Sometimes I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. As an only child, I’m perfectly happy to be alone and often idle chit-chat is irritating to me, but I’ve been know to open my big mouth when I shouldn’t. Lets just say that “instruct the ignorant” is my favorite spiritual work of mercy. So it was with interest that I read about Pope Francis’ silent visit to Auschwitz. A sign of respect? Of course. But I think his silence can teach us a larger lesson, because it’s in the silence that we can take the time to reflect and listen.
We don’t get much quiet in our daily lives. We are tethered to our devices, checking email, binging on Netflix or even chasing Pokemon. We are often passive vessels, with information and entertainment gushing over us, but in that, we can lose the opportunity to ponder life’s big mysteries and little moments. And when we speak instead of listen, we lose the opportunity to give others the great gift of ourselves.
At Auschwitz, Francis, in his silence, listened to the cries of the souls who suffered there. He didn’t rail against the evil of the Holocaust, he simply listened. I think it’s very hard to face that kind of pain and suffering in silence. Indeed, how often in our own lives do we rush in with words when confronted with another’s pain? We are quick to defend ourself in a disagreement, to try to find the right words after a loss or prattle on with cheery words in an effort to lighten a mood. And don’t get me started about the level of our political discourse! How great a gift it is to just sit and listen and be present. We show a respectful silence in sacred spaces and by the same token, when we really listen to another person, we affirm their value to us by giving them a chance to touch our heart and influence our thoughts.
The ultimate, most perfect opportunity for silence in our Catholic world is Eucharistic Adoration. I admit I don’t take advantage of this as often as I should, but what a gift in our busy world to sit for a time, in silence, in God’s presence. And just like a respectful, loving silence with our loved ones, when we are quiet with God we allow him to speak to us, to touch our heart. In fact, adoration is so powerful that a recent article about spiritual practices for those without a specific faith mentions it as a powerful way to grow closer to God–“Just sit in silence and let God’s presence envelop you.”
St. Francis De Sales said that a “it is better to keep silent than to speak the truth ill-humoredly”. Ouch! That hits a little too close to home. (Though I always try to speak humorously!) I’m going to make it to adoration this week and I’m going to ask God for the grace to know when to keep quiet. And then I’m going shut up and listen to what He has to say.
We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.
Blessed Mother Theresa