a part of the wider world, will be facing our own crises. In such times we need the wisdom of our tradition, handed down through the generations, and the courage to embody that wisdom in new ways as we respond to the signs of the times. Not change for the sake of change, but a wise response to God’s call to us.
As Luigi Gioia writes: “The real mission of Benedictine monasticism is to preserve the priority of community life, not out of self-interest but because love – that is, lived fellowship – alone is credible”.
I pray that whatever the future brings, this community will be a place “where charity and love are found”, a place where “God happens”.
Mother Anne - 4th November 2021