Category Archives: Spiritual Life

Pope on retreat: “The priest encounters Jesus and follows him,” is the theme


Arinze.jpgFrom March 1-7 you won’t be seeing too much Vatican activity since many, if not all, of the curial officials (the people who run the various Vatican offices for Pope’s apostolic ministry) are making their annual Lenten retreat. This year the retreat is being preached by Francis Cardinal Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on the theme of  “The priest encounters Jesus and follows him.”

 

Cardinal Arinze was interviewed by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano about the retreat. The following comments have been excerpted from that interview, translated by NCRegister correspondent Edward Pentin.

 

Why did you choose this theme for the retreat of the Pope?

Cardinal Francis Arinze: I thought that in the meeting and following of Jesus, we are able to see a summary of all Christianity. On one side there is Jesus who calls us. On the other, we have with us our response: the encounter, so we follow and this becomes a program for life. It was like that for the first apostles: Jesus saw them and told them to follow him. In the following there includes listening to his teaching, miracles, prayer.

 

We can say that the apostles have completed three years in seminary and the rector was the Son of God. But the call of Jesus is not only for the priests.

Certainly, the reflections that are offered to the Pope are not only for priests but apply to everyone, because Christianity is about the encounter of Jesus with everyone. Everyone can apply it to himself, according to his vocation and mission. And each can give a different answer.

Among the disciples, there were those who immediately left their nets and became his disciples. But there were also those who remained attached to material things, asked for time, and wanted to first return to their loved ones before leaving.

 

Since then, two thousand years have passed. Can the man of today still meet Jesus?

If you want to, you can meet him, but always two major obstacles must be overcome. The first is superficiality, distraction. And the second is fear. Pontius Pilate is the paradigm of those who are afraid to face the truth. Jesus speaks to him, but he’s afraid. He says, “I have come to bear witness to the truth.” And Pilate asks, “What is truth?”

 

But his question is not that of a philosopher who is awaiting the reply. It’s one asked without listening, without waiting, without realizing that the truth is right in front of him. Even today many people are missing an appointment with the truth, because they are afraid of what Jesus is and his message. They do not realize that faith is not an obstacle to existence, but a promise of life and truth that goes beyond what is contingent.

 

Where can this meeting take place?

One of the key places — not physical but spiritual — is prayer. Prayer is to leave a space of silence for God, not only externally, but especially internally. You listen. The meditations I am giving the Pope will speak particularly of this, and will remember the long hours of prayer that Jesus spent alone, and will emphasize that the question the disciples asked: “Lord, teach us to pray”.

Another meeting place is in scripture: Jesus is the Word of God who became man. Scripture is the written Word of God. When we read the Bible and when we proclaim it during the liturgy, it is God who speaks. The Gospel is not a dusty book of the past. It is the voice of God today.

A third place is the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. He himself has chosen this as the first pillar, he has given his guarantee that she will always be with you and has promised her the Holy Spirit. In the meditations I will emphasize this dimension: the Church is the Body of Christ, with Christ as the head. This is reflected in the liturgy where we meet Jesus, really and substantially, through Eucharistic communion. It is recognized in charity, especially towards the sick, the elderly, refugees, the poor. Jesus can speak in all these situations. Paul told us that the Church looks at the face of every suffering person and sees Jesus. We do not expect that Jesus will appear, because we are already close to him.

 

If for the Christian encountering Jesus means to follow Him, what happens when such an attitude of discipleship is missing from the priest?

It is Jesus who gives meaning to the life of the priest. Without him, the priest cannot understand, he no longer makes sense. I would say that his vocation becomes like a farce. For those who, in fact, celebrate, preach, and work?

 

St. Paul said: “For me, to live is Christ.” The priest is Christ’s ambassador. So if it is necessary for every Christian to follow Jesus, the more so for the priest. His testimony is before the eyes of everyone, especially those who do not believe.

 

Of course, it is possible that there are deficiencies in priests. Not all priests have been, and are, saints. The Gospel does not hide the weaknesses and falls of the disciples of Christ. There were those who asked Jesus to set fire to a city of Samaria, or who attributed themselves the right to be the first among all.

