Spiritual Life: February 2009 Archives

Exposed to subtle sins today

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"...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)

"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 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.jpgLet 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 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.jpgAnother 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.jpgTheologically, 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.

We are all Begging to have God

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Saint Basil the Great


It is natural to look for beauty and to love it, even though the idea of what is beautiful varies between one person and another.


Now, what is more marvelous than the divine beauty?  What can you think of that is more likely to give pleasure than the magnificence of God?  What desire could be more ardent, more irresistible than the thirst which God inspires in the soul when once it has been purified of every vice and cries out: 'I am sick with love.' [S. of S. 2:5]


The divine beauty is beyond description in words.  We could compare its brilliance to the light of the morning star or the moon or the sun.  But we should be as far from a true description as midday is from the dead of night.


This beauty is invisible to the eyes of the body; only the soul and the mind can perceive it.  Every time it illumines the saints, it leaves in them a sting, a nostalgia so strong as to wring from the cry: 'Woe is me, that I am in exile still.' [cf. Ps. 120:5]


By our nature we human beings aspire to what is beautiful and love it.  But what is beautiful is also good.  God is good.  Everyone looks for the good, therefore everyone looks for God.


Cardinal Thomas Spidlik, SJ. Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary: Ancient Wisdom for Today's World. Minneapolis: Cistercian Publications, 1993. 173.

Dear Friends united in love and service of Jesus Christ and His Church:

The Church is one big leper colony! You heard me right. All of us in the Church are lepers! My mind is still on last Sunday's Gospel when Jesus healed the leper.

leper.jpgJesus, the Divine Physician, often cleansed lepers of their hideous disease. It was thought incurable then. It was so dreaded that lepers had to live together in colonies where they could at least welcome and care for one another. There, they were all alike. There, they were all lepers.

Our Lord, of course, knows that there is also a spiritual leprosy, a leprosy that affects the soul, a moral disease, called sin. He can and will cure that, too, if, like the leper in last Sunday's gospel, we ask Him to do so.

Those who realize they have this interior leprosy come together in a leper colony, called the Church. The Church is filled with spiritual lepers who welcome one another, care for one another, and turn to Jesus, the Divine Physician, for cleansing, through prayer, worship, and the sacraments.

The Church is then a hospital for the sick, not a country club for the spiritually sleek. We belong to the Church, not because we're saints, but because we're sinners, not because we're proud, but because we're humble, not because we want to do God a big favor, but because we need a big favor from God.

Not long ago a high school junior, preparing for the sacrament of confirmation, wrote me: "Archbishop Dolan, I hate going to Sunday Mass. All I see around me are hypocrites, two-faced people who act holier-than-thou on Sunday, and then put everybody else down all week."

I wrote him back, "You're right. And now there's one more hypocrite among them on Sunday morning -- you, because you just judged all of them, dismissed them, and considered yourself holier-than-them. So, welcome to the Church! You're one of us."

Sure, there are a lot of saints in the Church. But, odds are, if you told them you thought them a saint, they'd be the first to tell you they were only recovering sinners.

You have heard me talk before about my beautiful niece, Shannon. When she was eight, she was diagnosed with perilous bone cancer. Odds were she would loose her leg, maybe her life. Her major worry, though, was that she would loose her hair, and her friends, who might, she was afraid, shun her because she was bald and had cancer.

During her surgeries and chemo, her third grade classmates made and sold what they called "Shannon caps," stocking caps with her name on it. The benefits helped cover some of her expenses.

When the day came when she could finally return to school, she was scared. Would the kids welcome her? Would they make fun of her, bald, in a wheelchair, with that dreaded disease of cancer? She wore her "Shannon cap" to cover her cue-ball head.

When her dad pushed her into the third grade classroom, every child, and the teacher, were wearing a "Shannon cap". They all stood and cheered. Shannon smiled. She was back home among friends.

That's the Church . . . we're all lepers . . . we're all unclean . . . we all need the only one who can heal us. We're all in it together.

dolan.jpgSee you at Mass.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan

The Journal Times.com

February 17, 2009

Pope Benedict spoke of "teaching the art of prayer, encouraging participation in the liturgy and the Sacraments, wise and relevant preaching, catechetical instruction, and spiritual and moral guidance. From this foundation faith flourishes in Christian virtue, and gives rise to vibrant parishes and generous service to the wider community" to the Nigerian bishops making their ad limina.


