D 128.2. 1. The abbot, with the consent of his council, determines whether the ordinary visitation of his monastery should be conducted at an interval of three, four, or five years after the previous ordinary visitation.
D 128.2. 2. At least a year in advance of the time thus determined, the abbot, after consulting his council, is to suggest to the President one or more suitable dates for the visitation.
D 128.2. 3. The President, in consultation with the visitators, then selects the date of the visitation and so informs the abbot.
D 128.2. 4. The abbot is to notify all the members of the community of the date of the visitation and the identity of the visitators in good time after receiving this information.
D 128.2. 5. Preparation for the visitation is to be determined by the local community and undertaken at an appropriate time.
D 128.2. 6. No less than two weeks before the opening of the visitation the abbot is to send to all the members of the community, including those stationed outside the monastery, a reminder of their rights and duties regarding the visitation, together with whatever information is available about the visitation schedule, especially about arrangements for scheduling an interview with the visitators.
D 128.3. At least one month before each scheduled visitation, each of the visitators is to receive from the abbot of the monastery to be visited a copy of the following documents:
1. the reports made to the abbot and to the community, respectively, at the previous visitation;
2. the implementation report filed with the President within a year following the previous visitation;
3. a report on any preparations that have been made for the forthcoming visitation, and the results thereof.
V 49. Since the beginning of the renewal of visitation practice in the Congregation after the Second Vatican Council, it has become axiomatic that a monastery will benefit from a visitation only to the extent that it has prepared for it.
The Directory refers to preparation in a context that seems to assume that the need for it is self-evident (D 128.2.5; D 128.3.3), but sets down no specific requirements, leaving the matter entirely to each community. In fact, a great variety of methods has been employed by different communities, and there has been some lack of clarity about the concept of preparation and its purpose. It seems useful, therefore, to attempt some clarification of this question and to distinguish different types of preparation.
Section A: Ongoing Community Reflection as a Form of "Preparation"
V 50. Every monastic community has an ongoing duty to listen to the Spirit and to reflect upon its life. To do this is, indeed, incumbent upon each monk, but also upon the community as a whole, for the group needs to have a clear vision of its call and of how it intends to respond to it (RB 72,7-12). Today communities have a particular need to engage in such reflection because of the changes that have taken place in society. They may find it helpful to use more structured methods to achieve this than were used in the past; though such methods have often been designed for secular institutions, they are simply tools that can also be used profitably by monasteries. Obviously, each of them needs to be understood in the light of our monastic heritage and carried out in a way that respects monastic values and aims to realize them more fully.
V 51. In fact, it is inexact to refer to such community reflection as "preparation for visitation" insofar as this is not its proper finality. The community engages in such activity in order to further its own renewal and plan its future, not because it is going to be examined on the results. In fact, the process of reflection is itself often more valuable to the community than any concrete results that may be produced. Nevertheless, there is a close relationship between community reflection and visitation. In practice, an approaching visitation often provides the stimulus for undertaking such a community process, just as tests are an incentive for students to study harder. Successive visitations also provide an opportunity for periodic review and adjustment of the community's progress. Hence the Directory's reference to community reflection appears under the category of "preparation for visitation" and this Guide follows the Directory, while recognizing the ambiguity.
V 52. Therefore, while a community does not engage in reflection on its life primarily in order to prepare for visitations, the two things may work together in a three-to five-year cycle in contributing to the higher common purpose of the community's growth. If a community is regularly engaged in such efforts, it will then find, upon the approach of a visitation, that it is not required to begin some special ad hoc "preparation," but need simply articulate what has been done on an ongoing basis since the last visitation.
V 53. Since each monastery is unique, every community will have to discover for itself what kind of reflection is best suited to its own needs. What follows here is simply a listing of some possible methods of helping a community come to terms with itself and make progress in solving its problems, planning its future, and furthering its ongoing conversion. These are alternative suggestions; none of them need be followed, but a community may find one or the other of them appropriate for its present situation.
V 54. 1. A Self-Study Program. The community may undertake a program that will enable it to assess its strengths and weaknesses and evaluate its history, its opportunities, and existing threats to its well-being, in order to gain a comprehensive sense of itself and of the shared responsibility of its members for who they are and who they are called to be.
V 55. 2. A Mission Statement. The community may initiate a process to clarify its mission. The monks will need to share their understanding of their monastic values and service, leading to a communal expression of their mission that will succinctly articulate why they exist, who they are, and what thrust they have toward the future. Community discussion of this statement as it develops will enable them to share the sources and meaning of the statement and how it touches the lives of each person and the life of the community as a whole.
V 56. 3. A Strategic Plan. Such a plan is a blueprint for a course of action designed to achieve certain defined goals within a given time frame. Ordinarily such planning should be for a five-year period. The community, after agreeing upon the goals that they hope to reach, will then need to designate the activities necessary to accomplish what they wish to achieve, the persons responsible, a time line specifying beginning and completing dates for each stage of the process, and the means by which the recommendations may be effectively carried out.
V 57. 4. A Study of Monastic Observance. The community may focus upon a particular monastic observance, such as its observance of poverty or silence, or the quality of its divine office or conventual Mass. The members will then evaluate their present practice and determine how they may proceed to improve it and thereby promote the deepening of their life in the Spirit. A study such as this may be undertaken as the result of one of the other processes considered here.
V 58. 5. A Review of the Previous Visitation. The community may need to get in touch with its last previous assessment of its quality of living. It may require a deepening of consciousness about the most recent visitation. The following are some of the ways in which this may be effected:
1. The last visitation report and the Guide for Visitations may be read at table and copies may be made available for the monks.
2. The abbot, other superiors, the council of seniors, and significant committees and boards may prepare and present an appraisal, from their own perspective, of the community since the last visitation.
3. Each monk may be asked to prepare an assessment of his monastic experience of the community since the last visitation.
4. Small group discussions, summaries of which should then be presented to the entire community, may enable the community to identify issues and select areas upon which they need to focus, in receptivity to hearing God's will for them.