August 3, 2012
Transformation and Renovation
Dear abbot general em. Hermenegild, dear definitors, dear abbots, Chapter fathers and -mothers, dear confreres,
After two weeks full of work, labor, tiring efforts, after two weeks also full of meetings, talks, exchanges and long sittings, after many speeches, elections and reflections, after nice excursions, outings, dinners and celebrations, all this not without joy, happiness and allegria, we are coming to an end with this last concluding words surely prepared in forehand, but now presented with the conviction that we have experienced a great Chapter and an intense assembly. It was a wonderful place, the campus of St. Norbert College in Green Bay, the St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere. It was the wish of the American confreres after Freising to lodge in a house with air condition and better (cooler) accommodations. So we have looked for a good choice and the offer of De Pere to come to the New World was a wonderful idea.
In the history of our Order it was the second General Chapter in the States after the first meeting 1976. Now after 36 years many things have changed in the World (Nine-eleven), in the Church after the long pontificate of 27 years of pope John Paul II. (1978-2005) and now seven years of the present pope Benedict XVI. and also in our Order after the other six Chapters in Westmalle (1982), Steinfeld (1988), Untermarchtal (1994), Rome (2000), Freising (2006) and now again here in Wisconsin feliciter peracto. So we are standing in a long tradition, not only of 36 years, but in the tradition of our whole Order’s tradition in a 891-years period. After the definition tradition is “this, what will be transmitted”. If we look on the cross then in the moment of his death Jesus has given his spirit, “tradidit spiritum” (Joh 19,30). At the end tradition is the Holy Spirit himself, which Jesus has given to his Church. In this sense tradition is not a static compendium, but a dynamic progress, moreover the living Holy Spirit, full of vigour, who will guide and illuminate all those who have taken over in faith, what Jesus hat given to them. In this sense we have a precious tradition and we have to develop our tradition “in creative faithfulness”. So these days were marked by our reflections and considerations how we have lived in and out our tradition of Prémontré, how can we develop our Constitutions in the spirit and according the charisma of our founder St. Norbert, how can we improve our canonical life in our time with the present challenges and demands of a postmodern and post-Christian world, how can we act and react in a world full of skepticism, relativism, some pathologic moves like depression and apathy by many contemporaneous people, but also in some of our communities. We have also spoken about all the burdening problems in our communities, based on the visitation reports, in a frankly, open and con-fraternally way; it was not possible to find directly a solution or to solve immediately all difficulties and problems – we are living communities and life-communities! – the idea was to speak and to share, to listen and to reflect together where does the shoe pinch, where the troubles are. We were impressed by many testimonies and reports about concrete situations and developments, about growing and success, about new initiatives and building projects. I am glad about each building site – I have not to look for the finances side – but each building activity is also an evident sign of life, courage and optimism, each restoration is a sign of conservation and maintenance of our patrimony and tradition in stone. But the most striking fact is the growing number of vocations, ordinations and young confreres in our Order. They are the future to realize also tomorrow our canonical heritage and to translate into reality our Norbertine charisma at least in this twenty-first century. The young confreres are the best richness and the capital what we have; our total care, prayer and attentive education and formation should be obvious and self-evident. Can you imagine that the father will give his son a scorpion, when he is asking for eggs? All responsible confreres in the formation process have to be like fathers and mothers for the wellbeing of the kids. When we accept candidates, then we are also responsible in the total sense of this word, we have to respond. Their impartiality, directness, ability for of communication and talents to use all means of communications is without glorification gift and task in one (“Gabe und Aufgabe”). I think for the future this will be a great challenge in our “till now more monastic life-style” (with recreation, closure, silence, great walls around…) how to live together community and communication if we have a word-wide network, day and night available?
