The Environmental Condition That Most Favors Contemplation
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 13, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave during the Aug. 13 general audience at the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
In every age, men and women who have consecrated their lives to God in prayer — such as monks and nuns — have established their communities in places of particular beauty: in the countryside, upon the hills, in mountain valleys, by the lakeside or on the seashore, or even on little islands. These places unite two very important elements for the contemplative life: the beauty of creation, which points to that of the Creator, and silence, which is guaranteed by their remoteness from cities and the great means of communication.
Silence is the environmental condition that most favors contemplation, listening to God and meditation. The very fact of experiencing silence, of allowing ourselves to be “filled,” so to speak, with silence, disposes us to prayer. The great prophet Elijah, on Mount Horeb — that is, Sinai — witnessed a great and strong wind, then an earthquake, and finally flashes of fire, but in none of these did he recognize the voice of God; instead, he recognized it in a still small breeze (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-13). God speaks in the silence, but we need to know how to listen for Him. That is why monasteries are oases where God speaks to man; and in them there is the cloister, which is a symbolic place, for it is a space that is enclosed yet opened to heaven.
Tomorrow, dear friends, we celebrate the memorial of St. Clare of Assisi. I would therefore like to recall one of these spiritual “oases” that is particularly dear to the Fransciscan family and to all Christians: the small convent of San Damiano, situated just below the town of Assisi, amidst the olive groves that slope towards [the Basilica of] St. Mary of the Angels. Near that little church, which Francis restored after his conversion, Clare and her first companions established their community and lived a life of prayer and simple works. They were called the “Poor Sisters,” and their “way of life” was the same as the Friars Minor: “To observe the holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rule of St. Clare, I,2), maintaining the union of mutual charity (cf. ibid., X 7) and observing in a special way the poverty and humility lived by Jesus and His most holy Mother (cf. ibid., XII, 13).
The silence and beauty of the place where the monastic community lives — a simple and an austere beauty — serve as a reflection of the spiritual harmony that the community itself seeks to realize. The world is studded with these spiritual oases, some very ancient, particularly in Europe, others more recent, while still others have been restored by new communities. Looking at things from a spiritual perspective, these places of the spirit are a supporting structure for the world! And is it not the case that many people, especially in times of quiet and rest, visit these places and stay for a few days: even the soul, thanks be to God, has its needs!
Let us therefore remember St. Clare. But let us also remember other saintly figures who remind us of the importance of turning our gaze to the “things of heaven”; for example, St. Edith Stein — Teresa Benedicta of the Cross — Carmelite and Patroness of Europe, whose feast we celebrated yesterday. And today, Aug. 10, we cannot forget St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr, with a special wish offered to the people of Rome, who have always venerated him as one of their patrons. And lastly, let us turn our gaze to the Virgin Mary, that she might teach us to love silence and prayer.
[Translation by Diane Montagna]
This is the first step on which we take to Heaven. We project ourselves out of the temporal world into the light, albeit it may be very dim, of Heaven’s heavenly bliss.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
I greet all the English-speaking visitors present today, including the groups from Guam, Canada and the United States of America. My special greeting goes to the young people en route to World Youth Day in Madrid! In these days the Church celebrates the feasts of great saints like Lawrence, Clare of Assisi and Edith Stein. May their example and intercession help us to draw closer to God through the practice of quiet prayer and contemplation. May the Lord bless you and your families with his joy and peace!