Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Brother Roger of Taizé - an apostle of unity

(These paragraphs are part of a longer article on the Taizé website.)

Brother Roger of Taizé was for more than fifty years one of the leading figures in the ecumenical movement. He did more than talk about Christian unity; through the community he established, he lived it.

Brother Roger’s ecumenical mission was inspired by his grandmother. A Swiss Protestant, she had lived through World War I, and had been heartbroken to see Christians killing Christians. After the war, though she remained a Protestant, she began going to the Catholic church in her neighborhood to pray, in a silent but powerful gesture of unity which had a profound impact on her grandson. In 1940, as another war was beginning, Brother Roger moved to the tiny village of Taizé in France’s Burgundy region. There, during the war years, he sheltered political refugees, especially Jewish people, and began to develop the idea of an ecumenical community in which men from many different traditions - Catholic, Orthodox, Protestants - would live together under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Brother Roger’s dream became a reality on Easter Sunday, 1949, when the first few brothers, all Protestants, took their vows. Eventually, they were joined by Catholic brothers; today the brothers come from many different Christian traditions and from many different countries.

The mission of the Taizé community is not simply the unity of Christians; they work and pray towards solidarity with outsiders of all kinds, especially those living in extremes of poverty, hunger, or disease. Brother Roger himself traveled all over the world, spending time among the poor in Calcutta, South Africa, Lebanon, Haiti, Madras, Ethiopia, the Philippines, as well as the United States.

Brother Roger hoped that his community would be “a parable of communion,” a living example of how Christians might live together in mutual understanding and respect. As Cardinal Walter Kasper said in his homily at Brother Roger’s funeral: “By his presence, his words and his example, Brother Roger caused love and hope to shine around him, far beyond the barriers and the divisions of this world. A man of communion, he nourished in his heart and in his prayer a deep desire for reconciliation and encounter. With the Brothers of the Taizé community, he wanted to place a ferment of unity in the Church and in the world.”


O God the Father of all,
you ask every one of us to spread love and reconciliation
where people are divided.
You open this way for us,
so that the wounded body of Jesus Christ, your church,
may be leaven of communion for the poor of the earth
and in the whole human family.

* * *

Like your disciples on the road to Emmaus,
we are so often incapable of seeing that you, O Christ,
are our companion on the way.
But, when our eyes are opened,
we realise that you were speaking to us,
even though perhaps we had forgotten you.
Then the sign of our trust in you is that,
in our turn, we try to love, to forgive with you.
Independent of our doubts or even our faith, O Christ,
you are always there: your love burns in our heart of hearts.

* * *

Christ, you see who I am.
You were familiar with the human condition.
I do not want to hide anything in my heart from you.
You know that I am sometimes pulled in different directions
at the same time.
But when my inner being experiences an emptiness,
the thirst for your presence remains within me.
And when I am unable to pray, you yourself are my prayer.

* * *

Jesus, light of our hearts,
since your resurrection,
you always come to us.
Whatever point we may be at,
you are always waiting for us.
And you tell us:
Come to me, you who are overburdened,
and you will find relief.

* * *

Jesus our peace, you never abandon us.

And the Holy Spirit always opens a way forward,

the way which consists in casting ourselves into God
as into the depths.

And astonishment arises:

these depths are not an abyss of darkness;

they are God-fathomless depths
 of compassion and innocence.

* * *

Come, O Christ,
and fill us with quiet confidence; 

make us realise that your love will never disappear,

and that to follow you means giving our lives.


* * *

Taizé is, of course, famous for its gentle and powerful worship, musically built around repetitive chants and texts. Here are some words of Brother Roger about this (I'm sure what he says applies to worship in general, whatever the particular musical culture):

Nothing is more conducive to communion with the Living God than a meditative common prayer with singing that never ends, but continues in the silence of one's heart, when one is alone again.

In the common prayer, the spirit of praise gives glimpses of the invisible. And within you comes welling up the wonder of a love.

Singing is one of the most important forms of prayer. A few words sung over and over again reinforce the meditative quality of the prayer. They express a basic reality of faith that can quickly be grasped by the intellect, and that gradually penetrates the heart and the whole being. These simple chants also provide a way of praying when one is alone, during the day or at night, or even in the silence of one's heart while one is working.

Here is Brother Roger speaking about freedom in the image of God:

Cardinal Ratzinger gives Brother Roger Holy Communion
at the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II in 2005


Anonymous said...

I have reposted this blog onto Facebook to share with others.

Thanks for your comments and faith which never seems to falter....+++

Brenda Kimmins said...

A beautiful blog about a wonderful man. Thank you for posting this

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