Sandpiper: Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst

JUNE 2019 WWW.SANDPIPER.ORG.AU 17 St Augustine of Canterbury monks celebrate feast T he Community of the Sons and Daughters of God is present in the Diocese in the Monastic House of St Augustine of Canterbury, Dookie. Br Massimo took the opportunity of St Augustine of Canterbury’s feast day on May 27 to write about the history and charism of this order, based in Florence, Italy and how they live out their vocations. A community of monks in the world with a touch of Dostoyevsky What does it mean to be a monk? The word monk derives from the Greek word, monos , meaning “one and only.” A monk is essentially a person who seeks one thing alone: God. The monk’s vocation can be summed up by the phrase, “I seek God alone.” The essence of the monastic vocation, then, is not fasting, not enclosure in a monastery, but something more inward: it is an attitude of the heart to seek God alone . This may seem difficult to comprehend, but the monastic vocation is actually something easy to understand if viewed from the practical standpoint. The practical consequence of this inward attitude of seeking God alone is continual prayer, it means to take seriously the divine precept to pray unceasingly . If a person seeks God alone, he will want to pray as much as possible, indeed he would want to pray, not just a few hours a day, not just for most of the day, but always and everywhere! Another practical consequence is this: St Paul says, “Pray unceasingly, give thanks in everything, be always joyful!” Thus someone who devotes his life to continual prayer is always joyful. This joy comes from the awareness of the Presence of God, a God who loves each person infinitely. One important characteristic of the monastic life is that it is one of true joy and true happiness. There is no greater happiness than to live in union with God! But continual prayer doesn’t mean that we spend all day in the chapel or in a church saying prayers. Rather, it means that we aim, with the grace of God, to turn all our daily activities, however ordinary, into a prayer, carrying them out in the awareness of the loving presence of God . Thus, if we are a street sweeper, we do our work of cleaning the roads not just to clean the roads , but to do so in God’s Presence , seeking to transform our work into prayer. There is a third practical consequence of this: if a monk is simply someone who lives continual prayer, then it is not necessary to live in an enclosed monastery separate from the world to be a monk. One can live continual prayer in any state of life, at home, at work, at school; one can be married with a family and with a job in the world and still be a monk. It is admittedly easier to live continual prayer in the silence and solitude of the cloister or hermitage than in the world. So, if a person really seeks God alone, why should he remain in the world? Why shouldn’t he instead seek refuge in a monastery where he can more easily pursue his calling to seek God alone? Here we come to another important insight of the founder of the Community of the Sons and Daughters of God, whose name is Divo Barsotti, an Italian priest and mystic who was born in 1914 and died in 2006. The idea of the Community came to Fr Barsotti when he read T he Brothers Karamazov , a Russian novel written by Dostoyevsky, which is considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature. The hero of this novel is a young monk named Alyosha. Alyosha’s spiritual father, Zosima, another important character of the novel, was a holy monk. One day, while Zosima was on his death bed, he asked to speak with his spiritual son, Alyosha. He told him, “You will have to leave the monastery and go out into the world.” This came as a shock to Alyosha and was contrary to all his expectations. But Zosima explained the reason and it all became clear: “You have to go out into the world because people of the world have to see your face. You will live as a monk in the world.” Zosima had a deep insight: he knew that through a life of deep prayer, his spiritual son, Alysoha, was becoming more and more like Christ, to the point that the love, peace and gentleness of Jesus radiated from Alyosha’s face, in a mysterious but real way, in a way that many could see. He also knew that the presence of Jesus in Alyosha had the power to convert and transform people. Thus Alyosha was to go out into the world so that people could see Christ in him and be transformed by this Presence; his mission was to bring Christ to the world, to be a monstrance showing Christ to all those with whom he came into contact. Thus, while the calling of eachmember of our community is continual prayer, the mission is to bring the presence of Christ to the world, to be a monstrance showing Christ to the world. It would be hard, however, to live like a monk in the world without a structured prayer life and a support group. Thus the Community of the Sons and Daughters of God was founded to meet this need: it is a religious family of members who are called to be monks in the world. It provides support and formation through weekly meetings in small groups of three to six people, and monthly gatherings in a larger group. In such meetings and gatherings, members pray together, engage in Bible study and Lectio Divina , and read writings that are helpful for the ongoing formation of monks. In addition, there is an annual silent live-in retreat and shorter, monthly one-day mini- retreats offered to all members of the community. Finally, the Community of the Sons and Daughters of God recognises that everyone is different and has different needs. Thus, some may live their monastic calling in married life; others may feel the need to live a celibate life to be able to practise continual prayer; still others may feel called to live in a classical monastic setting, in a monastery, under a Rule and with religious vows. The Community of the Sons and Daughters of God foresees all these possibilities and thus has four branches. The first two branches are for those who live in the world, and hold a normal job and may have a family. The third branch is those who choose a celibate lifestyle, but live in the world. The fourth branch is for those who live in a classical monastic setting, in a monastery and under a Rule. Monks in the fourth branch are not in the world, but they provide formation, support and inspiration for the first three branches. Indeed, only through the osmosis between the fourth branch and the first three branches is it possible to live as monks in the world. In spite of the difference in outward lifestyle, the four branches are all on an equal footing. For instance, the fourth branch is considered to be equal, not “superior”, to the first three branches. The spirituality of the community, though drawing from traditional monastic sources like the Desert Fathers, is also attuned to the direction in which the Holy Spirit is leading the Church today. In particular, it is a response to an important statement clearly made in the Second Vatican Council. In the Spirit of Vatican II, we strongly believe that continual prayer, and even contemplative prayer, is for everybody, not just for priests, nuns and religious. We take seriously the universal call to holiness proclaimed solemnly by one of the key documents of Vatican II, Gaudium et spes . In particular, the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours which, before Vatican II was prayed almost exclusively by priests and religious, are recommended for all members of our Community, following the proclamation of the Second Vatican Council, which extended the invitation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours to all the lay faithful. Indeed, we recognise that the Liturgy of the Hours is one of the loftiest prayers of the Church and an indispensable tool for living continual prayer. It is something we recommend to all our members. Currently, there are over two thousand members in the Community worldwide, mostly in Italy, but also in Columbia, Sri-Lanka, Benin and, more recently, in Australia. There are currently 20 brothers and 15 sisters in the fourth branch. In 2006, a small monastery of the fourth branch with three brothers was established in Dookie, in the Sandhurst Diocese, under invitation of the late Bishop Joe Grech, who wished to have a centre of prayer in the heart of the diocese. If you would like to know more about living as monks in the world, we, the brothers in Dookie, would be happy to answer your questions. You may e-mail us at: Russian novelist Dostoyevsky was a significant influence upon the founder of the order. Portrait: Vasily Prevo (1833-1882), Wikimedia Commons. Fr Serafino, Fr Doroteo and Br Massimo of the Dookie House of the Community of the Sons and Daughters of God, named in honour of St Augustine of Canterbury. Photo: The Sandpiper.