Encounter: In Silence for the Church
Posted by Jonah Lynch on 2 March 2010 ·
Friendship is the most beautiful thing in life. I don’t know how one could live without it. The pope has said that with baptism we enter a community of friends, who will accompany us until death. This is precisely what we have been studying during these days, looking at one of the best known mediaeval fathers, Aelred of Rievaulx, who is sometimes called the Bernard of England. He writes that friendship is first of all a pedagogy. Secondly, it is a stairway to friendship with God. His whole pedagogical structure is based on this: if you are a friend of God, you will be a friend of human beings; if you are a friend of human beings, you will approach God. Of course, this means a path of great humanity, freedom and respect.
This morning we were commenting on a statement of Cardinal Scola: “The relation with the other is always both an embrace and a clash.” The other is different, he is otherness. If you truly want to enter with respect and fidelity into that otherness, you must accept suffering. The experience of friendship, then, passes through suffering. Authentic friendship respects otherness. This means to accept what is different with gratitude, because the different completes me. This risk of mutual belonging is described well by John Paul II in Novo millennio ineunte: “The other is part of me.” I must love my brother to the point of intuiting his desire, and going out to meet it. The other is never a stranger, he is part of me. He is necessary to my path of conversion, necessary for my progress in life. We are always moved at this level, and precisely this level means friendship.
Friendship is not merely a pat on the back. Friendship is to commit oneself to the good of the other, a passion to walk together, a desire to will the same things. In our order, we are beginning to use a term again that we coined 30 years ago, but which didn’t have much success at the time: the term “common vision”. A community must move according to a common vision, or it will not be able to formulate that purpose that is essential for a full acceptance of everyone. This means a risk of friendship, of trust, of giving the other credit; an acceptance of difference as richness, even if it may hurt me or cause suffering. Now we have the joy of seeing that things have progressed. Aelred says that friendship is the only pedagogy for living together: I like you because you are here, because you exist. You are necessary for my conversion, my sanctification, my walk towards God. I like you because God has put you in my life. It is a much deeper reality. I cannot conceive of a different way.
When I first entered the monastery, the silence was extremely rigorous. You couldn’t say even a single word. The only possibility for communication were the famous hand signals that expressed what you wanted to say. I can’t say whether it was hard or easy, it’s just the way it was. I remember two basic things that made a taste for silence possible for me. First, night prayer, the time dedicated to the vigils in the middle of the night, the office of readings and the nocturnal lectio. To be able to await the dawn as a sign of the encounter with the coming day, with Christ the light: this anticipation was almost palpable in the atmosphere. Even if someone were incapable of silence, it was an education in savoring something that was of the essential to the night and essential to night prayer. Second, slowly realizing (I am speaking of almost 50 years ago) that silence did not hinder communication. I remember my joy one day when I was able to recognize my sisters by the shoes they were wearing. I could name each of them from their shoes! It was a taste of the possibility of a much deeper communication.
There is another aspect that goes back to the experience of the first Lents. There was a lot of work then, because we only worked in the fields, and food was scarce. We got a boiled egg at Easter and Christmas – the rest of the year it was vegetables, pasta and a bit of cheese. During Lent we even went without that. Of course, the silence made all this weigh on us more heavily. Toward the end of Lent, a wave of giggling began in the novitiate that went on forever. We giggled in every room and every corner… it was non-stop laughter. Perhaps from that moment I understood that silence was this possibility of communicating, in the midst of such essentiality, the joy of being alive. This has always remained with me as a great joy. Today, silence is very different. First, because we no longer work in the fields. Work today requires explanation, mutual clarification. Dialogue has become part of relationships among the Trappists. The hand signals have disappeared; words are used when necessary. What has remained, however, and is something that fascinates me, is the use of words only for what it is truly worth saying, for saying what is essential. Using words for chatting, like most people do, makes no sense to us. We continue to teach an essentiality in relationships that gives words the weight they should have, meaning that superficiality is excluded and we gradually enter a reality of greater content. This is only possible, however, if there are some truly strong moments in life. For us these are above all the nocturnal times, when the silence in the universe of creation truly enters you, even through the pores of your skin.
If one lives silence, he ends by loving silence, and understands that silence is truly a music, because it gives you the possibility of perceiving all of reality in a way that noise never can.
Faithfulness to origins and mission
One must be very faithful to origins. If someone has not known how to receive, he will not know how to pass on. We have experienced this often in our foundations. Which have been our most successful, our most beautiful foundations? Those that have remained faithful to their roots, never betraying the originary source of their consecration, their ministry. In these places there is truly a common vision. Vitorchiano has handed on to them a vision, a life, a purpose, a way of being, that they have lived completely. In doing so, the original sisters of the new place have assumed this vision, transforming it into something unique to that place, though still universal.
I want to recommend to you that, wherever you go, don’t invent anything. Propose to the people the proposal you have received. Make sure that the people intuit, recognize and see in you the grace that has formed you. For us, the possibility of maintaining a unity among our foundations depends on the consciousness of having received something unique, extraordinary, essential and strong, that has shaped our lives, giving them meaning. It is this that we simply want to live in the place where the Lord calls us.