Pilgrims Living Out the Gospels: A Reflection on Abbot Primate Notker Wolf's CIB Presentation
By Sr. Susan Hutchens
On Day 4 of the Symposium, Abbot Primate Notker Wolf (shown here with Sr. Christine Vladimiroff, Mount St. Benedict Monastery, Erie, Penn.) addressed the assembly following a fine introduction by Sr. Judith Ann Heble, Moderator.
To introduce his presentation, Abbot Notker referred to the theme of the symposium "Witnesses of Hope" and noted that the conference itself was just that - a witness of our hope as Benedictine women in the world today, a world which touches all of us, whether cloistered or not.
Defining Church as "people of God on pilgrimage," Abbot Notker made an observation that our monasteries are small mirrors of the Church filled with all kinds of people. All we had to do was look around the room to agree! Each group of sisters from the 19 regions wore different dress, spoke different languages, and performed various and multiple ministries. But when we prayed together daily, as people of God on pilgrimage, we prayed as one voice, no matter the language, no matter who was dancing or singing, leading the song or playing an instrument.
Abbot Notker asked, "Are we open to be guided by the Lord on this pilgrimage? Are we ready to change, if that is necessary? Or just to die?" How profound a question for our time! I believe the women in our U.S. monasteries, especially, are addressing this question very deeply as we seek to follow the road to newness of life, wherever that will take us, whether to a change in ministry, or to commitment in a new monastery?
The Abbot also pointed out that in this pilgrimage to God, we must be brought to humility and not glory. We cannot think ever that we are better than the lay people with whom we live and work, or better than other religious. He further suggested that we need to move from power to service, and that perhaps a change in mentality is necessary to do that.
What must be preserved is authority, not power. He noted that those who are powerless often desire to become powerful, but this cannot be our monastic way of life. Even though the desire for power is "in our genes", we must work at correcting that desire. Unfortunately he noted, the Church is full of this desire for power and titles, but they have no women to correct that, as a man has a wife! Positions of power seek submissiveness; positions of authority seek obedience. The two are not the same.
Hence, in positions of authority, we will not be a witnesses of triumph or strength, but rather witnesses of faith and joy in our hearts, and of course, hope.
Abbot Notker also said, "We need to live out of the Gospels and not out of our customaries," pointing out that we need sincerity and truthfulness to do this, as well as generosity.
Changes may be needed. But as long as we live out of the strength of our monastic bond, and maintain the "solemn simplicity" of our liturgies, we will fulfill God's call to us as pilgrims moving into the future, perhaps more closely united to one another. If monasteries succeed to collaborate in new ways, we will do so humbly, with a "heart of flesh" that respects all individuals in the monasteries. We will not just be opening our doors to others, but our hearts.
In closing, Abbot Notker left us with 3 questions for discussion:
1) What signs of hope do we see in our world and in our communities?
2) How can we show our solidarity to other communities and thus be a sign of hope to each other?
3) How can we continue our contemplative life if we have to look outside of the monastery for income, and if there are no longer priests to serve?
In response to the third question, he believes whether one's ministry is inside the monastery or outside of it, this doesn't touch or change our contemplative way of life! He was very emphatic about his belief that our monastic lives can continue "outside the walls," but it may require a change of thinking to let this happen. For most Benedictine women in the US who have lived this kind of life-style since our beginnings in America, I think we understood him well.
I think all were touched deeply by Abbot Notker's depth of understanding of women Benedictines today, and were grateful for his words of wisdom, as well as his humor and the gratitude he showed for our presence not only at the CIB, but in the world. The only thing that might have added to his presentation was a performance on his electric guitar! But then you can find that yourself at YouTube: deeppurplenotkerwolf. Enjoy!
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