 

And then there is Judas Iscariot, who was with Jesus, but didn’t love him. He hardened his heart, closed it to him. This demonstrates that the human heart can fail, that the freedom given by God can be misused. In the history of the Church, unfortunately this has happened other times.

 

Can the penitential dimension of Lent help a priest renew his experience of his encounter with Christ?

Yes, starting with the act of receiving the ashes, which means to accept being sinners. The Church asks to pray a lot during Lent not only as a sign of adoration to God but also to repent of sins committed. It is not enough to receive forgiveness from God, we must also recognize that we have offended the love of God.

 

And then there is fasting to which the Pope has dedicated his Lenten message. It is today seen just as a gesture, but it should be understood in the proper meaning. Its true meaning is doing something pleasing for others such as sharing goods with the poor.

Solidarity with the suffering is also a way to show the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebration. At the end of Mass the priest says: Go and live what has been celebrated, heard, meditated and prayed. Helping those who are elderly, alone, imprisoned, disabled, is a way to live the Eucharist.

 

Benedict XVI clearly says this in Deus Caritas Est: If the Eucharist does not translate into works of charity it is fragmented, incomplete.

 

But shouldn’t we still recall the sobriety with which the Pope has re-launched his message of this year?

To fast is to accept that we are sinners. You do without something. It is also a means of spiritual ‘training’, similar to what athletes practice in order to succeed in a sport.

Then there is the most dynamic dimension, which is precisely that of helping the poor. Spend less and help our brothers who have not: it is the lifestyle advocated by the Pope in his message for World Day of Peace this year. The Christian spirit must go in the opposite direction with respect to unfettered consumerism.

 

Having beliefs and cabinets that are full — full of things that often we do not need or use just a few times — is an insult to the poor.

The reassuring presence of angels

Today [March 1st] is the First Sunday of Lent, and the Gospel, with the sober and concise style of St. Mark, introduces us to the climate of this liturgical season: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:12). In the Holy Land, west of the Jordan and the oasis of Jericho, there is the desert of Judah, which ascends to a height of over 1,000 meters through rocky valleys, stretching all the way to Jerusalem.

 


Christ tempted by Satan.jpgAfter having received baptism from John, Jesus enters that empty place, led by the Holy Spirit himself, which had descended upon him, consecrating him and revealing him as the Son of God. In the desert, the place of trial — as the experience of the people of Israel shows — there appears the dramatic reality of the “kenosis,” the emptying of Christ, who is stripped of the form of God (cf. Philippians 2:6-7). He, who did not sin and cannot sin, submits himself to trial and thus can have compassion for our infirmities (cf. Hebrews 4:15). He lets himself be tempted by Satan, the adversary, who had opposed himself to God’s salvific plan for men from the very beginning.

 

In the brevity of the account, in the face of this obscure and darksome figure who dares to
Angel1.jpgtempt the Lord, the angels, luminous and mysterious figures, fleetingly appear. The Gospel says that the angels “serve” Jesus (Mark 1:13); they are the counterpoint to Satan. “Angel” means “one who is sent.” We find these figures throughout the Old Testament who help and guide men in the name of God. Just consider the Book of Tobit, in which the figure of the angel Raphael appears to assist the protagonist through many vicissitudes. The reassuring presence of the angel of the Lord accompanies the people of Israel through every event, good and bad. On the threshold of the New Testament, Gabriel is sent to announce to Zachariah and Mary the joyous happenings that are the beginnings of our salvation; and an angel, whose name is not mentioned, warns Joseph, directing him in that moment of uncertainty. A chorus of angels reports the glad tidings of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, as the glad tidings of his resurrection will also be announced by angels to the women. At the end of time the angels will accompany Jesus in his glorious return (cf. Matthew 25:31).

 

The angels serve Jesus, who is certainly superior to them, and this dignity of his is proclaimed in a clear though discreet way here in the Gospel. Indeed, even in the situation of extreme poverty and humility, when he is tempted by Satan, he remains the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord.

