This week I offer for consideration an abbreviated version of the “Circular Letter” from our Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, O.S.B. Abbot Gregory was our retreat director in the summer 2019. He resides in Rome at Sant’ Anselmo, the Benedictine College. Shortly after resigning as Abbot of Conception Abbey he was elected to the international position.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica,
Jesus said: Peace be with you. This Easter peace (that) Jesus gives is not a freedom from anxiety, but a freedom to live amid anxious times with faith in God’s presence, and trust in ways that will open up a manner to face and live into the future. That is a great encouragement .. in this moment of anxiety and insecurity. Despite the fears and worries, there is something quietly stirring in (our) hearts. The Holy Spirit within us guides us in ways that are so simple and good, so touching and transforming. It is a “peace” that is subtle and quiet, humble and gracious, wise, noble, and advantageous. This is the mysterious Easter peace that Christ left to us, his Benedictine disciples, and to all who follow the Gospel message.
How easy it is to name the challenges that have come our way with this pandemic: fear for the present moment, unexpected death, uncertainty about the future, living with an invisible enemy, financial pressures, distance from loved ones, praying in unfamiliar ways, and many more challenges. But isn’t it important for us, to search deeply to discover the blessings that have come to us?
First, we have come to see what a blessing our Benedictine tradition and calling has been for us during these days. While many people live alone in a small place, isolated and without another human face to encounter, we have been blessed with our monastic community. The human desire that resides in all of us to be connected with others stands as a distinguishing characteristic of our daily life. With social distancing, we have been forced to live somewhat apart, but clearly, not alone. Again with social distancing from one another, there has grown a kind of unique closeness that happens when challenges unite people in a way that bonds them by their willingness to do together what is for the good of all. Sacrifice is rarely an easy act, but when it is done by a whole community, it possesses a unique character that binds people in a joy that is both satisfying and enriching, and sometimes, life-changing. While in community our fears actually become moments when courage builds up within us, our anxieties develop into moments of trust because of the strength we experience in the midst of our community life together.
Second, both our community and private prayer take on new dimensions. We regret that in most instances, our oblates and friends who usually pray with us are not present. Yet, their absence fosters a true concern for them in our hearts. It is easy in our daily intercessions to remember the Church, the world, and our governments; yet now, knowing the challenges which they face for the good of the people they serve, there is a greater sense of the worldwide communion which we share, not only as members of the Body of Christ, but as brothers and sisters in the human family. Both men and women Benedictines have shown genuine concern for those who usually pray with them.
Third, the environment of our monasteries … provides us with places to be grateful for the beauty of creation, the gifts of God’s earth, and the opportunity to reflect on how important our care for the earth’s resources really are. … (I share one example) .. Here in Rome, with the lockdown, from our tower, you can see the Mediterranean Sea; that is how clear the air has become in Rome, a city known for its pollution. … During this pandemic, we have experienced a short-term effect of seeing how we can be better … guardians of what has been given us.
Fourth, an element of the monastic life that has intensified during these weeks and months has been part of Saint Benedict’s spiritual doctrine on silence. Until a few months ago, our lives have been caught up in the fast pace of society, which can have the tendency to diminish the time devoted to silence and reflection. These weeks have awakened in us the importance of silence and reflection. We have sometimes come to see how uncomfortable we are with more silence in our lives; and it has taken both time and effort to use the silence that has been forced upon us as something that really is a “gift in disguise.” The moments of silence and reflection are precious times for communion with God, whether in the practice of lectio divina, adoration, or stillness before the divine presence already within us. There is no doubt that God has many important things to say to us in the midst of this crisis – what is important is that we can take this time and realize how silence and solitude are “gifts” that are there for us to use wisely even after the time of this pandemic.
Fifth, we are living in a moment of inspiring heroism. On the larger scale, we have seen the sacrifice of their very lives by dedicated doctors, (and) nurses, vigilant public servants who have all put their lives in harm’s way to fulfill the calling they have received. Likewise, there has been a more silent, yet still dedicated heroism in the fervent prayer, generous service, and creative ways of assistance through the internet, email, and phone conversations. The beautiful challenge that now stands before us is to keep this kind of generosity and creativity growing certainly to one another, and to all who come to us as guests, in the figure of Jesus Christ. The heroism of our lives as Benedictines is often not as well known or widespread yet, it is heroic in the living of our tradition according to the Gospel and the Rule of Saint Benedict with a sense of mission that is vibrant and life-giving for one another and for whomever we may serve.
To each of you, I offer sincere thanks for the ways in which you have witnessed to the monastic spirit of prayer, stability, obedience, charity, generosity, sacrifice, and openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit in this unexpected pandemic. May our testimony as Benedictine men and women of the Gospel and the Rule lead us forward into the future, yet unknown, yet known in the mind and heart of God who walks with us each and every day.
Sincerely in the risen Christ, our great Hope and Strength,
Gregory Polan, O.S.B.
[Abbreviated for distribution by Benedictine Sisters of Florida]