On June 10th, Abbot Timothy Kelly, OSB, former Abbot of St John’s Abbey in Collegeville MN gave the fourth in the series of lectures celebrating our 50th Anniversary Year. His topic was The Art of Christian and Monastic Life. Hopefully these lectures will be published in book form since it is impossible to do justice to them in a short essay. He spoke as a Benedictine monk whose vocation has involved him as student, priest, teacher, missionary, pastor, prison chaplain, convent chaplain, director of novices and an Abbot among other things, and one who has pondered the meaning of monastic life as an expression of Christian life.
Abbot Timothy’s focus was not on the lofty and abstract, but on the profound yet simple signs that God uses to speak to us. Humanity itself is such a sign for we are made in the image and after the likeness of God. Image and likeness is clearly not in physical appearance, gender, color size, language or the like. Yet in simply living in accord with the truth of our being we are living revelations of who God is. Using Col. 1:15-20 as a summary of God’s plan for us in Christ, Abbot Timothy went on to explain what was torn apart by sin, what lessened the effectiveness of the sign of humanity as the image and likeness of God, is now reconciled in Christ who is the head of the reconciled body of humanity. In him who is “the image of the unseen God” we, in our reconciled unity, might become that people who reveal God with us by our love for one another as members of the Body of Christ, the church. Or in other words, we are God’s art, God’s living art.
As Christians, whether monk, married, single or whatever, we have a common goal built on our relationship to Christ Jesus. The love of God for us even precedes creation and creation itself is the first manifestation and even contains the love of God for all people.
We are to look at God’s plan established prior to creation so that we might understand the purpose of creation and in our hearts accept one another and all people because God excludes no one. The separation from one another that sin produces is overcome in God’s plan that God “would bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth” (Eph. 1:10). This, of course, describes Paschal (Easter) spirituality. It takes effort to apply paschal spirituality to all areas of life and yet it is the only spirituality that can help us to make sense out of life. We are on a journey with Christ to the accomplishment of God’s purpose in us.
A monastic community is meant to be a sign to the whole Church and to all creation of the reconciliation Christ has accomplished. One could say there is a ‘sacrament of monastic life” analogous to marriage which is a sign or living revelation of the faithful union between Christ and the Church.
Abbot Timothy developed the sign value of the various aspects of Christian and monastic life in a wonderful and convincing way and reminding us also: “Monks are no better and no worst than anyone else. Their way of life is an alternative way of saying Christ to the world, just as marriage is a way of saying Christ to the world. Following what Saint Paul describes in 1 Corinthians about the gifts of the Spirit, we can say that there are communal charisms as well as individual charisms. Monastic life is one of the wonderful ways God has given us to be witnesses to his life, death and resurrection, signs of the Paschal mystery that gives meaning to the Christian life”.