I am writing this in advance of the fifteenth anniversary of our canonical Foundation as I doubt whether I shall be able to string two sentences together on that day because of the usual ‘chemo cosh’.
What does a Foundation Day signify? In the first place, it marks a new and definitive stage in a community’s growth. It is the Church’s official seal on, and recognition of, the community, conferring both rights and duties which are carefully spelled out in canon law and in the constitutions of the monastery itself. In the second place, I think it marks an important development in the life of the individual.
Earlier this week I touched on the individuality of the call to become a Benedictine, and I hope in a few days to be able to reflect on the communal aspect of the way in which that call is worked out. This morning, however, I want to emphasize that being formally incorporated into the Church as what canon law calls a ‘religious institute’ makes a difference to the individual as well. We follow the gospel and the Rule of St Benedict as we always have, or tried to, but our canonical status affects the form in which these are interpreted and the sanctions that may be applied if we fail. Our constitutions bind us as individuals, not just as a community, to interpret our obligations in a way that can, at times, be challenging. You have only to think of how difficult some contemplative communities of nuns are finding the new requirement that formation last for a minimum of nine years and what it must mean for the individuals it affects most directly. I could multiply examples, but that isn’t my purpose.
What I think is clear is that a Foundation Day is not merely for looking back on the past with gratitude and, where appropriate, sorrow and repentance for any failures we may be aware of; nor is it a case of rejoicing in the graces of the present or expressing hopes for the future. Of course we pray for the well-being of the resident community itself, our oblates, friends, benefactors and online community. Of course we pray for renewed fervour and zeal, for everything that will make us better Benedictines and more pleasing to God. But ultimately that commitment comes down to the individual’s readiness to make the community’s life her own; to kneel before God many times every day and reaffirm the commitment to follow the Lord wherever he leads; to be what Benedict calls a utilis frater, a reliable brother or sister (RB 7.18), who prefers nothing to the love of Christ. (RB 4. 21) Please pray for us as we do for you.