The cloister of St. Camillus.
Picking it apart.
Not me, but many others seem to be. Especially the contemplatives online. Some complain the Holy Father dismisses centuries of monastic-contemplative tradition, objecting that the Pope "demeans the silence of monastic retreat, taking little digs at Cardinal Sarah." These writers seem to be predisposed to read everything the Pope says as an attack upon tradition. Albeit the exhortation is prefaced by the following provision:
What follows is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us “to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph 1:4). - GuadeteIt's an extremely pastoral document not intended to be a profound treatise on prayer and spirituality. I receive it as a sort of 'little way' of holiness, for ordinary people. The Pope specifically references ordinary saints, as well as the prayer of the Russian peasant-pilgrim on his way through villages and country, monasteries and cities. While reading the document I thought of contemplatives who lived among men, ordinary people of the streets such as Madeleine Dubrel, Benedict Joseph Labre, Dorothy Day, and so on. These holy people and many, many other saints would never feel their prayer life, their spirituality, or their devotion at Mass was threatened or compromised by the Holy Father's exhortation. My goodness, the Holy Father is esteemed by contemplative monks and nuns in enclosed monastic life - his closest allies, as it were, are the Discalced Carmelites of Argentina.
If a good man reproves me, it is kindness.
The psalm celebrates the joy of being corrected, of being taught, of being reprimanded, yet many Catholics complain that the Holy Father takes 'swipes' at this or that person. They seem to consider him as a sort of tyrant, or a bitchy, mean-spirited dictator. They are convinced he's an abusive father. I have never understood that. I have to wonder if their spiritual directors and the formation they received was always complimentary, or maybe they see themselves already perfect? When I get like that I always go back to John of the Cross in the section he writes about the faults of beginners, or Garrigou-Lagrange and his counsels regarding retarded souls. Something is always wrong when we refuse correction and reprimands.
It is fine to have one's own opinion and to express it - but it is better not to be too attached to it, to become stuck in it. To try and persuade others with one's personal opinion or bias, especially in an attempt to convince others that the Pope is so dysfunctional that he speaks in code and passive-aggressively disparages those he dislikes strikes me as a a problem a bit like transference neurosis. People tend to project their bias and fears onto the other.
St. Catherine of Genoa
I doubt the Holy Father was taking a swipe at Cardinal Sarah, much less denigrating contemplative monastic silence. As a Jesuit schooled in the Exercises he surely knows and values silence. What an astonishing claim that he is promoting the active life over the contemplative. He is speaking to us about combining the two, the integration of the two - which is precisely why he cites ordinary people, sharing homely anecdotes to illustrate his point. The intellectuals criticize it as banal, yet what was the hidden life of Jesus of Nazareth? How very ordinary and mundane was the holy family-community life in Nazareth, which prompted even the disciples to ask, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?"
How do critics miss the point of what the Holy Father is saying? To whom he is speaking? He is speaking to you and me. Ordinary people:
To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. - Guadete
Integrating the spiritual life.
Since silence is so important for the holy ones who teach in seminaries, preside over digital parishes and write spiritual books and blogs, why do they listen to talk radio as they drive to and from the airport, the mall or the office? Why do they have ipods playing hours of music, or listening to some web-authority's pod-cast on how bad the Novus Ordo is, or how Humanae Vitae is being undermined? How early do these lay-contemplatives arrive for Mass? How long do they stay in Thanksgiving after Mass? How many hours a day do they set aside for prayer and meditation? Just wondering.
Even in monastic life there is activity. Yet I believe the Holy Father is speaking directly to ordinary people here. Lay people, consecrated religious whose work can sap their strength, priests who smell like their sheep, or even the nursing home patient sharing a room with a talkative roommate, who needs the television on for most of the day or night. Contemplative life is very practical and the Pope recognizes the need for silence and solitude.
29. This does not mean ignoring the need for moments of quiet, solitude and silence before God. Quite the contrary. The presence of constantly new gadgets, the excitement of travel and an endless array of consumer goods at times leave no room for God’s voice to be heard. We are overwhelmed by words, by superficial pleasures and by an increasing din, filled not by joy but rather by the discontent of those whose lives have lost meaning. How can we fail to realize the need to stop this rat race and to recover the personal space needed to carry on a heartfelt dialogue with God? Finding that space may prove painful but it is always fruitful. Sooner or later, we have to face our true selves and let the Lord enter. This may not happen unless “we see ourselves staring into the abyss of a frightful temptation, or have the dizzying sensation of standing on the precipice of utter despair, or find ourselves completely alone and abandoned”. In such situations, we find the deepest motivation for living fully our commitment to our work.
30. The same distractions that are omnipresent in today’s world also make us tend to absolutize our free time, so that we can give ourselves over completely to the devices that provide us with entertainment or ephemeral pleasures. As a result, we come to resent our mission, our commitment grows slack, and our generous and ready spirit of service begins to flag. This denatures our spiritual experience. Can any spiritual fervour be sound when it dwells alongside sloth in evangelization or in service to others?
31. We need a spirit of holiness capable of filling both our solitude and our service, our personal life and our evangelizing efforts, so that every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing love in the Lord’s eyes. In this way, every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to growth in holiness. - Gaudete
The hermitage within.
There is a prayer one can practice incessantly - it is the prayer of recollection, the practice of the Presence of God. Even in the midst of much noise after Mass, one can be silently in communion with God whom they have just received - imitating the silent, loving action of Jesus in the Eucharist. JPII knew that. Benedict XVI knew that. Pope Francis knows that. It seems to me, Pope Francis is telling us to try it.
Read and listen with an open heart. Allow yourself to be taught. The Carmelite Doctors of the Church tell us that.
St. Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero
Smelled of his sheep.