Our founder, Richard Meux Benson, coined the turn of phrase “men of the moment” to envision the timeliness of SSJE’s life and witness. Far from being the traditional imitators of bygone days, we are to be “men of the present moment and its life.” What does the present moment invite? This question has informed our year of praying, talking, and listening with one another. We have also been in communication with friends and advisors who companion us.
SSJE has always lived in tension, a good thing. It’s not unlike muscular tension, which is complementary – allowing, for example, an arm to reach out and then to contract. So we have lived since our founding in 1866. To use St. Paul’s phrase, we are “working out our salvation,” our life-long conversion to Christ, in a creative tension. On the one hand, there is an element of “the hidden life” that has informed the religious life since early centuries in the Egyptian desert. Words such as “enclosure,” “cloister,” “the Greater Silence,” “the cell,” inform our daily practice. We gather throughout the day for our round of prayer and worship, whether guests join us or not. We are monks. However we are also missioners, and herein lies our tension. Since our earliest days, SSJE Brothers have been sent out on mission. Typically at the time of one’s profession, a Brother became much more active in ministry to others – whether this be to nearby university students or parishioners; or to Iona, Scotland; Bombay, India; Cape Town, South Africa; Oyama, Japan; Bracebridge, Ontario; or to one of many other destinations. We have lived a kind of radical availability.
We SSJE Brothers are not clones. Though we share in a common and rigorous formation upon entering SSJE, we bring to this life a prior formation. The influence of our family of origin, our natural abilities and creative interests, and our educational and work backgrounds are extremely varied. This makes for a graceful synergy in our life together; however it also requires a constant attentiveness as we claim both our common charism, ministries, and practices, and as we make space for individual Brothers to discuss and put into practice particular interests and gifts for which we are passionate. “We” is the most important pronoun in our shared vocabulary. “We” is what we hold in common; “we” is also what we invite and enable individually. All of this requires a continual and respectful attentiveness to one another: open ears and open hearts and the freedom to speak.
Our only “conclusion” thus far in this year of listening is that it is a good and necessary thing for us to be doing. We knew this from the outset. What we did not fully know at the outset was about the changing vitality of the Church, the growing complexities of world politics, the hastening environmental degradation, and the ripple effects of the coronavirus. We continue to watch, listen, and pray for God’s invitation.