Bishop Murray Chatlain, of the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith celebrates Mass at Our Lady of Victory church in Inuvik, Northwest Territories.
First of four parts
Following is Part 1 of four segments of the reflection given by Bishop Murray Chatlain of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, at the lecture series “Nothing More Beautiful: The Splendour of God's Word,” an evening of prayer and music organized by the Archdiocese of Edmonton December 9, 2011. It was first published in the December 19, 2011 issue of the Western Catholic Reporter.
Years ago when I was a young, enthusiastic parish priest, I often visited my parishioners. One time, I came to one house and I rang the doorbell. Though I could hear someone moving about inside, no one answered the door. I took out my card and I wrote on the back of it, Revelation 3.20: “Behold, I am at the door knocking.”
I went on to visit other homes, but that Sunday, my card was in the collection basket, and something was written underneath my writing. It said, Genesis 3.10: “I was naked so I hid.”
All discipleship begins with listening. We are in the season of Advent when we pay particular attention to the special discipleship of Mother Mary. One of our retreat masters, Father Tony Gittins, invited us to look at artists’ depictions of Mary’s Annunciation.
Several of the artists will point out Gabriel’s angelic state by having rays of light emanate from him. Some of the artists will have one of these rays go from the angel Gabriel to Mary’s ear. Real discipleship begins by listening. He calls us. He speaks to us. For many of us, we have best been able to listen through the gift of Sacred Scripture.
Listening to God and His Word sounds pretty simple, but all of us know how challenging it is to be a really good listener. I believe it starts with silence. This is one of the major gifts I have received from being in the North.
In the Dene world, people do not knock when you come to someone’s house. Probably, this stems from the futility of trying to make sound by tapping on the wall of a tent or teepee.
In the Dene world, you simply open the front door and stand in the porch area. You wait there for a bit or, after a while, cough. If no one comes to the porch then you leave and try another time (if someone knocks, they know it is the RCMP or a nurse).
Many a time, I would be in my rectory with some music on and finally hear a cough. It made me spend more of my day without music or the TV. I grew comfortable with the silence to the point that the furnace fan or fridge running would be noticed.
Something about this silence did something to the silence within me. I noticed that I could sit still more easily, that I was more attentive to things and people and even myself. The biggest benefit was that God seemed a little louder.
Mother Teresa of
In order to follow someone and not lose them, we have to keep hearing or seeing where they are. Maybe we can increase the silence in our lives a little. Silence can help us to see and hear God more consistently.
Discipleship and listening are also connected to how we normally communicate with each other. I have somewhat learned from the Dene how to not fill all the quiet moments with words. Have you ever been talking with someone and you cannot get a word in?
Being a football fan, during such a monologue I want to call a time-out so the conversation can get balanced again. I wonder if that is how God feels sometimes with my prayers and conversations with him. The Dene, the Inuit, and often the Cree, have much more silences in their communication than we are comfortable with.
I will give you a couple examples. I was in Camsel Portage in northern
About 10 in the morning I was alone there when another young man joined me to sit with the body of a relative of his. We sat together for an hour and talked for maybe five minutes during that time.
After the funeral, we went visiting as a group. Someone mentioned a fellow nicknamed Gilligan. I asked who Gilligan was. The young man who had been vigiling with me spoke up and said,
“Don’t you know my name. We visited together for an hour.” It was clear to me that in his mind our visiting was much more than the few words we spoke to each other.
Many of you here have served on pastoral councils. Sometimes those meetings can be good, sometimes they can be painful, but in my experience they are always full of many words.
This was not the case at pastoral council meetings in the Dene community of
I am not talking about 30 seconds. Three or four minutes would go by as a group of 10 or 12 people would be sitting there. In my impatience I would say, “Shall I go on to the next item?”
“Not yet, Father,” they would respond.
A little more time would go by, then more discussion, and then they would say, “OK, what is the next item?”
I cannot tell you how much it went against my expectations of how a meeting should be run. Slowly, I continue to learn that “visiting” or discussions do not have to be filled with words.
(To be continued in Catholic Missions In Canada Magazine’s Summer issue.)
Note: The live webcast of the series is available at Nothing More Beautiful / The Splendour of God’s Word
Reprinted from Catholic Missions In Canada Magazine, Spring 2012