(2) Transformation and Renovation
So we are full of the Holy Spirit who is promised and given in occasion of common prayer and reflection, in brotherhood/sisterhood and unanimity on one place, as we have practiced and experienced in these days. These were real “Days of Pentecost” when we realize that the other confrère or consoeur follows the same call of the Lord, that the others belief in the same mission and sending, when we discover by others the fire of enthusiasm and passion to build God’s kingdom, when we hear about all the programs to proclaim the Good news to the people, when we realize what our confreres before us have done for the establishing of missions and communities. The event of Pentecost is a process of transformation. The disciples in the closed cenaculum, concentered and united, together with Mary, related on their own group and group dynamic, opened the door, moreover opened their hearts and minds to go out, to speak, to announce, to proclaim, to give testimony from the new power and inspiration awaked by the Spirit. There was an event and process of transformation from meditation to communication, from concentration to mission, from receivers to givers, from self-reflection to witness. The Dominicans have the formula “contemplata aliis tradere”: what the apostles have received in templum, in con-existence of prayer and medi-tation, this was the content of their message that the Lord is risen, that God is love, that we are called in his kingdom. And I suppose that religious life is nothing else than this dynamic transformation process of love till to the perfection, a radical new-foundation of the entire man, a spiritual progress to a new-creation and transformation in the deepest of our existence. All energies in us became a new direction “in Deum” (into God) like a deep desire after this status which unites us with God. Jesus speaks with Nicodemus from the new-rebirthing in a new sphere in which God is the middle point. And we know that this transformation is a life-long process, this conversio morum from our profess formula, a process which culminates in the formation of a man who is able and capable to participate on God’s life in a joyful way. Our religious life is real “work on our heart,” in the center of our existence where we meet the living God, where we receive all the grace, which we need day by day for the big work of deification, of sanctification and perfection.
- Pentecost is change: do you want real a change in your life? What do you want to change? What do you have to change?
- Pentecost is transformation, the deep-going far-reaching, radical transmission of our Self: What is wrong in my life? What has to be transformed concrete and sincere? Where and for what I am on the flight?
- Pentecost is transubstantiation. Is the divine substance still a part of my life? Do you wish real that – like in the transubstantiation of the Holy Mass – something of your life should be transformed into the body of Christ?
The apostles were transformed by the Holy Spirit insofar they became more similar to the Lord, similar directed, like-minded, uniform and unanimous with the Lord Jesus Christ. I think it is dangerous to ask for the Holy Spirit, it is dangerous to ask for more fire and passion, it is a risk to become more like the Lord, burning for love, with this endless desire to be united with God. From Bernhard from Clairvaux we can hear “sic affici deificari est”, to be affected, to be touched, to be moved by the Spirit means μεταμόρφοσις (metamόrphosis), means divinization, to be more open on the way to perfection and sanctity. The purpose of our canonical, God-dedicated life is the radical engagement of our total human existence under the influence of the Holy Spirit to work in our inner life to become more and more uniform with our Master and Savior Jesus Christ, so that we can like him give our life for others, for the confreres in our community, for the people in our church and in our society. 1
After the election of the new Definitorium Ordinis, which is always like a setting of the course for the coming time, I want to nominate the new Vicarii Abatis Generalis. After a process of reflection and discussion I will nominate the confreres for this task for the time 2012-2018:
Brabantia – abbot Jeroen De Kuyper, Tongerlo
English Circary – abbot Eugen Hayes, Orange
French Circary – abbot Joël Houque, Mondaye
German-speaking Circary – abbot Raimund Schreier, Wilten
Czech-Slovakian Circary – abbot Michael Pojezdný, Strahov
Hungarian Circary – prior Augustinus Ullmann, Gödöllö
Brazilian Circary – prior Toninho Galvão Filho, Montes Claros
Delegate for India – abbot Thomas Benzes, Jamtara.
I have still nominated our Provisor Ordinis Fr. Bob Finnegan, also with the intention to look for a transitus to an younger confrere in the nearer future.
I suppose this is the most easy part of my speech and the most honorable part to say thanks after these great days of Pentecost. We will thank later on in the last celebration in the abbey Church of De Pere in the first line God, our Father, who has called us here together and has guided us through his Holy Spirit. He was the center of these days and the verily presider of our assembly.
Many thanks to all of you – where should I start?
- To all capitulars, fathers and “mothers”, juniors, to all participants without exception.
- The indefatigable secretariat with the secretary Fr. Dane Radecki, De Pere, the competent
help of Fr. Herman Janssens, Averbode, Fr. John Torangeau, De Pere, Ellen Mommerts, De Pere, and Louise Nielson, Albuquerque, Fr. Joseph Serano, Daylesford as protocollist; this was a very effective team working with energy and power. For all commitment a warm applause!
- I would like to pay a great compliment to Fr. John Kastenholz, the Provisor Capituli, often in the background, but responsible for the frictionless and smooth course of these days.
- Thanks to our very busy interpreters in these days so that quasi all confreres could hear in their own language the message – this is Pentecost pure! Thanks for all translations in forehand.
- Thanks to the heard-working cooperators and assistants Frater Michael Brennan, Frater Matthew Dougherty, Frater Jacob Sircy, Frater Bradley Vanden Branden, during the days and special in the evenings – also an important part of a Chapter. Here all problems were solved in a deep inspiration!
