A Good Question
22/January/2009 Filed in: Chapter Talks
Last night, at the Friends' Committee meeting, someone asked a good question: if people are to give money to the monastery appeal they'll want to know that the community will survive, so what guarantee do they have of its continuance and growth? My off-the-cuff answer, that there's no guarantee, is the starting-point for our reflection today. People often ask how viable we are and we usually respond by reference to the Gamaliel principle. We started with nothing, really nothing, yet here we are today, persevering in the life of prayer, with a number of worthwhile projects to our name and abounding in hope. Our questioner spoke out of love and concern for the community, but I wonder whether he was asking the right question — and whether I gave the right answer to the question he put. In human terms, there is no guarantee of any community's continuance. Bigger monasteries than ours, with a lot more in the way of human and financial resources, have dissolved because of internal tensions and divisions. It is not surprising therefore that someone should question the chances of a small and poor community such as ours. Even the Benedictine Confederation tends to think in terms of numbers, which means some old and famous establishments now look distinctly fragile. But — and it is a big but — none of us would want to think in purely human terms. The survival of a community is analogous to the certainty we have about being faithful to our profession. When we make our vows, we do so with confidence because we are not relying on ourselves or any human agency but on the utter reliability of God. In the same way, it is God who called our community into being, who sustains us today, and will do with us what he wills. We know he will never forsake or fail us, though he may lead us down paths we would rather not travel. That is the answer I should have given our questioner but didn't. And the question he should have asked? The only one worth asking, which none of us can answer: how holy is your community, how generously and faithfully do you respond to God's grace?