Solemn Profession & Monastic Consecration | General Chapter | Annual Retreat | Synodality | Interculturality | Br Jonathan | Rainfall | Earthquake | Seasons | CREATED FOR COMMUNION - Homily
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Solemn Profession & Monastic Consecration
Solemn Profession & Monastic Consecration
Br Simon Wang’s Solemn Profession and Monastic Consecration on 26 January made the date a truly red-letter day for us this year. 26 January, of course, is both Australia Day and the liturgical Solemnity of the Cistercian Founders, Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen Harding. So, it was definitely a loud shout at Tarrawarra for “three cheers” in 2022!
Simon entered our community on 3 May 2016, received the Cistercian novice’s habit seven months later, and made his first profession of vows two years after that.
He comes to us from Malaysia, having been born to Tham Ah Keng (Lucia) and Wang Ah Ree (Anthony) in Labis, Johore. He was baptised in the local church of St Simon so we probably don’t have to search much further for the origin of his baptismal name. We offer a big “thank you” to his family and faith community for their contribution to his vocational journey.
After completing his secondary studies, Simon pursued a Higher Diploma in Computer Studies. Graduating from Kolej Damansara Utama, he went on to become a web developer. This skill has been a great asset to our community, particularly in the redesigning of our website and renewal of our liturgical books.
Simon also came to Tarrawarra with musical skills. “Never look a gift horse in the mouth!” So Fr Brian picked up the ball from there and ran with him to pass on his experience of the accompaniment of a monastic choir – somewhat particular music, not to mention the challenges of one’s brethren! When the need arose, Simon stepped forward and generously and competently took over the organ. This is an immense contribution to our community prayer day after day.
During his formation years Simon’s studies have made the usual demands on his time. An additional outdoor, manual responsibility has been his care for our small orchard – mainly citrus. This patch once qualified for the descriptor “jungle” but has been transformed into something more like a “park”.
At the end of the Monastic Consecration we stood to unite ourselves with Dom Steele’s formal declaration of admission: “Brother Simon, today you have become a monk in the tradition of St Benedict and of the Fathers of Citeaux, and a lifelong member of the community of Our Lady of Tarrawarra. We pray that you will be loyal to the tradition you have received and generously labour to hand it on to succeeding generations”.
Cistercian General Chapters are mandated by our Constitutions every three years. Covid-19 scuttled the one scheduled for September 2020 together with its naively hoped-for successor a year later. In the meantime, the Abbots and Abbesses have been rolling up their sleeves and taking the jab. The outcome: Part one of a two-part Chapter in 2022 held in Assisi from 7-17 February. Of the 160 houses of the Order, 17 male superiors and 15 female superiors were prevented from attendance. The four members of the Abbot General’s Council and Dom Bernardo Olivera (Abbot General Emeritus) were also among the capitulants with the right to vote. Interpreters, translators, secretaries and other staff we ensured the smooth running of the Chapter. Dom Steele Hartmann temporarily relocated from the heat and humidity of Tarrawarra to the icy climes of an Umbrian winter to be our voice. Our three daughter-houses – Kurisumala (India), Kopua (New Zealand), and Tobetsu (Japan) – were among those locked-in back home. Despite jetting in from all compass points, no one tested positive during the Chapter.
The principal item on this short agenda was the acceptance of the resignation, for serious health reasons, of the Abbot General, Dom Eamon Fitzgerald; and the election of his successor. Both were achieved in a spirit of prayer and discernment. On 11 February, to borrow a phrase from the Acts of the Apostles, “the lot fell on” Bernardus Peeters. Bernardus, at the time, was Abbot of the Dutch community of Tilburg. He was born in Heerlen (The Netherlands) in 1968, entered Tilburg in 1986, made his solemn profession in 1991, was ordained in 1997, and was elected Abbot in 2005.
As he told the capitulants: “After my election, I chose as my motto the words from my favourite prophet, Amos: ‘Seek God and live!’ (Amos 5,4)” He fleshed out his aim as Abbot, and now as Abbot General: “I have tried to make of my community a place where one can meet God, oneself, and the other in a fraternal life of silence, sobriety and solidarity by prayer, lectio and work. For me, it is all about the encounter with Christ… Silence teaches me to listen carefully. Sobriety teaches me to take my responsibility for the creation. Solidarity teaches me to be open for all and everything… Collaboration and walking together is very important for me. So, I really count on all of you to help me to fulfill this ministry you have entrusted to me. Every one of you, all our brothers and sisters are important and are bearers of the same charism, based on one and the same baptism. May all our communities, we and all our brothers and sisters, be places of encounter where God can meet us. Dear brothers and sisters: Seek God and live!”