 


OL Queen of Angels.jpgDear brothers and sisters, we would take away a significant part of the Gospel if we left aside these beings sent by God to announce his presence among us and be a sign of that presence. Let us call upon them often, that they sustain us in the task of following Jesus to the point of identifying ourselves with him. Let us ask them, especially today, to watch over me and my co-workers in the Roman Curia as we begin our retreat this week, as we do every year. Mary, Queen of Angels, pray for us!

 

Pope Benedict XVI

1 March 2009, First Sunday of Lent

St Peter’s Square

 

PS: You may want to read the booklet, “All About Angels” published by the Catholic Information Service.

Exposed to subtle sins today

“…I observe that a civilized age is more exposed to subtle sins than a rude age. Why? For this simple reason, because it is more fertile in excuses and evasions. It can defend error, and hence can blind the eyes of those who have not very careful consciences. It can make error plausible, it can make vice look like virtue. It dignifies sin by fine names; it calls avarice proper care of one’s family, or industry, it calls pride independence, it calls ambition greatness of mind; resentment it calls proper spirit and sense of honour, and so on.” (John Henry Newman, Sermon 5, Faith and Prejudice, NewYork: Sheed & Ward, 1956)

20 years since Pope John Paul’s Christifideles Laici (“Christ’s faithful people)

“Vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and society. Twenty years since Christifideles Laici:

balance and perspectives”.




PC Laity.jpgThe first encounter on February 28th will be particularly dedicated to the “Ecclesiology of Vatican II and Christifideles Laici”, with an introduction by Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko, president of the Vatican office for the laity, Pontifical Council for the Laity.

“To be Christian lay people, it must often be reminded, is a true and specific vocation. It is a calling. It is also a mission–be it in the Church, within our Christian communities, be it above all in the world. A Christian lay person is evangelical yeast, is the light of the world, the salt of the earth. This is his vocation. (…) To be Christian lay people today, to be coherent Christians, at times requires not little courage, requires going against the tide. Our dicastery tries to encourage and help the laity to live their vocation in a courageous, convincing and persuasive manner.”

Silence: in the Christian life and not just for the monks

Silence in the monastery confuses the world; it sometimes confuses me and there are times that I am frustrated by silence. The practice of silence is often misunderstood by those who live in monasteries because of an insufficient understanding of a “theology of silence.” Family and friends think monks take a vow of silence. They get this idea from the clichés of the TV and movies where they see monks and nuns piously walking the halls of the abbey in silence with a mean looking superior hovering over the shoulder waiting for someone to slip-up.  While I don’t deny that this understanding may be rooted in some truth, or a least a vague sense of truth, it nonetheless lends itself to gross misunderstanding of the role of silence in the monastic life, indeed the need (and desire for) for silence in all people’s lives.

What did Saint Benedict say about the practice of silence in his Rule? In one place he says:

Rule of St Benedict.jpg

Let us do what the Prophet says: “I said, I will take heed of my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I have set a guard to my mouth, I was dumb, and was humbled, and kept silence even from good things” (Psalm 38[39]:2-3).  Here the prophet shows that, if at times we ought to refrain from useful speech for the sake of silence, how much more ought we to abstain from evil words on account of the punishment due to sin.

Therefore, because of the importance of silence, let permission to speak be seldom given to perfect disciples even for good and holy and edifying discourse, for it is written: “In much talk up shall not escape sin” (Proverbs 10:19). And elsewhere: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). For it belongs to the master to speak and to teach; it becomes the disciple to be silent and to listen. If, therefore, anything must be asked of the Superior, let it be asked with all humility and respectful submission. But coarse jests, and idle words or speech provoking laughter, we condemn everywhere to eternal exclusion; and for such speech we do not permit the disciple to open his lips (Ch. 6).

