“Silence is golden,” so they say… and whoever they may be, they’re right! All the best things happen in silence. In silence a person realizes that he loves another. In silence we realize that we are loved. As Cardinal Sarah points out in his wonderful book, “The Power of Silence,” even the voice of God telling us we are loved emerges, in and from… silence. I want to muse on a few examples of silence’s beauty that I’ve encountered and then make a modest, quiet proposal regarding recent headlines in Catholic media.
Between 1999 and 2003 I was a student at the George Washington University, here in DC. When we first introduced Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to the Catholic Student Center it was a new concept for many, myself included. We needed to have music played/sung throughout our holy hour. But as time went on and our relationship with Christ matured, more and more students wanted more and more silence. I came to discover that the same holds true in many youth movements: Steubenville, life teen, charismatic renewal etc. While people initially associate them with loud joyous musical praise (all of which is good), the long-initiated participants begin adding more and more elements of silence to their lives. Silence is a place we should aim for as a goal of spiritual maturity.
In 2005, Pope St. John Paul II died. I was there, in St. Peter’s Square when it happened. Their was a quiet recitation of the Rosary… The Holy Father’s death was announced… a brief applauds to commend his soul on high… and then silence. What was more amazing was what happened next. Millions, perhaps six million visitors came to Rome to observe his funeral. The world stopped… foreign leaders, some of them at war with one another, gathered peacefully in Rome to pay homage and pray. In the squares you could hear a pin drop as the Eucharist was consecrated at the altar. How beautiful! BUT even more impressive was this: The world had been a very noisy place during John Paul II’s more than quarter century in the Chair of Peter. In that noise, many thought the Church was dead, done for. And yet… the entire world showed up for this sainted man’s funeral. What explains the disconnect? Silence. Catholicism bears the greatest fruit in quiet, humble, ministry carried out by men and women, priests, religious and lay people everywhere under the radar. When John Paul II died, the whole Church in all her mighty beauty rose up out of the silence to celebrate his life and commend him to God. The world… the noisy world was shocked and awed by the Church’s thunder. Far from dead her new springtime was just beginning. But it begins and germinates like all life… in humble silence.
Just a few years ago, a fellow priest won an award. He will remain safely anonymous to prevent any chance of embarrassment. I’ve always known him to be a nice guy, a good priest, and steady worker in his field… but always so quiet. He doesn’t publish books. He doesn’t hob-nob with the wealthy. He’s always gentle, even to the point of being a little awkward. He prays and he ministers, a smoldering wick he does not quench, no reed does he bend. Then someone noticed… almost by accident and it was so blatantly obvious that he deserved the award he received. After the photos, celebration and claps on the back, this good priest returned to the grand silence of his daily work… and I’m forever grateful for his example. I want to be more like him: silent and radiant with Christ.
Finally, there’s the beauty of the confessional’s silence. In the most humble, quiet, secret of places, the greatest work of the Church is done. Sins are forgiven. Healing is brought to bear. Souls turn back to face God again. Is it any wonder that the silence of this place is the most closely protected privileges of the Church? In the quiet of the confessional… and in the quiet that follows… I’ve been so privileged to accompany people of diverse backgrounds through a wide range of life-challenges, gently applying both the love and the teaching of the Church in a way that no one ever knows about, but brings conversion. It won’t ever make it on to the news or twitter, but real change happens in the silence of the confessional’s truth and charity.
I’m offering up this meditation on silence… something I’ve been thinking of a lot lately… because of recent events in Catholic news. As one might expect, so many headlines surround news coming out of the Vatican. More locally, there’s been a big dust up over Fr. James Martin’s recent book on the Church’s relationship with people who have same-sex attractions. And in the coming weeks, months, years, there will be yet more news-quakes over other many issues in the realm of Catholic social media. My opinions on any such matters are held… in silence. What follows is for all on all sides of every issue. My quiet, modest proposal is this: In all things, on all sides, regarding all those concerned from every background… do we perceive the grand silence of the Church that marks spiritual maturity, fruitful ministry, and conversion? Silence is the lens through which we should judge “am I going in the right direction?”
Does a priest whether a parish priest, author, or blogger have followers…? disciples…? If so he should stop his writing immediately lest they or he be tempted away from humble service of Christ. Remember Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:12-ff) who were treated as gods… any priest who thinks he may have “followers” or “disciples” should rend his garments, his tablet and his manuscripts and disabuse such followers. Only Jesus is Lord. Better to bring your media empire crashing down around you than lead one soul astray… whatever the opinion, whatever the issue however right you think you may be.
Do the lay faithful get wrapped up in twitter debates and the like, choosing sides and fostering division within the Church? Remember St. Paul’s words (II Thess. 3) “Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly…” Even if you are 100% sure you’re side is right… STOP… the fight is not winning others to conversion… and the misery is doing little to save your own soul. Repent, pray, adore, serve others quietly and you’ll be on a better track.
In almost ten years as a priest I’ve been wowed, privileged to see lots of conversions of heart. The two subjects-du-jour seem to be divorced and remarried Catholics, and those who self-describe as part of the LGBT community… and from BOTH of these groups I’ve encountered, accompanied and been part of people coming to Christ, to healing… to conversion. What a beauty! What a blessing! but it never happened through blogs, books, publications or news interviews. It happened in silence… a personal internal silence for the people concerned… the silence of long-developed pastoral friendships with them… the silence of the confessional. The Church needs more silence… I know my soul’s future is riding on it as are the souls of all those Jesus is calling us to love.