Two secrets of successful ministry

Friday, August 10, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm

By DR. Susan Muto

According to Cardinal Robert Sarah, in his book “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise”: “All activity must be preceded by an intense life of prayer, contemplation, seeking and listening to God’s will.” In other words, the cardinal says, “We must resist this temptation (‘doing for the sake of doing’) by trying ‘to be’ before trying ‘to do.’”

Functioning degenerates into functionalism, activity into activism, to the degree that we allow ourselves to become so preoccupied with the weight of accomplishment and the business of the day that we neglect to be still in solitary, loving encounter with our Lord.

This commitment to pause awhile and be with the Lord readies us to be commissioned by him. We are to go forth from these times of presence and minister in his name. As great saints like Teresa of Avila and Teresa of Kolkata revealed, the fruit of contemplation is the charity that flows from it to all in need of our love and service.

Silence, both interior and exterior, is a condition for the possibility of listening with a heart fully attuned to obeying God’s will. Solitude, intentional times of aloneness with the Lord, opens us to the transcendent dimension of daily life and reminds us why we must do what God asks of us.

We master in solitude the art and discipline of being in the world without being of the world. The “Mary” in us, resting at Christ’s feet, must be given priority lest the “Martha” in us becomes a mere functionary instead of a true missionary.

Like all dictators, the dictatorship of noise wants to curtail our freedom to give priority to the adoration of God and to choose instead the bondage of distractions. It would push us into the frantic pursuit of fame and fortune the moment we awaken and fracture our longing for stillness.

Silent wonder embraces the mysterious silence of God; it is not a privilege for contemplatives only, but a necessity for every missionary disciple.

According to Cardinal Sarah, without silence the work we do can become so noisy and chaotic that it dehumanizes and distresses us. No wonder even the best and most talented servants run out of steam and start to feel chronically exhausted; they need to leave the fast lane, take a breather and lessen the impact that feverish activity has upon them.

From this perspective, silence and solitude are not temporary diversions but the secrets of successful ministry. God gives us his word not in bursts of crashing thunder but in gentle whispers.

In desert moments we discover who we are and what we are to do to advance God’s reign on earth. We suspend, at least for a moment, our plans and projects and listen intently to the divine directives God wants us to fulfill. Noise snatches us away from these saving words; stillness insists that we reflect upon them, follow the example of our mother Mary and ponder them in our heart.

Contrary to these secret and fertile depths of silence and solitude is talkativeness. We are becoming a population that talks, tweets and twitters all the time. Facile speech replaces the thoughtful communication of truth. A person who pauses before she speaks becomes an object of suspicion. We wonder what she is thinking and jump to false conclusions.

In the words of Cardinal Sarah, “Noise has acquired the nobility that silence once possessed.” To reverse this dehumanizing aberration is a goal all of us in church ministry need to embrace.

Out of silence and solitude come the virtues of sobriety and dignity, prudence and patience. When we wait upon the Lord’s guiding grace we become more courteous. The louder we shout, the less time we have to listen.

A solitary soul, whether in a monastery or amid a family, exudes moderation, knowing intuitively that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent.

Let us call to mind in every ministerial setting these prophetic words of Cardinal Sarah:

“Our future is in God’s hands and not in the noisy agitation of human negotiations, even if they may appear useful. Even today, our pastoral strategies without any demands, without a radical return to God, are paths that lead nowhere. They are politically correct games that cannot lead us to the crucified God, our true Liberator.

Muto is dean and executive director of the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood. Visit www.epiphanyassociation.org.

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