- Thanks to the liturgical stuff, Fr. Michael Frisch, De Pere, and Fr. Stefan Kling, Windberg/Rog-genburg as organist, Fr. Christophe Monsieur, Averbode, responsible for the Liturgy. It is the most delicate part during the Chapter, to find a way to celebrate in different languages so that everybody is content.
- Here I want to repeat my thanks to Sua Eminenza Cardinal Francis George O.M.I., Chicago, who was the presider and preacher by our opening celebration, together with the local Excellences, here the ordinaries loci bishop David L. Ricken and his auxiliary bishop Robert Fealey Morneau. We are always looking for good relationships with our bishops and our ordinarii.
- Thanks to the moderators during the main sessions, abbot Richard Antonucci, Daylesford, and Fr. Bruno Aerts, Postel, for the skilled and efficient moderation during the two weeks.
- I would like to mention the work and contribution of the experts, our postulator P. Gabriel Wolf, Windberg, with his wonderful explanations about our new Blessed Pierre-Adrien Toulorge, and the contribution of Fr. Andrew Ciferni in the field of the New-definition of our Constitutions. He is an expert for the spiritual and liturgical development in our Order.
- We have had one day of reflection and we have asked Prior François-Marie Human, Mondaye, as speaker of the Spirituality Day. This was a special experience with you on the footsteps of our Father Augustine to reflect and meditate about the Holy Spirit in his theology. This was veramente inspiring.
- I will add here also the well-done daily meditations from our confrere Fr. Alfred McBride. This was an enriching and inspiring start every day. I would like to add here all the contributions of our sisters in these days, of our lay associates, of the confreres in special situations, f. i. Fr. Jack McCarthy in Peru and other houses (Congo, Australia, Brazil), which have enriched and qualified our Chapter and have brought more color and more vitality. Thanks for all of you.
- I will say deep-felt thanks to the Definitors of the last six years (2006-2012), abbot Gary Neville, De Pere, as abbot just re-elected, abbot Jos Wouters, Averbode, abbot Martin Felhofer, Schlägl, abbot Rocky D’Souza, Jamtara, unfortunately not present by this Chapter. It was a strong Definitory full of competence and experience, almost in a good climate and confraternal cooperation, supported by our secretary Fr. Stephan Boyle, Orange/Rome. Thanks also for the Definitorium Capituli, always hard working in the evening time, to provide the course of the Chapter and to control the work and progress of such a meeting. The new Definitors can continue the work of the predecessors and they are invited to come in November to Rome.
- Thanks to the outgoing Vicarii Abatis Generalis for their commitment during the last six years and further beyond in the particular circaries of our Order. We have had our first meeting with the new nominated vicarii to reflect their task and their role in the next six years.
- Here I want to commemorate to confreres in a special way.
First abbot em. Paul Meyfroot, Tongerlo, now living in Leffe and acting as novice master. I will say heartfelt thanks for your tremendous work for the Brazilian and Chilenian, your administration for Montes Claros, your work as my delegatus for Latino-America, for so much travelling, visits to the confreres and so many information and advice to me to bring me up at the high of time and problems. Thank for all translations, for ten years edition of Aliança, the newsletter of the Spanish-Portugies-speaking part of the Order. Thanks also for all commitment and endeavor for our sisters in the Sister Commission and in your direct contact to communities. For me it was always a joy to see you, to speak with you, to contact you, to travel with you. Hartelijk bedankt, obrigado, all the best for the future.
The second one is my delegate for India Sua Eccellenza bishop Theophan Thannicunnel, former bishop of Jabalpur, MP, now living in Jamtara. Thanks for all his work, attention, concerns and love for the Order. It was not possible for him to join our chapter. Best wishes to him, blessings and greetings.
- Thanks to the commission’s chairman and members of the commission for all work during the last six years. The first task of the new Definitors will be the composition of the Order’s commission. For this we received many proposals.
- I would like to repeat here my warmest thanks and respect to the confreres in charge of the Order, the Curia Generalis as I have mentioned this in my first report.
But in the name of all of you I want to express my special thanks and compliments to the Abbey of De Pere with all confreres and cooperators, with all workers behind the stage, the confreres from the Priory St. Joseph on the campus and the big organization of St. Norbert College with the president Thom Kunkel and all his coworkers and staff. We have had best conditions, a warm reception, an attentive care through all the days, the best conditions for lodging, eating, gathering and working, a wonderful atmosphere in the best Norbertine sense of hospitality and confraternity. For all this unique experience here on the banks of the Fox river I want to say thanks the abbot Gary Neville, here personal and acting for all the others: Thanks, respect, compliments and honors for this invitation and for this second American General Chapter.
