Monday, July 13, 2020

Marianist Monday

July 2020

My Dear Graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

Do you remember when we were not all wearing masks in public? It wasn’t that long ago, really. Actually, less than half a year. I remember one “unmasked” day quite vividly. It was the evening of March 4, 2020. I had agreed to pick up my younger sister Michele at JFK’s Terminal 4. She was flying in from Maine on a Delta domestic flight, to visit our mom for the weekend. As I waited for Michele in the arrivals hall, I remember seeing quite a few passengers from overseas flights wearing masks that covered their nose and mouth. “Oh, this is a little premature, a bit paranoid,” I thought to myself. “What are they afraid of?”

Well, we soon found out. Exactly eight days after I dropped my sister off at our mom’s Port Washington apartment, Chaminade, Kellenberg, and St. Martin’s all closed, as did every other school in the New York Metropolitan Area. Ten days later, New York’s statewide stay-at-home order went into effect, and only now, as I sit down to write this reflection, are we entering stage 2 of a phased reopening. (When this article appears on social media, Long Island will be entering stage 4.) We found ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, as of this writing, has infected 7.9 million people and claimed 435,000 lives worldwide. (Now, 12.1 million cases and 550,000 deaths worldwide.)

As a direct result, we have all learned the importance of wearing a mask in public. Masks block the tiny airborne droplets that we expel as we breathe, speak, sing, cough, and sneeze. Masks help stop the community spread of this highly transmissible disease. Masks are inconvenient, to be sure. But they help stop the spread of a potentially deadly disease. So we wear them; at least most of us do. And that’s a good thing. Wearing a mask takes root in our concern for the common good and in our respect for our neighbor.

Chaminade HS on Twitter: "Custom Chaminade face masks are now ...All this got me to thinking that maybe we need to start wearing metaphorical masks as well. What do I mean by this? I mean that, as individuals and as a society, we need to start filtering out the divisive, hateful, infectious speech that threatens to poison our country. We hear and see such speech all the time -- in our circle of friends, on the radio and television, and especially on social media. Indeed, the popular phrase “It’s gone viral” demonstrates the speed with which inflammatory tweets, posts, and videos can infect the body politic.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for free speech. Free speech is enshrined in our Constitution and safeguarded by our laws. Generations of brave servicemen have fought and even given their lives to preserve our cherished rights, among them freedom of speech. That includes the right to protest and to speak out against injustice. Jesus Himself did that!

But, in addition to free speech, I’d like to propose filtered speech. No, I’m not advocating government censorship, nor academic “thought police” who impose conformity to a particular ideology.

What I would suggest, however, is that we filter our own speech. That we would think before we speak. That we would have the humility to keep our gut reactions in check. That we would cool down our heated rhetoric, our angry words, and our self-righteous indignation. As St. Paul advises in the Letter to the Ephesians, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Or, to put it more simply, “Over all these virtues, put on love” (Colossians 4:13).

Maybe then -- just maybe -- we could start listening to one another instead of shouting at one another. We’ve seen too much of the latter -- shouting at one another -- from polarizing opinions about the pandemic to divisive words about race relations to deep divisions regarding controversial issues within the Church. All sides of the ideological divide need to speak less, or at least less angrily, and listen more.

Into The Deep: St. Benedict pray for us!Let me offer you another image. Along the wooded, winding paths at our Meribah Retreat House stands a larger-than-life statue of St. Benedict of Nursia (d. 547 A.D.), the Father of Western Monasticism. The statue depicts Benedict placing his left index finger over his lips and holding a book in his right hand. The book is inscribed with a single word, “Listen.” That’s a reference to the famous (famous, at least, among consecrated religious men and women) first line of the Rule of St. Benedict: “Listen, O son, to the master’s precepts; incline the ear of your heart; accept freely the admonition of a loving father; complete it effectively, that you may return through the labor of obedience to Him from whom you have fallen away through the sloth of disobedience.”

Let’s take a lesson or two from the monks of old. Many took a vow of silence, and while I would certainly not propose that, how about a vow of listening? What if we vowed to listen more and to speak less? What if we all pledged to speak respectfully, even kindly, enabling others to actually hear us rather than triggering them to shout over us? What if we endeavored to understand those who disagree with us, rather than demolish them in a debate? I dare say, the world would be a better place. Then, the kingdom of this world would more accurately reflect the kingdom of heaven. Then, God’s vision for his people might be fulfilled: “And we, though many, throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord.” (“One Bread, One Body,” by John Foley, S.J., based on St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.)

