Tag Archives: Communion and Liberation

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.

Communion & Liberation at Belmont Abbey

Today about 25 friends who follow, that is, are a part of Communion & Liberation from around the Carolinas came to Belmont Abbey Basilica to celebrate the Sacrifce of the Mass on the occasion of the 4th anniversary of death of Monsignor Luigi Giussani and the 27th year of the recognition of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. Redemptorist Father Joseph Dione, a local pastor, was the celebrant of the Mass.

After, John Neill, the CL Responsible for the Carolinas, led us on a walk around the grounds of Belmont Abbey College stopping at the Saint Joseph Adoration Chapel and at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the graces received today and in the past year. This was especially important to recognize since Our Lady of Lourdes is important to the life of CL  because it was something that Giussani taught us: go to the BVM. So we feel very connected with the history of our charism. The group then went to dinner at a local restuarant but I had to ring bells and pray Vespers. Our group joined about 30 other groups in the USA and countless others around the world who did the same thing for the same reason.

It was a beautiful day in which we gave came together as friends to give thanks to God. Our gathering keeps the companionship and the Benedictine roots of CL alive. Some photos follow.

CL of the Carolinas.jpg
CL prayer of thanks.jpg

robert Neill with St Benedict.JPG

Communion & Liberation observes 27 years of Church approval


LG & JPII.JPGOn this date in 1982, Pope John Paul II officially recognized (approved) Communion and Liberation as an authentic charism in the Church. The recognition of this fact for the Church means the work of Father Luigi Giussani and so many others was really born of the Holy Spirit. What follows are few items about the movement which come from the CL archives.

 

The Fraternity of Communion and Liberation

This is the eminent group among those born from the movement, whose origins and aims it shares. It was recognized as a Lay Association of Pontifical Right on February 11, 1982. The decree of approval of the Fraternity’s request for recognition reads that the Holy Father himself was “benevolently pleased to encourage the Pontifical Council for the Laity” that the recognition procedure might have a positive outcome. The letter accompanying the decree, signed by the then Cardinal Opilio Rossi, recognizes that the Fraternity of CL’s contribution to the Church in her work of evangelization is “of outstanding importance and pastoral urgency,” especially in “distant” de-Christianized areas where “the basic principles of human life and social interchange are at stake.” The ecclesial nature of the Association, the letter concludes, makes obvious its “full cooperation and communion with the Bishops, headed by the supreme Pastor of the Church,” down to the pastoral life of the diocese, to which it offers “its experience and contribution.”

This recognition from the Pontifical Council for the Laity amounted to de facto approval of the educational experience of CL.

The first “Fraternity” groups were formed around the mid-1970s at the initiative of some former university students who wanted to go more deeply into what it means to belong to the Church, also within the conditions of adult life and the responsibilities it brings, in communion with others.


CL at St Peter's.jpgToday the Fraternity’s groups host 50,000 people who have made the decision to commit themselves to a way of life that supports the path to holiness, acknowledged as the true aim of existence. The life of the Fraternity normally takes place through the free formation of groups who consider that commitment to be the reason for their friendship and sharing.
Belonging to the Fraternity calls for a minimal rule of personal ascesis, daily moments of prayer, participation in encounters of spiritual formation including an annual retreat, and commitment to the support, financial and otherwise, of the charitable, missionary, and cultural initiatives promoted or sustained by the Fraternity.

Recent years have witnessed also in Italy and abroad the rise of Fraternity groups formed by diocesan priests (the first of these took the name of Studium Christi) who in this way intend to help each other pursue more deeply their vocation and the accomplishment of their mission.

 

On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the pontifical recognition of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, John Paul II writes Fr Giussani a long autograph letter.

 

Subsequently, Fr Giussani writes all the members of the Fraternity to call attention to the great value of the Pope’s letter and to the importance of the indications conveyed.

 

What is Communion & Liberation?

 

Communion and Liberation is an ecclesial movement whose purpose is the education to Christian maturity of its adherents and collaboration in the mission of the Church in all the spheres of contemporary life.


LG detail.jpgIt began in Italy in 1954 when
Fr Luigi Giussani established a Christian presence in Berchet high school in Milan with a group called Gioventù Studentesca (Student Youth), GS for short. The current name of the movement, Communion and Liberation (CL), appeared for the first time in 1969. It synthesizes the conviction that the Christian event, lived in communion, is the foundation of the authentic liberation of man. Communion and Liberation is today present in about seventy countries throughout the world.