Dom Bernardus acknowledged his predecessor’s contribution to the Order: "As I close this part of the General Chapter, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Dom Eamon once again for the past 14 years in which he has given himself with heart and soul to walk with us as our Abbot General. He has done so with an admirable simplicity and closeness rooted in his deep faith in the Living Word of the Gospel. The logo of Synod 2023 shows a bishop who does not walk above, below, in front of or behind the people of God, but in the midst of them, on the road with the people of God. That is exactly the memory we will all have of Dom Eamon: an Abbot General who walked the road together, in the midst of us. This also allows him, after so many years of service, to return to that people of God to continue with us. Thank you, Dom Eamon…"
The General Chapter farewelled two long-term members of the Abbot General’s Council: Dom Timothy Kelly and M. Daniele Levrard. Again in the words of Bernardus: "Each in their own way, have left a great mark on our journey together over the past few years. As close collaborators of the Abbot General, they have carried and made possible, often in the background, a great deal. A long applause from all of us was a token of our great appreciation, in the realisation that any form of expression of our gratitude actually falls short. We wish them both all the best, our prayers are with them…"
The year 2021 was a time of making adjustments for us all. Our annual retreat was to have been conducted by Gregory Homeming O.C.D., the Bishop of Lismore. Lockdowns scuttled that arrangement. Our time of retreat went ahead and our Abbot made copies available to us of Brendan Byrne’s Come To The Light – Reflections On The Gospel Of John as a possible source of reflection and nourishment, definitely an inspired choice.
The book is the fruit of retreat lectures given by Brendan in recent years to varied audiences. It focuses on the narrative sections of the Gospel with the exception of two engaging chapters on the Prologue with its majestic opening In the beginning was the Word … And it comes to a heart-warming conclusion with the appearance of the risen Lord to a number of the disciples in Galilee. At the conclusion of each chapter the author provides points for reflection inviting the reader to enter into the narrative.
The retreatant has a rich amount of material to choose from, a gallery of episodes with which to pause, ponder and plumb the riches of the ministry of the Word made flesh fulfilling his Father’s plan for the redemption of humankind.
Would a monk be content to stay with the seven signs, commencing with the Wedding at Cana and concluding with the Raising of Lazarus? Hardly as he would desire a glimpse of the breadth of the Gospel: Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet, The Prayer of Jesus, Jesus on Trial, Jesus Crucified, At the Empty Tomb, The Risen Lord in Jerusalem and The Risen Lord in Galilee, an Epilogue.
One monk decided to take up two chapters each day for the duration of the retreat and complete the journey the following week. The others in the community? The wind blows wherever it wills.
On Friday 3 December we welcomed Elissa Roper for the afternoon to help us unwrap “Synodality” as the path we as Church are being called to walk today. She gave us much to ponder. We did this personally and, then, communally on 17 December, eventually producing our Tarrawarra submission for the forthcoming 2023 Bishops’ Synod on the topic. Elissa lives locally, “down the road” in Yarra Glen – what a fortunate gift for us, her neighbours! She recently completed her doctoral studies on the topic, and gifted our library a copy of her thesis. She is a treasure trove in this regard for the Church of Melbourne and Australia. Thank you, Elissa.
Pope Francis has referred to Synodality as “constitutive”, meaning it builds the Church; and is the “appropriate interpretative framework” for understanding all elements of the Catholic Church. It is not just another programme or method. Rather it is a foundational perspective for understanding the Good News revealed by Christ. It is drawn from Jesus’ style with his disciples in the Gospels, and the way of life and mission portrayed in the early Church and the writings of St Paul.
Synodality has been manifested in and through the Church. In seeking to re-appropriate it today, we are not aiming to replace our tradition, doctrine or structures. It does re-focus the vision, acknowledging that the Church is not primarily, certainly not exclusively, the hierarchy, but the whole People of God.
Our new Abbot General, in his conference at the conclusion of the General Chapter said: “Pope Francis calls on us to return to the original meaning of the term ‘synod’: a way that you go together, being on the road together. The three focal points are communion, participation and mission, the mission and vocation of the Church. It is true: our monastic life is synodal by nature, but sometimes it is good to become aware again of the treasure you have”.
Noting our community now consists of members whose birthplaces range from the Pacific to southeast and east Asia, the United Kingdom to Central Europe it was little surprise to find Interculturality the flavour of the year. Furthermore, Sr Cathy Solano’s presentation on December 7, started from faraway. Confessing her Italian background, she transported us to the Mediterranean. We watched a couple of videos from Italy, the first portraying cultural differences. In the interim, the brethren recalled their own humorous experiences in Rome and abroad.
Interculturality is a theological concept, Cathy explained, before taking us through the theory. It is about calling people to forethought about encounter.
