Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Shh! Stop and Consider!

I'm just back from a few days at the Benedictine Monastery of Mount Saviour in Elmira, New York. There are ten hardy monks there, on their feet and hanging on, who still keep the traditional seven times chapel-gathering for prayer, starting at 4:45 in the morning.

The monastery is indeed at the top of the mount. The road heading in is a steep enough climb to require a stop or two to catch your breath. And right at the top, just before the monastic buildings come into view, there is this marvelous tree, now bright orange with yellow-leaved wild grape vines underneath. 

"Stop and consider the wondrous works of God," we read in Job 37:14. God's imagination: trees that change color, to delight us!

And in the monastery there are other wondrous things to observe and consider:

The tables in the refectory (dining room) are U shaped with the prior (head-monk) sitting at the center so to lead the blessings. But splaying out to his left and right are the guests. The monks sit further away along the U, only after the guests are seated and served. Even at Mass, the guests receive Holy Communion first; the monks follow. There are some good Gospel verses about living this way of others first.

And while there is no vow of silence, the monks speak really only about necessities. The guests find it very hard to carry this over to the guest house where there is usually too much talking. The witness of quiet monks is important, maybe especially these days, bombarded as we are with advertising and constant talk shows and "Breaking News." 

Wouldn't it be something if the  Christians were identified more by our quiet interiority than by our outward shows. That we were the ones who didn't get into all the stupid talk. Father John says: "Where there are many words, sin cannot be avoided." 

We might find a bronzy-orange, flame-tree today somewhere, or imagine stopping along the monastery road shown here, and in silence, just consider.


  1. Sometimes it is hard to sit in silence, but when I do, I think of all the wondrous things that God has given us. Thank you for giving us this simple reminder to stop and think.

  2. In seminary homiletics class we were told to aim for 11 minutes. That's because we have a tendency to talk too much but also because the human attention span is short - something like 8 seconds. So sitting in silence is difficult indeed. But maybe it's like getting muscles, or swimming/running some distance, that we can build up our capacities. Maybe one way to start cultivating comfort with silence is to eliminate so much of the noise that's already in most homes (which includes rectories) - TV news, background music, electronic games. You get the picture.

  3. So many lessons for us. We need to stop and listen carefully. So often we feel the need to interject an opinion or offer unwarranted advice, or worse, we gossip and discuss other people. All of us could try to be more silent, patient and hospitable.

  4. I will offer a prayer for these monks who are somehow hanging on in this modern world. Their life of quiet solitude seems so foreign to me, but I respect their dedication to God and their prayerful existence.

  5. They are an important sign for us in this country: angry, divided, loud, superficial....Monks don't choose who they will live with. A monastery (monks or nuns) may have dozens of members all different ages, national origins, talents or none, education levels, backgrounds. And they work hard at bringing it together while at the same time offering hospitality to anyone and everyone. You may stay as long as you like; they ask for nothing. Only one rule: if you start breaking up the place or disrupting the rhythm of the monastic life - then you have to go. We could do with some of that coming together, inclusion, acceptance, forgiveness..