However, the three terms differ among themselves in ways that must be kept in mind, in order to give each of them its full value. Today as in the past, the common life and the solitary life take on institutional forms as, respectively, monastery and hermitage. The third element – witnessing love for Christ to the point of shedding one’s blood in the service of the Gospel – is a pure grace. As an expression of unconditional love, it underlies and profoundly animates the other two elements. It is ordinarily expressed within the monastery or hermitage through what we call “monastic presence.” But it can also find expression in the personal vocation of an individual monk or nun even outside monastic institutions. The three goods thus relate to, and interact with one another, and they cannot be reduced to a rigid institutional scheme.
The age-old pedagogical wisdom of monastic tradition has shown us that solitude can become “golden,” that is, it can be lived as the expression and source of authentic vitality, only if the monastic has experienced life together for a long period and thus has been formed and trained for the single-handed spiritual combat that is the challenge, more demanding than any other, of the solitary life.
The threefold good is also experienced and expressed through a life of elected simplicity. Since Saint Romuald’s charism is characterized by an intrinsic dynamism, we should distinguish between his personal charism, its evolution in subsequent history, and the institutions which the Camaldolese have created in order to give the charism a concrete form. Romuald’s charismatic experience never could and never can be totally translated into an institutional structure. Every time it has been so translated, in so far as the structure is unable to convey its entire meaning, the charism has in some way been betrayed. Thus the institution must continually return to, and draw from, the source out of which it sprang.
Within this horizon, the identity that comes to us from Romuald and the origins of Camaldoli remains relative, dynamic, and open. In the light of its origins and its possibilities of future development, our identity is always broader and deeper than anything we can express within a given historical moment and a particular cultural context. Its ramifications extend back into the remembered past, sink deep into the present, and reach far into a future waiting to be lived, explored, and known. A faithfulness both dynamic and creative is the only way we can respond to the One who says, “Behold! I am making the whole creation new” [Rev 21:5]. We can live faithfully only if we acknowledge our roots, our temporality, and our limitations, with humility and with a grateful joy. Here there is no room for arrogance or for competition with brothers and sisters who acknowledge the same father, although they have made different journeys in history (the Camaldolese hermits of Monte Corona, the Camaldolese nuns, etc.). The horizon before us is one of reconciled and complementary diversities.