Saturday, February 16, 2008

Abstinence in Lent - the Carmelite way

I would like to propose a Lenten practice that any Carmelite might consider: abstinence from unnecessary speech.

We have no less of a master than Our Holy Lawgiver, St Albert of Jerusalem to guide us:

"The Apostle would have us keep silence, for in silence he tells us to work. As the Prophet also makes known to us: Silence is the way to foster holiness. Elsewhere he says: Your strength will lie in silence and hope. For this reason I lay down that you are to keep silence from after Compline until after Prime the next day.

"At other times, although you need not keep silence so strictly, be careful not to indulge in a great deal of talk, for, as Scripture has it -- and experience teaches us no less -- sin will not be wanting where there is much talk, and he who is careless in speech will come to harm; and elsewhere: The use of many words brings harm to the speaker's soul. And our Lord says in the Gospel: Every rash word uttered will have to be accounted for on judgment day. Make a balance then, each of you, to weigh his words in; keep a tight rein on your mouths, lest you should stumble and fall in speech, and your fall be irreparable and prove mortal. Like the Prophet, watch your step lest your tongue give offence, and employ every care in keeping silent, which is the way to foster holiness." [Rule, 21; cf.]

Silence is one of the hallmarks of Carmelite life. Interior silence enables contemplation; exterior silence or, as St Albert states, "[keeping] a tight rein on your mouths" enables us to grow in holiness. Are these not two worthy goals to which we may aspire this Lent, 2008?

The practice of interior silence, especially at prayer, is a key concept in Lectio Divina, and it also is mentioned in several places in the writings of Our Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus. Or, consider St John of the Cross' diagram of the Ascent of Mt Carmel: as we approach the summit, there is nothing, "nada, nada, nada." And, in his Counsels and
Precautions Our Holy Father echoes the concept of "nada" in relationships when he advises a person to live as if she was the only person in the monastery and to abstain from meddling in the affairs of others.

How could we conduct a Lenten examination of conscience on the point of silence in our lives? Silence is not merely the absence of spoken words. It involves more than biting our tongues. Silence in the workplace, for example, could mean giving up our need to "be right" in discussions with co-workers or supervisors. At home, it could mean abstaining from the need to "get in the last word" when disagreeing with a spouse or sibling, child or parent. Further, silence is a stepping-stone to obedience and humility, two of the key virtues mentioned by St Teresa, one of our three Carmelite Doctors of the Church. Silence also could include spending less time composing e-mails or text messages, in which case I might be culpable for posting this message...

So at this point, I return to silence... what else could “keeping silent” mean for us?

Deb., ocds