There is no type of membership card, but only the free participation of persons. The basic instrument for the formation of adherents is weekly catechesis, called “School of Community.”


Traces 2009.jpgThe official magazine of the Movement is the international monthly,
Traces – Litterae Communionis 

*email Kim for a subscription ($30.00 per year): traces@clhac.com

 

 

 

This Traces article is worth your review: A New Movement: A Story of a Beginning

Community of spirit in Saint Benedict, Don Luigi Giussani & Pope Benedict XVI


spirito 1.jpgOn this the feast of the great Saint Scholastica, the twin sister of Saint Benedict, I thought it would be appropriate to hear a few words about the significant connection between the Benedictines (Sts Benedict & Scholastica and Pope Benedict) and Father Luigi Giussani.

 

Signs of spiritual friendship

by Don Giacomo Tantardini (In 30 Days, May 2005)

 

…The hundredfold is not the outcome of a project, of a program. My real program of government is that of not doing my own will, of not following my own ideas, but of setting myself to listen, with the whole Church, to the word and will of the Lord and let myself be led by Him, so that it is He Himself who leads the Church in this hour of our history, Benedict XVI said again in the sermon of the mass opening his ministry. The hundredfold here below, like the eternal life, has a beginning, a “permanent” source (each word from the first appearance of Benedict XVI in St Peter’s Square, that was packed with Romans hurrying to see the new Pope, remains in the memory: Trusting in his permanent help). The permanent beginning is Jesus Christ, the Lord risen.

 

The Church is living because Christ is living, because he is truly risen (Easter Sunday 24 April). And on Sunday 1 May, when, addressing the Churches of the East which were celebrating Easter, he repeated with force Christós anesti! Yes, Christ is risen, is truly risen!, the immediate applause that rose from the square packed with faithful up to that window was very fine.

 

Here the communion of mind and heart among Saint Benedict, Benedict XVI, Don Giussani and the most ordinary believer is luminous and total.


Giussani detail.jpgDon Giussani always kept the gaze of his life and heart fixed on Christ (Cardinal Ratzinger, in Milan Cathedral, at Don Guissani’s funeral). We need men who keep their eyes looking at God, learning from there true humanity (in Subiaco). And, again in Subiaco, Cardinal Ratzinger concluded his lecture by quoting the more beautiful phrase that Saint Benedict repeats twice in the Rule: Put absolutely nothing before Christ who can lead us all to eternal life. Here, chapter 72: Christo omnino nihil praeponant. In chapter 4: Nihil amori Christi praeponere/ put nothing before the love of Christ.

Experience: the capacity to comprehend & love in the thought of Luigi Giussani

Experience


don-Giussani.jpgIn 1963, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, (later Pope Paul VI, wrote a letter to Fr Giussani in which he raised some questions about the primacy given to
experience in the high school youth group Gioventù Studentesca (cf M Camisasca, Comunione e Liberazione. Le origini [Communion and Liberation. The origins], San Paolo, 2001). Father Giussani answered the questions in a booklet entitled precisely L’esperienza (Experience) in November 1963. In August 1964, Pope Paul VI wrote in his encyclical Ecclesiam suam: “The mystery of the Church is not a truth to be confined to the realms of speculative theology. It must be lived, so that the faithful may have a kind of intuitive experience of it, even before they come to understand it clearly” (no 37).

At the beginning of the history of the Movement, the method that was developed to sustain  the proposal for living the charism, which is Communion and Liberation, was precisely defined, furnishing a very valuable tool for living the present in greater awareness, a present that is so full of risk because of the ever-recurring danger of reducing experience to sentimentalism or moralism, especially at a time when everything seems to end up in nothingness out of a widespread insecurity. This is the complete opposite of the certitude that arises from the encounter with Christ. It is for this reason that some of Giussani’s ideas on

Experience are offered here (which later became a chapter of The Risk of Education).

 

Experience as the Development of the Person
There was a time when the person did not exist, hence what constitutes the person is a given; it is the product of another.

This original condition is repeated at all levels of the person’s development. The cause of my growth does not coincide with me, but is other than me.

Concretely, experience means to live what causes me to grow.

A person grows as a result of experience; that is, the valorization of an objective relationship.

Nota Bene: “Experience” connotes the fact of becoming aware of one’s growth, in two basic aspects: the capacity to comprehend and the capacity to love.

a) A person is first of all consciousness, a being that is aware. It follows that experience is not the doing or the setting up of relationships with reality in a mechanical way. This is the mistake implied in the phrase “to have an experience,” where “experience” becomes synonymous with “trying something out.”

