The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 33, Nr. 1, February 2003                   Richardton, ND 58652

 

The Threat of War:

Two Statements

Benedictines Respond to War Threat

In response to recent threats of war, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men sent the following joint letter to President Bush.

Dear Mr. President,

In light of Congress' passage of the resolution giving you extraordinary power in decision-making, we urge you not to order a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. Such a strike would not be defensive in response to an attack, but would be based on the fear of the possibility of an attack on the United States or on others. It would in fact be an unprovoked initiation of a war, contrary to international law and religious ethics.

There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein poses a severe threat to stability and peace in the region. However, a pre-emptive strike as a measure to prevent war is not only unprecedented, it is not sound political or military policy. Before any military action is taken all nonviolent, diplomatic means must be taken to address the current situation. United Nations weapons inspections must be carried out. A comprehensive and implementable UN resolution must be ratified and given time to be assessed. The US must work with the international community not to build a coalition of war, but to build a coalition that can effectively and peacefully ensure that Iraq cannot obtain the components necessary to build weapons of mass destruction. It is our belief everything possible must be done to avoid military action. We also believe that the US must not act unilaterally at this time.

Armed conflict would undoubtedly result in many civilian deaths. Military action against Iraq would destabilize further the volatile situation in the Middle East, making peace more elusive than ever. It is reasonable to anticipate acts of violent retaliation against the United States should this country strike first. Effective global diplomacy without resort to military intervention is needed for true conflict resolution and the establishment of a strong base for democracy and peace in Iraq and throughout the world.

As Presidents of the conferences of religious in the Catholic Church?numbering about 110,000 religious priests, brothers, and sisters?we speak based on our values of respect for human life, compassion for those who are innocent and helpless, and justice for all people. We strongly urge you not to initiate a war against Iraq.

Sincerely,

Canice Connors, OFMConv
President, CMSM

Ann Zollman, BVM
President, LCWR

 

Shortly thereafter, Benedictine superiors made their own response as well. The following statement from Benedictine men and women arose from the meeting of Benedictine Presidents of Women's Federations and Men's Congregations of the United States held on October 12, 2002.

Statement from Benedictine Men and Women

We Benedictine men and women, members of the oldest religious order in the Roman Catholic Church, are alarmed by President Bush's and the US government's steady movement toward an unprecedented pre-emptive attack against the people of Iraq. Born in late antiquity when marauding armies made all civilization vulnerable to violence, Benedictines adopted as their motto the Latin word Pax (Peace), and the central teaching in our 1500 year-old Rule of Benedict is that everyone, including every stranger, is to be welcomed as a blessing and treated as Christ. From that stance of reverence for the other, we state our opposition to a military attack on Iraq for the following reasons:

*????????? A military attack against a densely populated country, already decimated by war and economic sanctions, will put millions of vulnerable civilians at risk of death and disease;

*????????? The threatened military attack would follow over a decade of repressive sanctions that have already killed millions of innocent Iraqis, many of them children, who die of malnutrition, contaminated water, and a shortage of medication for treatable diseases;

*????????? A military attack will not decrease but increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks against the US and any allies who join us, both by giving immediate incentive to existing terrorist cells and by drawing more resentful and desperate young people of Islamic nations towards terrorist ideology;

*????????? A military attack now will further divert attention and resources from solving our domestic economic problems, which threaten millions of American families and individuals with the terror of hunger, homelessness, and unemployment;

*????????? A military attack would needlessly put at risk the young men and women in the US military who would fight this war.

In saying this, we also recognize that Saddam Hussein's threats must be taken seriously. We realize that he did use chemical weapons against his own people in the 1980s, when he was allied with the US. We believe that United Nations diplomacy must be used to resolve this ongoing problem; threats to attack serve only to destabilize the situation and make more likely the use of any weapons Iraq may have.

One of the main reasons given by the administration for going to war is that, as Americans, we must refuse to live in fear. As people of faith, we know that fear is a spiritual problem. Fear can only be overcome by confronting fear itself, not by eradicating every new object of fear. The answer to fear is not war but a deep and living faith.

Some of us Benedictines oppose all war as immoral, but all of us oppose this particular war as immoral. We will each do what we can to prevent it. As we gather each day for prayer in our monasteries, we pledge to join together in praying that peace will prevail. 

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Brief Book Reviews

Cistercian Publications continues to make the wisdom of the monastic tradition available to contemporary readers with more additions to its Cistercian Studies series.? The Works of Achard of Saint Victor have been translated by Hugh Feiss, OSB (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2001, 493 pages, ISBN 0-87907-965-7). Achard was a twelfth-century abbot of the canons of Saint Victor in Paris and later bishop of Avranches.

His works include a variety of sermons for liturgical feasts as well as theological and philosophical discourses. The sermons add another resource to the selections of? readings for feasts. The discourses, of course, are "heavier," but show the thinking of another of the scholars of the period when scholastic theology was evolving and coming to prominence.

One of the best things about this book is the elucidation by the translator. Father Hugh has provided, in addition to the background material on Achard, an introduction to each of the works. In these introductions, he gives an outline of the content, connects it to other writers and points to dominant themes in the Victorine writers, among other things. The reader is then better prepared to read each particular text. Footnotes and citations for all Scripture references are included in the texts as well.

