Monasteries of the Heart

Monks in Our Midst: Judith Valente on A Time to Speak

A spiritual director I know once described St. Benedict as a man who saw the society around him crumbling and refused to crumble with it. The threat of terror plagued Benedict’s once mighty civilization. Wealth remained concentrated among the few. Corruption was rampant in commerce. The public had lost trust in traditional institutions. Politicians seemed to represent their own interests over those of the people they were supposed to serve.

This was Rome in the 6th century. It might just as well be today’s newsfeed.

It’s easy to despair in times such as these when our political leadership tells us there is no such thing as truth, only “alternative facts” that can be interpreted at whim. When those whose behavior should be models for our children behave like the uncle we’re ashamed to invite to Thanksgiving dinner. When those who are supposed to be servants of the public act mainly in service to themselves.

 I write as neither a Democrat or Republican. I write as a Christian, a proud Benedictine Oblate, and equally proud American. That is why it pains me to see our government seemingly drowning in a pool of mendacity, while serving up massive doses of nastiness (immigrant children pulled from their parents’ arms) and outright corruption (an increasing number of those in power being accused, found guilty, or pleading guilty to crimes).

In these times, I find myself returning to The Rule for solace and sustenance.

          Be the first to show respect to the other …

          Do what is best for the other, not for yourself …

          Day by day, remind yourself you are going to die. Hour by hour, keep careful watch over all you do, knowing God’s gaze is upon you.         

Someone whom I consider a wise elder recommends bearing the turmoil enveloping our country with patience. She advises countering with massive doses of compassion and random acts of kindness wherever we can. I wholeheartedly agree. But I also think it is incumbent on those of us who follow the Benedictine way of life to speak out publicly. To say lying and cheating in public office is not acceptable. That no person is above the law. That all people need to be treated with dignity, no matter where they were born.  (I often wonder what our Native American citizens think about all the hoopla about people crossing our borders illegally today. American settlers had no difficulty disregarding the boundaries of native tribes in the18th and 19th centuries).

We face a similar crisis in the Catholic Church. This summer, revelations emerged of massive clergy abuse of children and teens in Pennsylvania, and of an extensive cover up taken to keep these crimes hidden for so long.  This followed the resignation of one of the American church’s most vaulted leaders.

Pennsylvania is hardly an outlier. If the other 49 states conducted such an expansive investigation, similar results might apply. It seems there has been abuse by clergy members and cover ups in just about every country where the Catholic Church exists. We have heard the leadership’s apologies and pleas for forgiveness many times before.

What is needed now is action – true change. That won’t happen unless the people in the pews demand it. It should start with greater lay oversight over church finances, and over any criminal allegations brought forth.

I have urged in my diocese that every parish hold an open forum in which there can be a frank discussion of what needs to change. Should clergy members be left to police themselves?  How can there be greater transparency in how funds are raised and spent? Should parish members have a greater say in the priests sent to serve them?

We also cannot ignore the big issues that are too often the elephants in the room. That is, the role that a celibate priesthood has played in all this, and continues to play in discouraging many qualified men from entering the Catholic priesthood.

Another issue is the lack of women in leadership roles. Whatever happened to that papal commission formed to study the possibility of women in the diaconate? I often wonder if the sex abuse of minors would have been covered up for so long as it was if mothers were part of the hierarchy.

These days, our country--and our church--sorely need our Benedictine values. Listening. Community. Concensus. Hospitality. Humility. Prayer and work. In the Rule, Benedict talks about dealing with our faults by facing them head on,  working with the support of others to change them, and then making amends. These days, our voices must be heard. Change will never come if we simply turn our heads and keep silent. How can you do your part?

Judith Valente is an award-winning broadcast journalist who covers religion news for PBS-TV, a poet, author and retreat leader. She is the author of two poetry collections and co-author of two other books. Visit Judith's website.                                             

Judith Valente challenges us: "Our voices must be heard." How can you do your part?

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