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Monastics: Life and Law
Reflections of a Benedictine Canonist

by Daniel J. Ward OSB

 

INTRODUCTION

The American Benedictine Academy is pleased to bring a series of articles written over an eleven-year span on canonical aspects of American Benedictine monastic life. Daniel J. Ward, O.S.B., monk of Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, both a canon and a civil lawyer, wrote these columns for The American Monastic Newsletter. Our purpose in this volume is to make the wisdom, insights and clarifications of the new Code of Canon Law vis-à-vis aspects of monastic life accessible in one volume to superiors, initial and ongoing formation personnel, canonists working with monastic communities, scholars and other interested persons.

These thirteen articles range in interest from specific applications of the Code to specific monastic understandings of profession or structures of governance, to difficult issues like sexual misconduct, as well as clarifications of such matters as monastic poverty as distinct from apostolic poverty or monastic obedience as distinct from apostolic obedience. Ward also presents historical decisions and their impact today, such as the decision of 1859 by which American Benedictine nuns lost their status as solemnly professed monastics and which shaped the way the Church viewed their status with respect to issues such as total renunciation.

There are some golden nuggets of wisdom woven into Ward's articles that inspire the reader to deeper understanding, more than a mere dry reading of canonical statutes ever could. A few of these are presented here as a way of showing the rich theological reflection these articles contain:

"The 1983 Code of Canon Law has presented monastics, both men and women, the opportunity to return to a full spirit and concept of total renunciation."

"The monastery, then, is a place to which a person comes to listen."

"Monastic life is not a static life of perfection . . . but a journey of coming to recognize human weaknesses and then depending on God's mercy and help to grow into a tender, understanding and gentle person."

"Monastics ought to help contemporary society see that a person's true worth . . . is based upon the wonderful miracle he or she is as a unique gift of God."

Moreover, Ward calls American monastic men and women to look to the future and what it holds out to us and names some ways of responding: "willing[ness] to move beyond surface-structural changes to changes of heart"; preoccupation with the past; seeing no need for change and offering resistance to change; return to a "pre-law" state, to name but a few. He holds out hope for the future of Benedictine monasticism and "the challenge for contemporary monastics and monasteries . . . to continue to be part of this ever-constant yet ever-new way of life."

Ward has agreed to write future articles on issues in monastic life that intersect with canon law and other vital realities of the Church. We, the board of the American Benedictine Academy, express heartfelt gratitude for his willingness to study, reflect and write on Benedictine monastic life as we move into the twenty-first century.

Sister Mary Forman, O.S.B.
President, American Benedictine Academy
Feast of St. Benedict, July 11, 1998

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