To express my feelings I found a small booklet from our Chapter history, the report “Acta et Decreta” of the important General Chapter held 1717 in Prémontré (25.04.-01.05.1717) in 12 sessions under the president Rev.mo Dom. D. Claudio Honorato Lucas 2, doctore Sorbonico, Abbate Prae-monstrati & totius ejusdem Ordinis Praemonstratensis Generalis, a booklet withonly 20 pages. I want to present you this little gift, given to the abbot Gary Neville of De Pere, as sign of our great and heart-felt thanks. “Vergelt’s Gott!” God rewards and bless you all for this excellent ‘job.’
(5) Prospects and Perspectives
Dear brothers, dear sisters, the time of the Church starts with Pentecost. The church born from the side-wound of Jesus on the cross, became public after the days of Pentecost, when the apostles start to go out and to preach. After the days of our Chapter like the days of Pentecost is the beginning of mission and sending, of proclaiming and preaching, to go into the world, to the people, first of all into our communities, to our confreres to speak frankly and candidly what you have experienced here in these days. We are called together and we are send together as Norbertines, to leave the house of Prémontré and to act as itinerant preacher, to leave the safety and security of this ‘cosy’ (homelike) campus and to go to the people world-wide, to finish this interesting Order’s laboratory and to work on the pastoral fields at home.
In the Church will start very soon the “Synod of New-Evangelization” (07.-24.10.2012) ad at the same time starts the “Year if faith” (11.10.2012-24.11.2023) – exactly on the day 50 years after the opening of Vatican II and on the feast of the blessed papa John twenty-third, two interesting dates for the church and for us as Norbertines, involved in so many fields of evangelization in our schools, parishes and pastoral activities. It is not a new ‘Evangelization,’ it is moreover a new passion, a new engagement, a new endeavor, a new and deeper love to realize the start-program of Pentecost.
To confess courageously our faith, to testimony plucky our hope, to face fearless and intrepidly all the discussions and controversies in the society and philosophy, to be up to date with all the disputes and crucial confrontations in the church and outside the church, this could be a new challenge for our communities and for our formation programs.
In the coming years will be a lot of new elections in our houses; in Mananthavady is next year an important abbey church benediction and an election; in the next six years our commissions will start with their work for the Order, especially as we have heard and decided to work for the Constitutions; we will have all the Order’s meetings for the prelates, the juniors, the magister, for the sisters and lay associates – maybe all under this aspect: what will help us to fulfill our task to build “communio” and to infiltrate our surroundings with our love and our message.
For the next General Chapter 2018 we have to find a good place and a stirring motto. After our Easter motto in Freising “Weren’t our hearts burning” (Lc 24,32), after the Pentecost motto here in De Pere “Day of Pentecost” I would like to propose the motto “Nativitas Domini - Nativitas Ordinis” as it is written in Windberg on a sealing fresco with a Christmas cycle, in regard to the coming Order’s jubilee of 900 years foundation in 2021 and in regard to the hopefully birth and promulgation of the new Constitutions.
There is a lot to do. But we are not alone, we are sent by the Lord, we are supported by his Spirit, we are united as Canons Regular of Prémontré with a long tradition and a tremendous spiritual patrimony. I will end with a prayer to the Holy Spirit - the origin is unknown
You, Holy Spirit,
who comes along like a roar in heavy storm.
Teach us the language of the truthfulness,
so that we more and more may trust one another
and find to one another in our communities.
Teach us the language of reconciliation,
so that we may be open to meet one another
and start again at the front in our daily life.
Teach us the language of the faithfulness,
so that we may remain reliable in our being together
and support one another.
Teach us the language of trust,
so that we see the good things in our confreres
and encourage her striving for perfection and compassion.
Teach us the language of love,
so that we may be united and connected with one another
and continuously growing in unity and community
“one mind and one heart on the way to God”. Amen.
+ Thomas Handgrätinger OPRAEM
2 Abbot General Claudius Honoratus Lucas de Muin 1702-1740; he organized the both last General Chapter of the Order 1717 and 1738. He started the great work of the Order’s Annals, for which Abbot Carolus Ludowicus Hugo, abbot of Etival, was nominated. The annals were published under the title “Sacri et Canonici Ordinis Praemonstratensis Annales”, Bd I & II, Nancy 1734/36.