We heard many stories this day. All of these were precious stories because they told of new beginnings, of hope and of vitality and creativity. This joie de vivre and hopefulness may be astonishing, because in some places there are only a few who still live in monasteries and in communities – and yet: also and especially we have heard stories of hope from these places, because we have heard a lot about services that work , of creative offers and paths – and ultimately of an inner fire that has driven and drives all those who break new ground in and with their communities, districts and places.
Below I want to share a few observations that I made today. Then, in a second step, I derive insights from this and, thirdly, formulate a few questions and challenges for the further path.
The hope that could be observed here in the stories belongs to the finding and thus to the first part. There is a second aspect to this, namely encouragement. It’s encouraging to share stories with each other that tell of how things went well. But it’s equally encouraging to share stories about challenges and how to deal with them. And finally, it is encouraging to hear about how people handled things and how they first dreamed – namely, of what can happen when everyone lends a hand and at the same time relies on the one Who is the centre of our dreams and visions. And it is also encouraging to hear how loyalty is lived when there is conflict or even when groups and communities get into great trouble. This encouragement was heard and experienced in numerous stories today.
The third aspect is the grace of God. It is never to be underestimated. We can certainly do a lot and work a lot, but without grace it will not work in the end. That also means: In the field of tension between reality and ideal, there is still the surprise element of grace – and this is exactly what you can tell about in your community.
The fourth aspect is openness. This goes hand in hand with many questions that sound into practice and action: What options do we have? Which possibilities are realistic? And can’t we just go boldly and trust the promise of God that will make our vision shine? After all, it is true: “It should not happen through army or power, but through MY Spirit, says God.” It goes without saying that God is not the specific builder in our projects, but without God it does not work either. Because: There is someone who draws the plan that we want to implement as a community and with the charisma entrusted to us.
And then this openness also includes following a word from Pope Francis, which he spoke in 2014 for the “Year of the Orders and Congregations”. In his apostolic letter to the orders, he called on them not to cultivate “useless nostalgia”, but to become “different places” and to live accordingly. It is about places that make it recognizable in the sense of a heterotopia that the Gospel is at home here – and that a life is lived here from which it can be seen that Jesus was actually in the world.
That is of course a big claim – especially against the background of the situation in which many communities find themselves. But we have the chance to do so, because the “other place” is independent of the number of people, since it is formed from the centre, from the crucified and risen Jesus; and it is shaped from the founding charism of every community, which it has received; or from the soul of the place.
What knowledge can be obtained from this finding today? That brings us to the second section. The first point is very obvious, but it should be emphasized once again at this point: Little is possible without exchange, because: without exchange there is no encouragement; And it is even more precise: Without exchange AND friendship in the sense of John 17, little is possible. To form networks in this way and to become pilgrims has the ability to develop great power. It is important to help each other in this sense and to be helped at the same time. So dare to make friends and be on the road together – even across confessional boundaries!
The second point is: Trust in the charism of your community, your order and your church. The first question is therefore not whether a place has to be redesigned and desacralized in order to better bring it to the world. Rather, the first question must be what trust in the charism that defines us is. That means: do we dare to creatively appropriately reappropriate this for the time today? So what about our vision based on our charism? Today we heard the call: “Be full of ambitions!” That is true, because: We have all been given something very powerful that is not ours; for which we are basically just the ‘continous flow heater’ (Durchlaufhitzer). So it goes through us into the world. Against this background, it is important to use what is one’s own proactively: to use one’s own charisma, one’s own dreams – and this in prayer, in the city, as a pilgrims’ hostel, in the life of hospitality or in wrestling with issues that affect society. Another way would be reactive – and makes you small.
The third point: open the doors while praying! More precisely: Open the doors in the life and in the death of your community! So be the bridge in secular space based on your prayer. This is an important concretization, because it takes people into all processes of the community – and gives a testimony even in death that will not remain without consequences.
The third major area I want to address includes questions and challenges. My first point is the dreams and the visions. I’m not sure whether our commitment, our dreams and our visions are sometimes too much outward. It is perfectly clear that the cities, that people need us and these services should and must happen. But – and this has also been heard today – an inward vision is also required. We hinted at this necessity when we today spoke about communio. I found it astonishing that even long-established communities sometimes were attested an immature communio. From a Lutheran perspective, this is astonishing, but against the background of the pronounced caesura character of Vatican II, it has become clear once again which area of possibility and which area of impossibility has thus also arisen for life in community. So here could be a cause for this “immaturity”. This in turn means that the vision inward is essential – and this is attached to questions such as: Who are we? How do we live together? How do we negotiate conflicts? Last but not least, these questions are clarified in precarious life situations, for example in connection with separations and existential challenges.
The second aspect: We heard a lot from the cities today. It almost seems as if the Dutch solution for the orders lies in being a city monastery. So my question is: what about rural areas? And what about the other countries? Is there an inspiration here? Or do you need other ways?
The third aspect: the generations in the community and between the communities – for example between the long-established orders and the emergent communities of the present. The question is: How does spiritual fatherhood and motherhood develop here in a good way? And is there a great chance in the coming together of the Order and the new spiritual movements if they negotiate this question together? This question was also raised today. More precisely: How does it work to award each other dignity and to clearly emphasize that new communities stand on the shoulders of the elderly, and to live this togetherness on the further journey?
One final aspect: the language. What language do we speak today? Is it only the internal language that only we understand? Or have we meanwhile exclusively immersed ourselves in the language of the world? The question is: What does a language look like that both understand? And how do we come to this language, which is also valid for different generations, is understood, but is not ingratiated itself?
To conclude: Much has been said about the crises in the communities these days. This invites you to take another look at the term crisis. At this point, reference should be made to Ute Leimgruber’s statement, who said in her study “Avant-garde in the Crisis” on women’s monasteries in Germany that crisis is a transformation process with an open end. Such an interpretation makes it clear that a crisis is a thoroughly fruitful event, because this crisis equates to a concentration of possibilities and equals less an end that has to be powerlessly endured. It should be added that a crisis as a transformation process with an open end can certainly be approached in a more relaxed manner, at least if the reason on which a community is on the move is clear. This reason – Christ, crucified and risen – is to be cultivated in all of this. This is important because it is the task of all of us to keep the question of God awake in our world. That means: we have a candle in hand here – and it is our job to ensure that this light does not go out.
All in all, it is clear: We have big plans – and that in turn means that we need a lot of prayer. And so I wish all who are gathered here today that in prayer they once again visualize the people with whom they have been on the road today – and that they receive them in prayer, in their hearts and accompany them a little on the next journey and – as necessary – also carry in prayer. Perhaps you have also gotten to know a new community – here too I would like to invite you to accompany it in prayer for a while and thus strengthen it in the invisible world. Let us not underestimate the power and authority of prayer and thus our first and very own mission. Ultimately, this very power will help us to be hopeful in this open-ended transformation process.