Category Archives: Vocations

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.

Wanna be Franciscan Friar?


Franciscan Friar? You? The NY Post as the story…read the article…the approach is trendy but it may be helpful. Listen to the NPR article


Don’t know till you try….


What would Saint Francis say?


Visit the Holy Name Province of the Franciscans webpage or the vocation’s page.


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?


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.

Priests according to the heart of Christ

PNAC Seminarians.jpg“For all of us, the seminary was a decisive time of discernment and preparation,” he said. “There, in profound dialogue with Christ, our desire to be deeply rooted in him was strengthened. In those years, we learned to see the Church as our own home, accompanied by Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our most loving Mother, always obedient to the will of God. […]


“To have priests according to the heart of Christ, confidence must be placed in the action of the Holy Spirit, more than in human strategies and calculations. […] On the other hand, the need for priests to address the challenges of today’s world must not lead to the abandonment of a painstaking discernment of the candidates, or the neglect of necessary  –even rigorous– demands, so that their formative process helps to make them exemplary priests.


New Iragi priest.jpg“Today more than ever, it is necessary that seminarians, with the right intention and beyond any other interest, aspire to the priesthood moved solely by the will to be genuine disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ who, in communion with his bishops, make him present with their ministry and witness of life. Of great importance for this is being very attentive to their human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation, as well as the adequate choice of their formators and professors, who must be outstanding in their academic capacity, their priestly spirit and their fidelity to the Church, so that they can instill in the young men what the People of God need and expect from their pastors.


(Pope Benedict speaking to the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America 20 Feb 2009)


The video clip of the Pope’s speech is found here.

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]
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