Tag Archives: silence

St Bruno

Today we liturgically recall great monastic founder and reformer, St Bruno. What we admire and are grateful for in the mission of Bruno is his accent on silence and contemplation in the daily search for the face of God. Pope Benedict offers us a few ideas for meditation. Of course, Benedict few ideas help us to seek the face of the saints in turn who show us the face of God. There is much in Benedict’s meditation for our own journey in the spiritual life and the scope of good, reliable and reason theology.

Redemptoris Mater Chapel, Apostolic Palace
Friday, 6 October 2006, Feast of Saint Bruno

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I have not prepared a real Homily, only a few ideas for meditation.

As clearly appears, the mission of St Bruno, today’s saint, is, we might say, interpreted in the prayer for this day, which reminds us, despite being somewhat different in the Italian text, that his mission was silence and contemplation.

But silence and contemplation have a purpose: they serve, in the distractions of daily life, to preserve permanent union with God. This is their purpose: that union with God may always be present in our souls and may transform our entire being.

Silence and contemplation, characteristic of St Bruno, help us find this profound, continuous union with God in the distractions of every day. Silence and contemplation: speaking is the beautiful vocation of the theologian. This is his mission: in the loquacity of our day and of other times, in the plethora of words, to make the essential words heard. Through words, it means making present the Word, the Word who comes from God, the Word who is God.

Yet, since we are part of this world with all its words, how can we make the Word present in words other than through a process of purification of our thoughts, which in addition must be above all a process of purification of our words?

How can we open the world, and first of all ourselves, to the Word without entering into the silence of God from which his Word proceeds? For the purification of our words, hence, also for the purification of the words of the world, we need that silence which becomes contemplation, which introduces us into God’s silence and brings us to the point where the Word, the redeeming Word, is born.

St Thomas Aquinas, with a long tradition, says that in theology God is not the object of which we speak. This is our own normal conception.

God, in reality, is not the object but the subject of theology. The one who speaks through theology, the speaking subject, must be God himself. And our speech and thoughts must always serve to ensure that what God says, the Word of God, is listened to and finds room in the world.

Thus, once again we find ourselves invited to this process of forfeiting our own words, this process of purification so that our words may be nothing but the instrument through which God can speak, and hence, that he may truly be the subject and not the object of theology.

In this context, a beautiful phrase from the First Letter of St Peter springs to my mind. It is from verse 22 of the first chapter. The Latin goes like this: “Castificantes animas nostras in oboedentia veritatis”. Obedience to the truth must “purify” our souls and thus guide us to upright speech and upright action.

In other words, speaking in the hope of being applauded, governed by what people want to hear out of obedience to the dictatorship of current opinion, is considered to be a sort of prostitution: of words and of the soul.

The “purity” to which the Apostle Peter is referring means not submitting to these standards, not seeking applause, but rather, seeking obedience to the truth.

And I think that this is the fundamental virtue for the theologian, this discipline of obedience to the truth, which makes us, although it may be hard, collaborators of the truth, mouthpieces of truth, for it is not we who speak in today’s river of words, but it is the truth which speaks in us, who are really purified and made chaste by obedience to the truth. So it is that we can truly be harbingers of the truth.

This reminds me of St Ignatius of Antioch and something beautiful he said: “Those who have understood the Lord’s words understand his silence, for the Lord should be recognized in his silence”. The analysis of Jesus’ words reaches a certain point but lives on in our thoughts.

Only when we attain that silence of the Lord, his being with the Father from which words come, can we truly begin to grasp the depth of these words.

Jesus’ words are born in his silence on the Mountain, as Scripture tells us, in his being with the Father.

Words are born from this silence of communion with the Father, from being immersed in the Father, and only on reaching this point, on starting from this point, do we arrive at the real depth of the Word and can ourselves be authentic interpreters of the Word. The Lord invites us verbally to climb the Mountain with him and thus, in his silence, to learn anew the true meaning of words.

In saying this, we have arrived at today’s two Readings. Job had cried out to God and had even argued with God in the face of the glaring injustice with which God was treating him. He is now confronted with God’s greatness. And he understands that before the true greatness of God all our speech is nothing but poverty and we come nowhere near the greatness of his being; so he says: “I have spoken… twice, but I will proceed no further” [Jb 40: 5].

We are silent before the grandeur of God, for it dwarfs our words. This makes me think of the last weeks of St Thomas’ life. In these last weeks, he no longer wrote, he no longer spoke. His friends asked him: “Teacher, why are you no longer speaking? Why are you not writing?”. And he said: “Before what I have seen now all my words appear to me as straw”.

Fr Jean-Pierre Torrel, the great expert on St Thomas, tells us not to misconstrue these words. Straw is not nothing. Straw bears grains of wheat and this is the great value of straw. It bears the ear of wheat. And even the straw of words continues to be worthwhile since it produces wheat.

For us, however, I would say that this is a relativization of our work; yet, at the same time, it is an appreciation of our work. It is also an indication in order that our way of working, our straw, may truly bear the wheat of God’s Word.

The Gospel ends with the words: “He who hears you, hears me”. What an admonition! What an examination of conscience those words are! Is it true that those who hear me are really listening to the Lord? Let us work and pray so that it may be ever more true that those who hear us hear Christ. Amen!

Blessed Guerric of Igny

I am reminded by my own heart that the the early morning is a particularly good time of the day to be clothed in a special silence, but there are time at dusk that the discipline of silence is helpful. This is an essential part of spiritual maturity, an adult faith in Divine Providence. Listening and speaking to the Trinity is done when the heart and mind are slowed, even word-less. Knowing and following God’s will is only possible if we give a certain amount of day to quiet, that is, silence. Not a punishing silence, not a hopeless silence, but a manner of being that helps us to see ourselves in action: the manifestation of the virtues of faith, hope, charity, justice, peace, perseverance, etc.