More monastic wisdom is to be found in Stephen of Muret's Maxims, translated by Deborah van Doel, OCD (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2002, 175 pages, ISBN 0-87907-777-8). St. Stephen gave these spiritual teachings to the hermit monks who came to Muret between 1075 and 1124, forming the beginnings of the Order of Grandmont.

This is a very different style of writing than that of Achard. Here, the reader finds little sayings or paragraphs, the commonsense musings of a man of spiritual wisdom. Stephen often uses analogies from everyday life to make his point, not unlike the desert teachers of earlier times. "No one wins a war who, in the first attack, falls and loses his weapons," is typical of his encouraging advice to novices. The book's value as a lectio source is enhanced by many little sketches of the ordinary tasks of monastic life, drawn by Kate Douglas.

A glimpse into an even lesser known monastic world is provided by Sophia Senyk in translating a collection called Manjava Skete: Ukrainian Monastic Writings of the Seventeenth Century (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 2001, 212 pages, ISBN 0-87907-792-1). There are three texts: the life of the founder Jov, the testament of his successor Theodosius, and Theodosius's rule.

The similarities in style and content to the collection of Pachomian texts can hardly be missed. Yet there is also the distinctive, later, Orthodox environment which makes this an interesting comparative piece for those interested in both the universal and specific views of monastic life.

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Buddhist Christian Monastic Dialogue

The Buddhist and Christian monastic dialogue has gained prominence with two related publications. It began with The Gethsemani Encounter?(New York: Continuum, 1999, 306 pages, ISBN 0-8264-1046-4). Edited by Donald Mitchell and James Wiseman, OSB, the book was a gathering of the presentations and dialogue on spiritual life that brought Buddhist and Christian monastics together at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. There, the Dalai Lama, theologians and practitioners of the monastic life shared their insights into the basic principles of their spiritual quest, the commonalities and the divergencies.

From this encounter came an even more unique text, Benedict's Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of St. Benedict (New York: Riverhead, 2001, 223 pages, ISBN 1-57322-190-2). Patrick Henry edits, and makes excellent transitional comments as well, the observations of Norman Fischer, Joseph Goldstein, Judith Simmer-Brown and Yifa.

The editor notes that these are individual Buddhists reflecting, not a Buddhist reflection. It is not an attempt to recast the Rule in Buddhist vocabulary. Neither is it a commentary in the sense of taking particular passages in the Rule for analysis and interpretation. Rather, the authors look at their own experience and at concepts in Benedict's thinking. Thus, some of this is very personal; some is about the great truths that simply have different names in different faith traditions.

The entire text of the Rule of St. Benedict is also reproduced as an appendix. This book has the potential to introduce many more people to the universal wisdom inherent in St. Benedict. It also has the potential to challenge those within the Christian tradition to appreciate that wisdom with a fresh point of view or, at the very least, to learn more about how Buddhists experience their own monastic vocation.

* * * * * *

A charming little book for giving or enjoying is The Gift of St. Benedict by Verna A. Holyhead, SGS (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2002, 144 pages, ISBN 0-87793-983-7) with illustrations by Lynne Muir. The illumination-style artwork is a combination of monastic scenes and decorative words and borders that become part of the lectio of the text. Most of the pages contain a single quote from the Rule, but they are grouped by themes.

What keeps this from becoming just a lovely little book of sentences is that they are grouped by theme with an introductory summary of that theme. Sister Verna is a Good Samaritan Sister from Australia, a community in the Benedictine tradition, and it is clear that this collection and her insights come out of a lived experience. Although each introduction is only a couple of pages, she captures the essence of such ideas as humility and stability in a practical language that then bring the following quotes into focus. As these few paragraphs provide a simple, but solid, introduction to the spirituality of the Rule, this book offers a good way to share the essence of Benedictine spirituality with those unfamiliar with it.

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ABA Membership Renewal Time

All current members of the American Benedictine Academy have received reminders from the secretary to renew their membership. The membership period runs concurrent with the calendar year, regardless of when the dues were received. Dues had to be raised this year to $20 for one year or $30 for two years until 2012.

New members of the American Benedictine Academy whose membership applications are received just prior to, or at, the biennial convention will receive membership until December 31 of the year in which the convention is held. This membership will entitle them to receive the October issue of the American Monastic Newsletter and to receive the member's discount for attendance at the convention, along with the rights and duties of membership as noted in the Constitution of the American Benedictine Academy, (Article III. Membership, Section 2. Rights and Duties of Membership). Dues paid by new and renewing members of ABA before May 1 will entitle members to receive the June and October issues of the AMN.

New members of the ABA whose membership applications are received by June 1 of the year in which no convention is held will receive membership until December 31 of that year. This membership will entitle them to receive the October issue of the AMN. The executive secretary will use her/his discretion in determining the dates of membership for applications received late in the year.

lf, on June 1, a member has not renewed his/her membership in the Academy, after having received two renewal notices, that member's name will be struck from the membership rolls.

Information and membership application are available on the website <www.osb.org/aba/members/memb.html> or by contacting the Adel Sautner OSB, executive secretary.? See below.

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ABA Proceedings 2002

"Monastics and Mentoring: Re-Founding the Tradition"

Academy members $12/Non-members $15

Adel Sautner, OSB
415 S Crow St.
Pierre, SD? 57501

 

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