250 Oblates from 6 continents and 32 countries gathered in Rome, Italy at the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI for the Second Oblate World Congress. Abbot Primate Nokter Wolf, the symbol of unity among Benedictine communities worldwide, in addressing the assembly suggested that these are special, difficult times of crisis; both in economies and in security and it is hoped that Benedictine Oblates may help respond to these challenges. What was the Benedictine Oblate answer? Contemplation and dialogue….
The Second Oblate World Congress was introduced with a Russian icon, Christ the Light of the World and the comment, “Deep within the human heart is a desire to see the face of God and live.” Thus began a graced time of personal transfiguration.
Our mission at the Congress was to meet as many oblates as possible, share prayer and friendship, listen and dialogue in order to take back home instruments to help foster good zeal. An initial overview of today’s religious challenges and the Benedictine answer was given:
- Be watchful—take stock of our contradictions.
- Build bridges so we may approach strangers.
- Bear witness to our faith — express our hope.
- Be open to meet anyone, die to the self that obstructs openness.
With that we were wished good prayer and fruitful work.
Nokter Wolf emphasized that despite our difficult times there is a new search for meaning and a communal aspect to our spirituality. The Oblate answer to this was offered through three keynote presentations and an inter-faith panel. Laurence Freeman, an English Benedictine, presented “The Contemplative Oblate Today” noting that Pope John Paul II wrote in “In Vita Consecrata,” “The deeper your contemplation, the more effective your ministry.” The Oblate role in society today is to be an agent of contemplation. Recovering this contemplative tradition will increase what we are able to contribute to today’s world.
Andrew Tanya–anan, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, presented “Mission and Interreligious Dialogue.” His refrain throughout several presentations was that the mission of dialogue is not optional. The need is a result of pluralism. True dialogue is a religious experience that should be at the core of our religious practices and personal development. “Dialogue is born when we learn to love what is different from ourselves.” William Skudlarek, an American Benedictine residing in Rome, noted that inter-religious dialogue is a basic contemplative practice because one must listen, attentively, receptively, and non-judgmentally.
Mother Marie Hickey, OSB, of England, presented “Personal Relations and Communion,” offering that the Benedictine understanding of community has great potential to make a significant contribution to the global process of community building. First we must bring the Congress to our own community, strengthen it and then establish networks. As we network, encountering the need to accommodate diversity, we must focus on what is essential—liturgy of hours, lectio divina, the Rule of Benedict and applying it to our life.
The inter-religious panel on “The Religious Challenges of Today” was comprised of Venerable Ajahn Chandapolo, Buddhist; Shahrzad Houshman, Muslim; Ghiri Hamsananda, Hindu; Lisa Palmieri, Jewish; and William Skudlarek, Christian. They addressed four questions:
- How can religion answer the challenge of the world’s need resulting from technology? Briefly, listen and contemplate—it is the act of contemplation that answers hyper-technology.
- What are the challenges that are most important for religion to deal with? The challenge of adapting traditions from another time to modernity, returning to spiritual roots, letting go of our need for instant gratification and the consumer need for the latest spiritual trend.
- How can religion foster societies that are truly pluralist? Acknowledging our common values and that what we have in common is greater than our differences. We make a lot of the differences; yet all want to be happy, fulfilled, and live in peace. We must discover the plurality of our own identity.
- If we are open and compare our deepest religious beliefs with the beliefs of others, do we risk losing our faith? Relationship is at the heart of what it means to be human. The Trinity, our God, is a god of relationship. To be in dialogue is at its core a way of being Christian.
The Oblates responded to the presentations in same language discussion groups. One English language group responded by lifting up the Benedictine maxim, ‘Seek nothing before God,’ adding that “The Benedictine attitude of humility is so important for us—we are called to deep humility. As the institutions of the developed countries break down, we have to transform ourselves to be part of the transformation of something very basic. The future is with the poor; we must welcome the poor.”
And my response to this time of grace: The Congress models and Thomas Merton encourages us to learn about other faiths, including other ecumenical traditions. As we learn more about these diverse traditions, we are to hold the tension among them within ourselves, thus preparing the way for peace and unity.