Blessed Guerric in his 28th sermon says,

“As the Christ-child in the womb advanced toward birth in a long, deep silence, so does the discipline of silence nourish, form and strengthen a person’s spirit, and produce growth which is the safer and more wholesome for being the more hidden.”

Silence, therefore, is a gift that allows us to enter more deeply into the revealed Word of God, the biblical narrative through the practice of lectio divina, the practice of prayerfully reading the sacred Scripture. It is, I am convinced, the new springtime of the Church as Benedict XVI said, proposing once again the ancient Christian practice. Most often we when we hear the words lectio divina we think of monastic reading where the person is immersed in God’s holy word with the distinct desire to seek the face of God, thus making a home for that Word in his heart.

The famous Cistercian father Blessed Guerric of Igny (c. 1070/80-1157) was influenced by Origen and whose formation was under Saint Bernard was quite insightful on many things when it came to liturgical theology and the monasteric life.

If you are inclined to read more about what this Cistercian father taught, you may want to pick up a copy of John Morson’s Christ the Way: the Christology of Guerric of Igny (Liturgical Press). But his liturgical sermons are worth every effort; they are published by Liturgical Press, too.

Blessed Guerric taught the following to his brothers lectio divina:

Search the Scripture.  For you are not mistaken in thinking that you find life in them, you who seek nothing else in them but Christ, to whom the Scriptures bear witness.  Blessed indeed are they who search his testimonies, seek them out with all their heart.  Therefore you who walk about in the gardens of the Scriptures do not pass by heedlessly and idly, but searching each and every word like busy bees gathering homey from flowers, reap the Spirit from the words. (Sermon 54)

Benedict XVI: to whom do you belong? –asks for prayers for himself and future pope

When the Pope came into the Paul VI Hall he was greeted with lots of people which is typical, but there seemed to be more than c. 8000 people in attendance. The outpouring of affection was evident. Before the weekly teaching, he said, 

audience feb 13 2013.jpg

Dear brothers and sisters, as you know I decided. Thank you for your kindness. I decided to resign from the ministry that the Lord had entrusted me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full freedom for the good of the Church after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act.

I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfill the Petrine Ministry with that strength that it demands. What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ whose care and guidance will never be lacking. I thank you all for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me.

I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days which are not easy for me, the strength which the love of the Church and your prayers brings to me. Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope, the Lord will guide us!

The catechesis the Pope offers us today…

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Create a space for silence, Bishop Hugh Gilbert tells us

Silence is misunderstood by so many people today. Some friends and family think that being silent is horrible, or that it is a punishment for something. Silence may have been used as a weapon, but in reality, it is not and silence ought not be used as such, ever. The new bishop of Aberdeen (Scotland), Hugh Gilbert, delivered his first pastoral letter on the subject of silence. As a Benedictine he is attune to the contours of silence as Saint Benedict exhorts followers of his Rule for Beginners to live in an atmosphere of silence. Could what Bishop Hugh offers be of assistance to us?

We live in a noisy world. Our towns and cities are full of noise. There is noise in the skies and on the roads. There is noise in our homes, and even in our churches. And most of all there is noise in our minds and hearts.

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once wrote: ‘The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and I were asked for my advice, I should reply: “Create silence! Bring people to silence!” The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. And even if it were trumpeted forth with all the panoply of noise so that it could be heard in the midst of all the other noise, then it would no longer be the Word of God. Therefore, create silence!’

‘Create silence!’  There’s a challenge here. Surely speaking is a good and healthy thing? Yes indeed. Surely there are bad kinds of silence? Yes again. But still Kierkegaard is on to something.

There is a simple truth at stake. There can be no real relationship with God, there can be no real meeting with God, without silence. Silence prepares for that meeting and silence follows it. An early Christian wrote, ‘To someone who has experienced Christ himself, silence is more precious than anything else.’ For us God has the first word, and our silence opens our hearts to hear him. Only then will our own words really be words, echoes of God’s, and not just more litter on the rubbish dump of noise.

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Silence is the environmental condition to listen to God

Sand dune on the Sinai Peninsula.

Image via Wikipedia

Mentioned earlier this week, the Pope spoke of silence and monasteries as places of beauty and the environment that opens the soul to deeper things. I have a particular interest in what the Pope speaks: I love the monastic culture and the heritage it has given us in order to seek the Face of God. Here’s more of the papal text of August 10, 2011:

In every age, men and women who have consecrated their lives to God in prayer – like monks and nuns – have established their communities in particularly beautiful places: in the countryside, on hilltops, in valleys, on the shores of lakes or the sea, or even on little islands. These places unite two elements which are very important for contemplative life: the beauty of creation, which recalls that of the Creator, and silence, which is guaranteed by living far from cities and the great means of communication. Silence is the environmental condition that most favors contemplation, listening to God and meditation. The very fact of experiencing silence and allowing ourselves to be “filled,” so to speak, with silence, disposes us to prayer. The great prophet, Elijah, on Mount Horeb – that is, Sinai – experienced strong winds, then an earthquake, and finally flashes of fire, but he did not recognize the voice of God in them; instead, he recognized it in a light breeze (cfr. 1 Rev 19:11-13). God speaks in silence, but we need to know how to listen. This is why monasteries are oases in which God speaks to humanity; and there we find the courtyard, a symbolic place because it is a closed space, but open toward heaven.
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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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