Overview of Benedictines Magazine
Spring 2016 

Generativity in Monastic Communities

According to Erik Erikson, the seventh stage of psychosocial development is generativity versus stagnation. Just as married couples birth new life in families, monastics ought to birth new life in our communities. This is done in a variety of ways. Older members nurture life in younger members by their example and encouragement. Monastics serve as midwives in introducing oblates to the Rule of Benedict and Benedictine values. Women and men religious can be life-giving by modeling  prayer, compassion, and hospitality to guests who visit their monastery and people with whom they work. All those who come in contact with us ought to be enlivened by our presence and listening hearts.

In our efforts to be generative individuals and communities, what seems like wisdom to older members may be experienced as oppressive or patronizing to younger generations. What can be instructive is when older generations tell their stories of how they overcame obstacles or impediments and learned from them.  Also younger members might offer valuable insights on changes and disappointments they have experienced that enabled them to move forward.

Brother Bede Healey looks at generativity from a psychological point of view. He refers to Eric Erikson who views generativity as “primarily the concern in establishing and guiding the next generation.” He notes, however, that later psychoanalytic developments show the growth of human persons coming from the “interplay of groups and communities.” This is especially true of monastic communities where the “mutuality of generativity” causes members to be “released into being – over and over again.” Healey also draws a connection of generativity to the vow of conversion, and stresses that communities are continually discovering who they are and who they are coming to be. 

Sister Gertrude Feick writes about “passing on the tradition” as a way to be generative. She mentions three ways two elderly sisters have done this for her: searching for God, praying always, and practicing humility. Although they are in their 90’s, they continue to be role models for her. The writings of Cardinal Basil Hume have also inspired her to practice these essentials of monastic life. 

For Sister Christian Morris generativity is dependent on personal and communal transformation in Christ. Relying heavily on the Rule of Benedict, she believes this is brought about by fostering beauty, stability, and monastic practices.  She thinks monastics can be an example to the world that shows a lack of care for the environment and a general disregard of beauty. According to Sister Christian, “Generative monastic communities follow the lead of the Holy Spirt living the Rule in ever-new and previously unimagined ways.”

Sister Irene Nowell finds the psalms a source of generativity. She speaks of how her life has been enriched by the psalms and hopes the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours in community will be life-giving for newer members. She believes “singing and chanting together is a great antidote to individualism,” and that this daily exchange with God will allow the Word of God to “become flesh in us.” 

On another topic, Oblate Anthony Maranise writes of immigration through the lens of Benedictine hospitality. Quoting from the Rule, he says, “All creation is sacred,” and “All guests are to be received as Christ.”  He stresses that this includes believers as well as non-believers, and explains how “xenodochial spirituality” urges us to welcome strangers, especially immigrants. To do this, “Christians must adopt an attitude of general inclusivity toward all migrant persons, regardless of national origin, and without fear.”

The work of generativity in our communities is a serious challenge. Monastics need to be an antidote to the secularism and selfishness in our society and pass on our rich heritage to others. And in this Year of Mercy, we need to exemplify God’s command to welcome the stranger and the alien in our midst. 

Barbara Mayer, OSB