What characterizes experience is our understanding something, discovering its meaning. To have an experience means to comprehend the meaning of something. This is done by discovering its link to everything else; thus experience means also to discover the purpose of a given thing and its function in the world.

b) It is also true, however, that we are not the creators of meaning. The connection that binds something to everything else is an objective one. Therefore, true experience involves saying yes to a situation that attracts us; it means appropriating what is being said to us. It is composed of making things our own, but in such a way that we proceed within their objective meaning, which is the Word of an Other.

True experience mobilizes and increases our capacity to accept and to love. True experience throws us into the rhythms of the real, drawing us irresistibly toward our union with the ultimate aspect of things and their true, definitive meaning.

Nature as the Place of Experience
We give the name “nature” to the place where those objective relationships that develop a person take place: nature is the locus of experience.

Characteristically, nature weaves an organized, multi-leveled fabric that awakens the need for unity immanent in each one of us.

This fundamental need finds a correspondence in our affirmation of God, for God is precisely the unitary meaning which nature’s objective and organic structure calls the human consciousness to recognize.

Error in Human Experience
The need for unity that animates the conscious life of the person must struggle against divisive forces present in humanity, forces that drive him to disregard objective connections and to tear apart the organic structure of nature’s tapestry, isolating each single aspect of it.

Because of the human being’s need for unity, isolating each relationship or aspect inevitably turns each relationship into an absolute. All of this blocks the dynamic, evolutionary relationship of the person with reality, creating a series of disjointed pieces that are abnormally affirmed.

This tendency to separate and isolate gives all sorts of typical and inadequate connotations to the word experience, among which are an immediate reaction to things, the multiplication of links through the mere proliferation of initiatives, a sudden attraction or disgust for the new, an insistence on our own designs or plans, insisting on memories of the past that have no value in the present, or even referring to a particular event in order to block aspirations or stunt ideals.

God’s Mystery Revealed in the Field of Human Experience
The role of Christ and the prophets in history was to announce with absolute clarity that God is the ultimate implication of human experience, and that therefore the religious sense is an inevitable dimension of an authentic, exhaustive experience.

But Christ’s exceptional nature does not lie so much in the fact that His presence calls us to acknowledge that implication as in the fact that His very coming constitutes the physical presence of the ultimate meaning of history.

There cannot be an exhaustive, full, human experience without the valuation, whether conscious or not, of its relation with the event of Christ-Man.

The objective relationship that we spoke of earlier which fulfills the person no longer takes place only in nature, for with the advent of Jesus there is also a “super-natural” place; its development is in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.

Christian Experience
The Christian experience and that of the Church are one, single, vital act, in which a triple factor is at work, as follows:

a) An encounter with an objective fact which has an origin independent of the person having the experience. The existential reality of this fact or event is a community that can be documented, like every reality which is fully human. This community has an authority expressed through a human voice in judgments and directives, constituting criteria and meaning.

All forms of Christian experience, even those lived in the innermost recesses of the soul, refer in some way to an encounter with the community and to its authority.

b) The ability to properly perceive the meaning of that encounter. The value of the fact which we encounter transcends our power to understand so much so that an act of God is required for an adequate understanding. The same gesture by which God makes His presence known to humanity in the Christian event also enhances a person’s potential for knowledge, raising him up to the exceptional reality to which God attracts him. We call this the grace of faith.

c) An awareness of the correspondence between the meaning of the fact that we encounter and the meaning of our own existence, between the reality of Christ and the Church and the reality of our own person, between the encounter and our own destiny. It is the awareness of this correspondence that brings about the growth of the self, an essential component of experience.

Above all, in the Christian experience one sees clearly that in an authentic experience, human self-consciousness and capacity for criticism are engaged, and that this is very different from a mere impression or a sentimental echo.

It is within this verification of Christian experience that the mystery of the divine initiative exalts human reason. Freedom is at work in this verification. We cannot register or recognize the glorious correspondence between the presence of the mystery and our dynamism as human beings unless we have first accepted and are fully aware of our own radical dependence, of the fact that we are “made.” This awareness constitutes our simplicity, purity of heart, the poverty of spirit.

The drama of our freedom is entirely contained in this poverty of spirit, a drama so deep that when it happens, it is nearly hidden.

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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