Reflections - Golden Jubilee Celebration for Br. Tobias Dammert, OSB - Oct. 21, 2018 - 5. Jeanne Ranek, 058
It is jubilee time! It's a time to rejoice in God's gracious call and fidelity. It is a day to gather with you, Brother Tobias, to celebrate two very special occasions in your life -70 years of life and 50 years as a professed monk of the Missionary Benedictine Congregation. We are so blessed to celebrate with you.
What we celebrate first and foremost on a jubilee of monastic profession is indeed God's faithful love. In 1 Thessalonians (5:16-24) we read, "The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this." God will and does bring us to jubilee days, but not without a generous measure of good zeal on our part. Getting to know you, Tobias, I came to know that you are full of it-good zeal, that is! Thank God! And, thank you, Tobias, for your initial response to this call and for your daily renewal of the covenant you entered 50 years ago.
I try to imagine Klaus (as he was known then) as a youngster in his hometown of Karlsruhe in Germany-not for from the Missionary Benedictine Abbey of Muensterschwarzach. One could imagine him with his six siblings engaged in a variety of games and pranks as well as hiking off to serve early morning Mass. I understand that you, Tobias, were not so fond of school as a youngster and found yourself attracted to the Abbey trade school where you learned the skills and art of tailoring.
I am amazed at all the ways you've served Community and the People of God over the past 50 years: tailor, cook, housekeeper, Director of Development with mountains of correspondence in that fund-raising/friend-raising work, Priory Treasurer, Liturgist, Vocation Director, Spiritual Director. Add to that list service on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and Liturgy Commission, and leadership on the Omaha Archdiocesan Association for Consecrated Life. The list goes on; is there anything you can't do?
There is always plenty of manual work and ministry to be done in our monasteries, but Saint Benedict is clear about the monastery as a "workshop" for interior work, perhaps the most demanding work of the monk. We are supplied with lots of tools-74 of them in chapter 4 of the Rule alone. Those tools serve us through all the difficulties and reversals life brings.
Anyone who has tried living in community, really living the cenobitic life, knows that community life is not easy. Often it is the "little" things that stretch us-the monk or nun singing loud and off-key; the one who forgets to sign out the car or to return the keys; those who are always "too busy" to volunteer their help in a crunch; the one who always insists that there is a better way to do this; or the one who can't see beyond "this is the way we've always done it!" We really do love these people. It's just that some days, it is a difficult to like them. Such a variety of attitudes and behaviors to deal with! And, through it all we forge strong bonds of affection.
Those "little stretches," it turns out , are the stuff of conversion and the means for growing in all those fundamental qualities Saint Benedict tries to foster in his followers mutual obedience , humility , a listening heart , respect shown by anticipating one anothers needs, and bearing with one anothers shortcomings whether of body or character. The covenant we enter at profession is a relational covenant requiring inner work. In this school of life-long formation we commit to conversatio morum. We make a solemn promise to seal our baptismal commitment to being transformed in Christ.
The challenge is always a change of heart, ever-deepening conversions of heart, met anoia. In his remarkable book, Blessed Simplicity, Raimundo Pannikar writes, "All monastic traditions stress [compunctio cordis, conversio morum, and metanoia] compunction of heart , conversion of lif e, a change of heart ." Monastic spirituality is all about transformation.
The monastic agenda of transformation in Christ resonates with a deep and natural psychological orientation. " There is in us," write John Sanford, "an urge toward self realization...[It is] a purging process....[in which] one...finds oneself plunged into the inner fire to be purged, purified and made fit for the kingdom...The emergence of the whole person is...the crucifixion of the individual ego...." It is the paschal mystery at work in our lives. In John's Gospel account (12: 24) this mystery of death and resurrection reads like this: "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." This is hard work, decade after decade-for 50 years and all the years still ahead!
I am reluctant to speak for you, Tobias, or for anyone else. I just know that for me, there are lots of rough edges yet to be honed in this rock-tumbler we call community life. We bring ourselves-with warts and foibles-to the "table" of life. God does the transforming. It is Eucharist in the daily. God's purpose will not be thwarted. God promised. God is faithful. And, God will do this! All we need bring is our trust, our desire, our good zeal, our "yes" to the ordinary efforts of each day.
I've noticed, Tobias, that it is not out of the ordinary for you to cross the Atlantic Ocean often because of Congregational responsibilities. In fact, I think you would hold your own in some frequent-flier-of-the-year competition. Surely, the bi-annual meetings at your Abbey in Germany are made joyful by the opportunity to visit family and the monks there.
You have described yourself as an optimist. You do seem to have a penchant for putting a hopeful spin on every circumstance. When faced with a challenge, Tobias' practice and advice is: "Take it to prayer, and let God touch your heart - and don't hesitate to say 'yes."' That is good zeal.
In his wisdom, St. Benedict knew that his progeny would sometimes hesitate in the face of what we perceive to be "impossible tasks." Tobias recalls being tested only once to that extent, when in 1975, his dream of being a missionary to Africa was thwarted by an assignment to fill the need for a cook and housekeeper in the pastures of Nebraska, USA! Nevertheless, fortified by his father's recollections of kind treatment as a prisoner of war in the Carolinas and Georgia, and in the spirit of good zeal, Tobias embraced this new mission wholeheartedly-even becoming a US citizen in 1982, and he reports, "I would do it all over again; I am very grateful." And, Tobias, so are we!
A brush with death goes a long way in putting things in clearer perspective. As we know, Tobias, you encountered that frightening experience this past year, and came through those perilous days exclaiming, "I want to live!" Today, we are here to celebrate life with you-70 years of it, 50 of those years as a monk.
And so we rejoice with you, Tobias, celebrating God's gracious invitation and the good zeal that is your gift and guide through all that has been and through all that will yet be. A jubilee is a time to rejoice and renew our commitment to heed Benedict's wise advice for followers in every age, "Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may He bring us all together to everlasting life."