One may wonder is this going to make any difference to how I relate to those certain brothers (or sisters)? But as her talk progressed, there came a turning point: a realisation that some of us may have come armed with the wrong question. Rather, this struggle or tension between two worlds “is most intensely felt by those individuals who aren’t completely lost in the culture of self-centredness and who experience the gap between the reality of what is and what could/should be”. Was this not the main problem of the dominant culture? Yet Cathy revealed there is a struggle from both sides: those fearing being hurt, losing what one has and of being forced to change - versus - the fear of being excluded, mocked and of being a burden.
The PowerPoint presentation was visually engaging, while Cathy gave us opportunities to share our experiences. Aside from the various cultural differences, she opened deeper issues, drawing upon the social sciences. And yet Cathy paused, waiting for the green light from us before traversing to the place where it got a bit “heavy”. And undoubtedly the most beautiful part: on power, vulnerability and love.
Br Jonathan Craven returned to his community at Kopua, New Zealand in early March. He had been with us for fourteen months participating in our formation and studies programme. Now he is due for Profession. As a Kiwi he didn’t require a visa to enter Australia. That’s a plus! Additionally, he managed to arrive just before Covid slammed the borders shut across the Tasman, and headed home as they opened again. “You can’t lose ‘em all!” We enjoyed having you with us, Jonathan, and wish you many graces as you continue your Cistercian monastic journey.
Tarrawarra has maintained rainfall records back to 1956. We have reported to the Weather Bureau over most of this period, and sometimes twice daily electronically. Our local observers have changed through the decades. Br Peter Browne is the Bureau’s present local “reader of the gauge”.
As a spin-off he receives an annual Christmas gift of the Bureau calendar, surely Australia’s best. There is a beautiful monthly photo of a stunning seasonal weather event – earth, sky or sea. A brief article accompanies: “Watching the big dry”; “Farming the floods”; “Observing the skies to forecast the future”, as examples. Yes, it is self-advertising, but justifiably so. In addition to its aesthetic value, and doing what calendars traditionally do such as telling the date and tracking the phases of the moon, it is informational and educational. Affirming collaborators like Peter, May 2021 noted: “The observations network is our eyes and ears. It is a vast jigsaw that operates at a global level, sharing data internationally, as well as very locally, with observers recording rainfall in backyard gauges”. Peter’s daily appointment bearing fruit!
October’s north wind blowing across our orchard, as usual, enveloped us in the fragrance of citrus blossom. As the days warmed up our solar-powered friends, the snakes (gingerly tolerated) and bluetongue lizards (wholeheartedly welcomed) were more and more in evidence. Waves of birds came and went, depending on the floral menu on offer. The gang-gang cockatoos could be heard contentedly feeding (left-footedly) in the eucalypts and wattles during the cooler days of early spring, softly growling with their distinctive call described as resembling a creaky gate, or the drawn out sound of a cork being pulled from a wine bottle.
Bernard and the novices profitably enjoyed afternoons eradicating vegetation condemned as “weeds” from the tree plantations. (Were you heard asking: What is a weed? Ask them!) The winter and spring rains brought flood after flood to the river flats. As a result of so many paddocks being submerged for long periods, the hay season was less productive than it could have been, but one might say, satisfactory. The seller’s market at the January cattle sales was excellent. And now the approach of autumn restores hope of the departure of the humidity, and returns us to the calving season.
CREATED FOR COMMUNION
CREATED FOR COMMUNION
Homily for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 2021
Fr David Tomlins
The Bible’s first page presents us with the wonderful poetry of our Creator God’s activity. An evaluation follows each creative act: “God saw that it was good… God saw all that he had made, and indeed it was very good”. In the second account of creation, from which today’s first reading is taken (Genesis 2:18-24), we hear the first “not good” of scripture: “The Lord God said, ‘it is not good that the man should be alone…’” The divine potter had “fashioned man from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and thus man became a living being”. God then stepped back to cast an artist’s self-critical eye over his masterpiece. “No! No! There’s something lacking! What is it? Yes. It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate”. God’s finishing touch is the gift of complementarity, communion. Without this, without a helpmate, a peer with whom to relate, to share, to commune “it is not good”. Communion is the gift of both intimacy and generativity. The divine artist’s human masterpiece must be gifted with both these qualities of the Trinity itself. “It is not good” to be self-centred, self-absorbed. “It is not good” to be barren, uncreative. “I will make him a helpmate” with whom he can be intimate and generative.
Humanity has been gifted with the capacity for relationship, for the formation of friendship, family, and communities large and small. “It is not good” to reject this gift. It is a deep need. The Irish acknowledge it in their humorous quip: “It is better to be fighting than lonely!” The Greeks encapsulated it in the myth of Narcissus. Echo seeks a “helpmate” in him; Narcissus repulses her with, “Leave me alone!” The outcome is tragic for them both. Rejected, heartbroken, she wanders and wanders in the mountains until she fades away to an echo. He catches sight of himself in a pool when drinking, falls in love with his own reflection, and becomes totally self-absorbed. His love, of course, cannot be reciprocated. In the various versions, Narcissus and/or Echo commit suicide. Narcissus’ toxic rejection of “a helpmate”, of a call to relationship, is destructive for both parties. “It is not good to be alone”, and it is not good to be left alone.