As the Psalmist writes, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141: 3). Filter your words. Don’t muzzle them, mind you, but do filter them. Speak softly. Listen attentively. Disagree agreeably. Find common ground. Express your beliefs -- absolutely!-- and do so with both clarity and charity.

Wear a mask -- in all the many senses of those words -- for the health of the body politic, for the health of the Body of Christ.

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,

Bro. Stephen Balletta, S.M.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Marianist Patriarch

Saint Benedict of Nursia: Father of Western Monasticism - Diocese ...
Few saints have left such a palpable impact on the world as St. Benedict, the monk whose Rule set a standard for the Western monastic tradition. His balance of work and prayer, his validation of community life, and his regulation of monastic discipline set the pattern for religious life for centuries. He died in Italy in the sixth century. Benedict was proclaimed Patron of Europe in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.

Marianists celebrate him as their Patriarch (cf. Rule of Life 4.10).

On July 11th we celebrated the feast of Saint Benedict, Patriarch of Western Monasticism. In his Holy Rule, he begins by saying:

"Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away.

To thee, therefore, my speech is now directed, who, giving up thine own will, takest up the strong and most excellent arms of obedience, to do battle for Christ the Lord, the true King.

In the first place, beg of Him by most earnest prayer, that He perfect whatever good thou dost begin, in order that He who hath been pleased to count us in the number of His children, need never be grieved at our evil deeds. For we ought at all times so to serve Him with the good things which He hath given us, that He may not, like an angry father, disinherit his children, nor, like a dread lord, enraged at our evil deeds, hand us over to everlasting punishment as most wicked servants, who would not follow Him to glory."

Thursday, July 9, 2020

St. Benedict - The Rule

St. Benedict of Nursia | EWTN

Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is the advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice. 

The labor of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience. 

This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

“Lord, who art Thou, and who am I?”

Saint Augustine of Hippo - Diocese of Westminster Youth Ministry
In one of the meditations in his famous Introduction to the Devout Life, Saint Francis de Sales encourages his readers to pray with Saint Augustine’s humble request

“O Lord, make me to know Thee and to know myself”  and Saint Francis of Assisi’s question “Lord, who art Thou, and who am I?” 

We would do well to do the same.

Monday, July 6, 2020

First vows in the Society of Mary

On Saturday 27th June, concluding two years of preparation at the novitiate in Abadjin-Doumé, Ivory Coast, two brothers pronounced their first vows in the Society of Mary. The newest Marianist religious are Ghislain ATANDELE SIMANABATO, from the Congo Sector and Eric KOUAME Kouassi, from the District of Ivory Coast. In the context created by the pandemic, the ceremony took place in the novitiate itself, in the presence of the brothers of the neighboring communities and members of the Marianist Family.

The ceremony was presided over by Fr. François Nanan, SM. The District Superior, Fr. Georges Gbeze, SM, received the vows by delegation from the Provincial of France. We wish the two new brothers a wonderful beginning to their Marianist life. May it be an opportunity for them to be rooted ever more in their vocation and their commitment to the service of the mission that has been entrusted to us in the service of the People of God.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to weigh on our world, we remain in union of prayer and hope with all those who suffer from this evil, the sick and those who care for them, their families and all collateral victims, especially among the poorest and most deprived populations. We are praying with the areas most affected at the moment, especially on the American continent or in India. Let us also ask the Lord for the knowledge how to act as he calls us to, according to our vocation and our means.

When "The globalization of indifference ... continue to threaten and tempt us in our journey... May we find within us the necessary antibodies of justice, charity and solidarity. We must not be afraid to live the alternative – the civilization of love. This is «a civilization of hope: against anguish and fear, sadness and discouragement, passivity and tiredness. The civilization of love is built daily, uninterruptedly. It requires a committed effort by all. For this reason it requires a committed community of brothers and sisters»". (Interview of Pope Francis in Vida Nueva, April 17, 2020; the quotation made by the Pope is from the Argentinean Cardinal Eduardo Pironio).