Using the art of the homily, Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke to the ecumenical relationship between the Anglican Communion (Episcopal Church in USA), and the Roman Catholic Church, citing history. For a thousand years the Camaldoli hermitage and its monks have been praying and living with the presence of the Lord. The Archbishop’s homily was presented at Papal Vespers, San Gregorio Magno al Celio 10 March 2012.
Praying in the presence of the Lord can be a form of definition for contemplative prayer, practiced by Christians the world over, and of course, by the Camaldoli monks of the Benedictine Order throughout its 1000 years. The Archbishop said, regarding this prayer and the Camaldoli anniversary (Homily on the 1000 year anniversary of Camaldoli (Benedictine): The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Homily at Papal Vespers) that this is a great gift to be united with God in a manner described in this way …a statement on contemplation and faith:
”Your Holiness, dear brothers and sisters, it would be wrong to suggest that we enter into contemplation in order to see one anther more clearly; but if anyone were to say that contemplation is a luxury in the Church, something immaterial for the health of the Body, we should have to say that without it we should be constantly dealing with shadows and fictions, not with the reality of the world we live in. The Church is called upon to show that same prophetic spirit which is ascribed to St Gregory, the capacity to see where true need is and to answer God’s call in the person of the needy. To do this, it requires a habit of discernment, penetration beyond the prejudices and clichés which affect even believers in a culture that is so hasty and superficial in so many of its judgements; and with the habit of discernment belongs a habit of recognizing one another as agents of Christ’s grace and compassion and redemption. And such a habit will develop only if we are daily learning the discipline of silence and patience, waiting for the truth to declare itself to us as we slowly set aside the distortions in our vision that are caused by selfishness and greed. In recent years, we have seen developing a vastly sophisticated system of unreality, created and sustained by acquisitiveness, a set of economic habits in which the needs of actual human beings seem to be almost entirely obscured.”
His Homily that traces the connection of relationship between the Camaldoli order and Catholic Church with the Anglican Communion, and in the case of this writer, specifically, Episcopal Church USA, is a profound measure of ecumenicism. This charism of friendship, this charism of ecumenicism is a modern element of the monk’s practice and life in our 21st century and this modern era of Christianity. In San Francisco’s Bay Area there are many Camaldoli, Benedictine Oblates. Theree are 600 in the world at large. There is a study house for Monks in Berkeley, California called Incarnation Monastery. In Big Sur, California is an American motherhouse, Immaculate Heart Hermitage (New Camaldoli). But it is St. Gregory who the Archbishop of Canterbury cites along with Romauld, who was a powerful force and founder in the tradition of the monasteries and in the whole Camaldoli order. And of course, we can’t ignore St. Benedict, whose Rule both monks and Oblates follow.
The monastery is touted in celebration because it is one of the Christian lights of the world, even as the Anglican Church may be a great light and hope to the world.
This era of our contemporary Christian lives demands Christian unity, Christian ecumenical relationship, in this Religion Writer’s estimation. For we live in both unpopular and even threatening times for Christianity and Christians in many, many parts of the world. And even in England, and in the United States, the tensions between secular society and Christianity and Christians becomes more evident almost monthly.
The life of the Camaldoli, yea, the life of the Christian, is one of service to God. Archibishop Rowan William’s almost makes this statement a proclamation in the opening remarks of his homily when he said,
“Your Holiness, Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: It is a privilege to stand here, where my predecessors stood in 1989 and 1996, and to offer once again, as we did most recently in Westminster [and Assisi], the sacrifice of praise that we owe to the One Lord in whose name we are baptized; the One Lord who by his Spirit, brings to recognisability in each member of his sacramental Body, the image and abundant life of Christ his Son, through the temptations and struggles of our baptismal calling. St Gregory the Great had much to say about the peculiar temptations and struggles of those called to office in the Church of God.”
Let us move in this direction of friendship between Christians and in the Christian world. It is this warm greeting of a cordial relationship, and it was the current Pope Benedict who in his homily at the anniversary meeting and its visit by the Archbishop who used the word, “cordial,” that we find a civiliziing and Christianizing force in the world. Let us call this what the monks and Dr. Williams have recognized it as: Religious Charism.
Shall this brief article-essay close with the words of the Archbishop’s from his homily discussing the beauty and necessity of humility? A practice held by Christians and the Camaoldi monks (in their case a 1000 years of practice). Let us read what the Archbishop had to say:
“And it is this humility which the writer of the first life of St Gregory, written in England in the early eighth century, places at the head of the list of his saintly virtues, associating it with the ‘prophetic’ gift which allowed him to see what the English people needed and to respond by sending the mission of St Augustine from this place. That association of humility and prophecy is indeed one that St Gregory himself makes in the Dialogues. The true pastor and leader in the Church is one who, because he is caught up in the eternal self-offering of Jesus Christ through the sacramental mysteries of the Church, is free to see the needs of others as they really are. This may be ‘tormenting’, because those needs can be so profound and tragic; but it also stirs us to action to address such needs in the name and the strength of Christ.”