The reality signified by images of sharing a roof, a table or a bed doesn’t guarantee communion. God’s gift of the other is available in such contexts, but it requires a response that goes much deeper than co-habitation. Communion comes from an inner response that welcomes encounter. True encounter makes us vulnerable. Most of us have probably smiled or even laughed out loud at the song from “My Fair Lady”: “I’m just an ordinary man/ who desires nothing more/ than an ordinary chance/ to live exactly as he likes/ doing precisely what he wants…” Professor Henry Higgins insists: “Never let a woman in your life”. Why? Because that other, man, woman or child, inevitably makes me vulnerable, challenges all the controls I have set in place “to live exactly as I like”. The “do not disturb” sign hanging on my life is a rejection of God’s gift to every one of us of “a helpmate”, and rather a choice of what is “not good”.
The Good News is that the communion offered us in the “helpmate” of Genesis is re-affirmed and deepened through the redemptive life, death and resurrection of Jesus who became “one stock” with us, and now “openly calls [us] brothers [and sisters]”, as today’s second reading (Hebrews 2:9-11) assures us. Through faith and baptism, we have become members of the One Body of Christ, the People of God, “‘a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’”, as Vatican 2, quoting St Cyprian, taught (Constitution on the Church, 4; St Cyprian On the Lord’s Prayer, 23).
As members of God’s family, we gather around the table of the Eucharist to listen together to his Word and receive together the one Bread of Life. We pray in the second epiclesis of the Mass: “Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ”. “One stock” with the Son, we are empowered to pray inclusively as brothers and sisters, “Our Father… give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. We are sent forth from the Eucharist to live the “new commandment” of communion: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Marriage and the family are intended as a prime site of communion. However, the gospel reading (Mark 10:2-16) speaks of the threat it is under from the “Henry Higgins” mentality and so many other forces. Jesus takes a stand for “what God has united”. God knows that man’s propensity to “divide” is “not good”. We opt to divide in so many situations in society and even in the Church. “It is not good”. Our call is to give our best efforts to promoting communion, living and encouraging the self-sacrificial love that creates mutuality, intimacy and generativity. “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). “Love one another as I have loved you. No one can have greater love than to lay down their life for their friends” (John 15:12-13). Our own health, the health of others, and indeed the health of society depend on it. The alternative, it seems to me, is the tragedy of the Narcissus myth.
The Church, from the time of Pentecost, has returned repeatedly for inspiration to the image of the Jerusalem community in which the first Christians were “united heart and soul” (Acts 4:32-35), “remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers… [where] the faithful all lived together and owned everything in common… and shared… according to what each one needed” (Acts 2:43-47). Cenobitic monasticism – Pachomius, Cassian, Basil, Augustine, and Benedict – turned its eyes to this same icon of Christian discipleship. Vatican 2 and Pope Francis point us to this call to koinonia/communion today. Central to the Good News, in every age, is the deep truth: “It is not good for the human person to be alone!”
Pope Francis, at every opportunity, urges us to seek to unite rather than divide, build bridges rather than walls. Many marriages, and other relationships, fail because the bridges have collapsed; there is no real access to each other anymore; there is nothing left there between them; people are isolated on opposite banks. Francis preaches the simple spirituality of what he calls “closeness” – the exchange embraced by the reality of the three relational words, “please”, “thank you”, and “sorry”; the gift to another of our interest, our warmth, and our time – the “concreteness of love”. Mark reports today that Jesus “was indignant” when the disciples turned the children away, presumably because they thought the Master had more important things to do with his time. Instead he himself insists: “Let the little children come to me”; that is where the kingdom of God will be found. Recently beatified Polish Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski explained his own availability to others in the words “time is love”.
“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone… I will make him a helpmate’”.
At 9.17 a.m. on Wednesday 22 September we experienced the strongest earthquake in all the years the community has been at Tarrawarra – magnitude 5.9, at a depth of 10 kilometres, near Mansfield and Mt Buller, 90 kilometres as the crow flies from Tarrawarra. The tremor was felt across five States. The community buildings suffered no damage. The Wonnangatta (21 November 1982) and the Gippsland (19 June 2012) quakes, magnitude 5.4, were both heard and felt at Tarrawarra. Brian and Jonathan, accustomed to frequent New Zealand shakes, smile at our excitement! Hausia has even more reason to do so after the impressive 14 January 2022 under sea eruption on Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai and its consequent tsunami across the kingdom of Tonga and the Pacific. The total disruption of communications between Tonga and the rest of the world made for a doubly worrying time for Hausia and his compatriots abroad. None of his family, it finally emerged, was injured, thank God.