"Vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and society. Twenty years since Christifideles Laici:
balance and perspectives".
The 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:
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 38:2-3). 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 ). 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. ) to the conclusion of breakfast (c. ) 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.
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 ) 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.
"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.
"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 America20 Feb 2009)
The video clip of the Pope's speech is found here.
Are you ready for this? Try out the religious (monastic) life just for a weekend. If you like the experience, come back and stay. The best the English religious orders have to offer! I suppose when you have problems getting people to enter the religious life you have to create "fun" things to attract newbies. The BBC article reports: "In 1982, there were 217 novices in the Catholic Church in England and Wales but by 2007 that figure had dropped to 29."
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 concern 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.
Fathers Garry and Harry Giroux are twin brothers, both Roman Catholic priests in a small town in upstate New York. In 2004, Father Harry was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, and his brother Father Garry has been his caregiver ever since. "Garry and Harry" explores this fascinating story and the relationship of these brothers as they deal with their faith, family, and hope in the face of tragedy.
This film is the work of Steven Madeja, a freelance filmmaker and film festival director in Potsdam, NY. Madeja received a Bachelor's with honors degree in Film from Vassar College in 2008.
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.