Explosive Table Reading

“Reading will always accompany the meals of the brothers,” St. Benedict admonishes in Chapter 38 of his Rule for Monasteries. “Let there be complete silence,” he decrees. “No whispering, no speaking – only the reader’s voice should be heard there.”

In the refectory at St. John’s Abbey, we’re reading Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium these days. And the monks are not doing so well with St. Benedict’s directions to keep silent. It’s rather hard to restrain oneself when the reading is explosive as Pope Francis’s words.

Words like this, for example, from dinner last night:

“Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed… [T]he message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary.”

 

“[I]n preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained… [A]n imbalance results… when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.”

 

“Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us… If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”

 

“Within the Church countless issues are being studied and reflected upon with great freedom. Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow, since all of them help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel.”

 

“With the holy intent of communicating the truth about God and humanity, we sometimes give [the faithful] a false god or a human ideal which is not really Christian. In this way, we hold fast to a formulation while failing to convey its substance. This is the greatest danger. Let us never forget that ‘the expression of truth can take different forms’.”

 

“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God ‘are very few’.”

Last night, at the pope’s positive reference to “differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice,” an older monk walking by my table whispered loudly in mock condemnation, ” HERESY!” The table laughed heartily.

Here’s whole excerpt read last night. Worth reading intently – as is the entire exhortation.

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4 comments

  1. Father Anthony,
    I am glad that the reading is cause for the loosening of tongues among you and your brothers. To me this means the Spirit is stirring among them. May you and your brothers continue to be so moved until there comes a time we hear the shouts of all of you, as well as the words of Papa Francesco, both of which are are ultimately coming from Jesus. May we all become big hearts open to God as a result.

    Thank you for sharing and all your efforts with your work here and at the Abbey.

  2. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God ‘are very few’.”
    ———————————————-
    Well, there goes the 1962 form of the Roman Mass.

  3. Could vatican.va find a less user-friendly presentation of this document? Someone must have told them that the internet is all about style over substance these days. The one page text version is way easier to navigate.

    Regarding the excerpt Brian quoted, and his response, I’d really prefer if the pope — or anyone, for that matter — would follow Brian’s lead and just say the thing rather than vaguely allude to it with the most carefully couched language.

    If Pope Francis wants to do away with the 1962 Missal for good, let him just say it. Otherwise some people will read that into his words (and believe that’s what he means), and other people will read the first people’s reports and believe it’s what the pope said; meanwhile another group of people will argue against that reading.

    See, some might say that perhaps Pope Francis is alluding to the custom / rule / precept of fasting, or maybe more likely the abstaining from meat during certain times of the year. Fasting (or abstinence from meat) no longer serves as a means of communicating the Gospel, they will argue; they have no usefulness in shaping and directing our lives. But I highly doubt Francis feels that way; I can’t picture exactly how the Church would justify the abandonment of one of the most ancient and universal disciplines…

    Anyway, that’s a whole lot of speculation on my part.

    To get to the point, what has become of letting your “yes” mean “yes” and your “no” mean “no”?

  4. It sounds like St. Benedict’s rule about not talking at table is one of these customs with “deep historical roots” which “no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives.” I’m glad they have reexamined it at St. John’s. Without jettisoning the parts that are no longer relevant, any mere monastic rule, like the Church itself, “risks becoming a house of cards.” Excellent insights on Francis’s part.

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