Later the Pope said: "The celebration of the liturgy is a privileged source of renewal in Christian living" and "to maintain the proper balance between moments of contemplation and external gestures of participation and joy in the Lord".

Evangelization & Prayer

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St Paul preaching.jpgEvangelizing is an act of service done out of love, like parents when they teach their children to pray. They are giving their children the best they have. They are giving them the foundations of their faith. This is the reason that should impel the growth of ... the Church: to grow more so as to evangelize more; to grow in holiness so as to be better witnesses of Christ in the world. To grow in holiness, to grow in love, to grow in hope so as to bring others to faith, love, and hope.

What would Saint Paul tell us today if he came to see us? What would he ask of us? What would he pass on to us? Certainly, he would remind us of the words he once wrote to the community in Corinth: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize." (1 Cor 9:24)Saint Paul insists very much on prayer. He said: "Pray always." Prayer is conversation with God; it is the nourishment of the apostle, of the evangelizer. Today, in these times when we live in such adverse environments, prayer becomes even more important. Prayer shows us that our commitment to evangelization comes from Christ. To evangelize is to give what we have received; it is to preach the Christ I have met in prayer. Saint Paul began his work of evangelization after three years of solitude and prayer in the deserts of Arabia. Contemplation and apostolate always go hand in hand.

Prayer helps you "to know the love of Christ, which surpasses all knowledge, that you may be filled to measure of all the fullness of God"[viii] and makes it so that "Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that you may be rooted and established in love." (eph 3:17)

Cardinal Franc Rodé, CM

December 14, 2008

Do you ever think of the connection between holiness and priests? I am NOT suggesting a vague academic consideration of the topic but I am wondering about it in the concrete. Every now and again the notion --perhaps I can even say vocation-- of spiritual paternity and maternity arises in me and I am not exactly sure where the idea comes from or where it is going. The matter of the holiness of priests --indeed, of all people, concerns me, but right now I am thinking specifically of the ordained's holiness because it is a real need in our ecclesial life together today.

Friends, laity and clergy alike who work as spiritual fathers and mothers, live a beautiful vocation in walking spiritually with those who are ordained. They become familiar with the personal narratives of sin and grace, they hear about the presence of the Lord in daily living, and they know the struggles of faith, hope and charity. In a word, spiritual fathers and mothers see the reality of Divine intimacy at work.

So, let me say a very brief word about the idea of spiritual maternity for priests. Actually, let me point you in the direction of the spiritual maternity of Catherine Doherty, a well known mystic of the 20th century who had a special love for the priesthood and the enduring need of priests to be holy. Doherty said once, "I wish I could tell every priest that I share his pain and joy, whatever it may be, because I love the priesthood passionately." But there are others as Cardinal Hummes indicates in a recent letter (see below), who have been called to this vocation.

What I am interested is real holiness, not fake spiritual sentimentality, not some vague "connection" with the divinity. Rather, holiness is a way of life centered on reality as it is given and lived in the light and tension of the Gospel, the sacraments and the Church.

Having CHummes.jpgconcern for priests, Claudio Cardinal Hummes wrote in 2007 to the world's bishops asking for help in establishing in their dioceses places of eucharistic adoration and the development of a spiritual work that looks to women to assist in flourishing of holiness in the priesthood. That letter bears greater attention and so I have linked it here.

Cardinal Hummes says many memorable things in his letter on spiritual maternity but important item that needs to rememmbered is the following:

According to the constant content of Sacred Tradition, the mystery and reality of the Church cannot be reduced to the hierarchical structure, the liturgy, the sacraments, and juridical ordinances. In fact, the intimate nature of the Church and the origin of its sanctifying efficacy must be found first in a mystical union with Christ.

 For more information read my friend Father Mark's recent essay on the subject.

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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This page is a archive of entries in the Spiritual Life category from February 2009.

Spiritual Life: January 2009 is the previous archive.

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