“The great gift that contemplative persons offer is the experience of the divine presence. Who is going to bring this realization into society if not those who are experiencing it?”– Rev. Thomas Keating, OCSO, The Better Part: Stages of Contemplative Living
At St. Joseph Catholic Community, you are invited to develop or deepen your prayer practice with nightly contemplative sessions Monday to Friday at 6pm in the church. This is a way for the entire parish to enter into a shared experiential wellspring, without regard to language, education, age or background.
To love Christ is to love to pray, and especially in this contemplative arena, “the root of prayer is interior silence,” as Fr. Keating once wrote. So if you desire or enjoy silence, this ancient prayer tradition could be for you.
Contemplative practice is a way for parishioners from across our wide demographic spectrum to come together in a non-reactive way, developing a personal and shared spaciousness and spiritual poise that can positively grace all of our subsequent encounters. With St. Anthony of the Desert, we each enter into practice with the same humble realization: “Every day I say to myself, ‘Today I will begin.’”
Contemplative practice also helps assure that if more of us tend to our inner lives, then our collaboration and ministry will be deeper and less beset by ego, fragmentation and division.
Parish-based contemplation offers parishioners the daily availability of the church and the reinforcement of fellow practitioners in maintaining spiritual discipline. In our popular culture, gyms and yoga studios likewise confirm and hold accountable participants in a social setting, where it is more difficult to “slack off.”
Our hope is that the more serious participants will advance to developing a distinct daily rhythm and a rule of life, to the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.
We take as our teaching beacon this Gospel wisdom from Jesus in the sixth chapter of Matthew (6:6): “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
Our daily schedule consists of the following:
Monastic Monday: Two Monday sessions of practice of the ancient art of Lectio Divina. In our format, led by either of our Mepkin Abbey-trained staff members, a reading from the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary will be proclaimed in the language of attendees. We now have both a 9am session and a 6pm session.
Tuesday to Friday sessions are do-it-yourself, as participants enjoy a wide range of contemplative practices, from Centering Prayer to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to Christian Meditation to the rosary to spiritual reading to a contemplative examen. Sessions begin promptly at 6pm with a bell, and conclude at 6:25pm.
Liturgy of the Hours (Vespers), Tuesday-Friday, 6:30pm (Spanish): Join us in the ancient absorption into the Book of Psalms, with a prayerful recitation of the Divine Office of the church.
As our “Contemplative Eldering” Project takes shape, once a month the pastor will offer a “chapter talk,” or spiritual reflection on our contemplative practice, in line with the tradition of monastic chapter talks given by the abbot or abbess. These talks will have specific focus for our elder members, but touch upon perennial wisdom.
“More people than ever before rejoice in their contact with monasteries and look to monastic spirituality to provide the unique blend of sobriety and affectivity that alone makes religion seem real…The spirit of monasticism is broad and non-specific; it adapts readily to many different situations.”– Rev. Michael Casey, OCSO, Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina
The establishment of a new Catholic parish is a graced moment, not unlike the charism that accompanies the founding of a new religious order or a popular movement. After a few decades of fits-and-starts, Catholic practice in Bound Brook gathered in the late 1800s under the guidance of a series of Benedictine monks who served the German-speaking community. St. Joseph Parish is unique in having monastic influence in its founding “DNA,” and nearly 150 years later, we are confident that recovering our founding ingredients in a new post-pandemic context will prove to be individually and collectively fruitful for all participants.
“Contemplative prayer is the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty. Contemplative prayer is a covenant relationship established by God within our hearts. Contemplative prayer is a communion in which the Holy Trinity conforms man, the image of God, ‘to his likeness.’”– Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2713