Belmont Abbey’s Father Abbot, Placid, put in our mailboxes the community’s custom of silence that had been formulated in consultation with the community in 2006. Essentially it is outlines what’s permitted and what’s not. To me, it is less of a “wagging of the finger” as it is a way to focus our life yet again on a venerable practice that leads to freedom but yet takes discipline and freedom to engage our mind, hear and will. So what’s expected? Following Vespers (c. 7:30 pm) to the conclusion of breakfast (c. 8:00 am) silence is carefully observed throughout the monastery. Extended conversations may be had in designated areas like the common recreation areas, the formation study and the guest dining room. “A spirit of silence should be maintained in the hallways of the monastery at all times, and any conversation should be carried on in a quiet tone of voice.” Another place where we attempt to maintain silence is in the sacristy, the basilica and in the passage way between the abbey and the basilica. A stricter sense of being silent exists in the church prior to the Mass and the Divine Office, in the refectory before the evening meal which includes the brief reading of a chapter (a few lines really) of the Rule of Saint Benedict and during table reading (only 15 min.) and in “statio” (the order of seniority) prior to Sunday Mass and Vespers.

This work of silence is neither rigid and nor is unreasonable. In fact, I appreciate the periods of silence the community has worked out and I hope that my confreres will help me live by what’s expected.

When I am participating in community days of the Communion and Liberation (CL) movement I practice silence with the group. We don’t do this to shut up the incessant talker (though it’s a nice by-product of the silence) or to force an agenda as it is a method to help us (me) to appreciate the beauty of God the Father’s creation which is in front of us. So, it is not uncommon to walk in the woods, climbing a mountain, or sitting by the seashore and not talk to your neighbor. Sounds goofy? Perhaps for the uninitiated or the person who can’t grasp the need to soak in the beauty of life, indeed all of creation, without the distracting noise of talking all the time, silence would be difficult or unhelpful or somewhat silly.

Way of the Cross.jpg

Another example of the witness of silence is the Good Friday Way of the Cross that starts at Saint James Cathedral (Brooklyn) and ends at St. Peter’s Church (Barclay St., NYC–ground zero) but crosses the Brooklyn Bridge and makes other stops to pray, listen to Scripture and sing spiritual songs. Imagine 5000+ people making the Way of the Cross in silence in the chilly air! People in NYC walking in silence following a cross in silence! What’s the point? The point is: How does one understand, that is, judge (assess, evaluate, understand reality) the impact of the Lord’s saving life, death and resurrection if all you hear is chatter? The gospel is made alive by the witness of 5000+ people walking in silence.

 One last example are my friends in the Fraternity of Saint Joseph (I call them CL’s contemplatives-in-the-world who follow the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation) who spend a portion of each day in silence and at least one other day in an extended period of silence. For me, this is a witness to the presence of Christ and one’s relationship with the Lord. Their discipline of silence is not merely turning off the radio, not speaking, not writing email or updating their blog, nor the simple absence of distracting noise but the intentional focus on the work of the Lord in prayer and study. How do you discern (verify) the will of God in the hussle-and-bussle of life? How do you hear the voice of the Lord calling you, as the Lord called Samuel or the apostles if all you encounter is the blaring of the stereo, the train or your mother yelling for you to answer the doorbell?

Angelico-Silence.jpg

Theologically, I think Patriarch Bartholomew I (of Constantinople) said it well in an address a year ago:

 The ascetic silence of apophaticism imposes on all of us — educational and ecclesiastical institutions alike — a sense of humility before the awesome mystery of God, before the sacred personhood of human beings, and before the beauty of creation. It reminds us that — above and beyond anything that we may strive to appreciate and articulate — the final word always belongs not to us but to God. This is more than simply a reflection of our limited and broken nature. It is, primarily, a calling to gratitude before Him who “so loved the world” (Jn 3:16) and who promised never to abandon us without the comfort of the Paraclete that alone “guides us to the fullness of truth.” (Jn 16:13) How can we ever be thankful enough for this generous divine gift?

So, in my context silence is not punitive or a burden but way of living with an awareness that would otherwise be minimized and likely forgotten.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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