Monday, October 3, 2011


This is the theme for the upcoming World Day of Communications (officially on 24 January, the feast of St Francis de Sales). The Pope’s message will focus on evangelization, but I want to reflect first on the concept of silence.

This past weekend I was called to a home to administer the Sacrament of Anointing to Mary, a woman who is in fact dying. It really is “the last rites” in her case, I believe. I made it out to the house where the adult children (eight siblings) and their children and spouses were gathered. We all went to the woman’s bedroom (she is, sadly, unresponsive). I asked them to lay hands on whatever part of Mom/Grandma they could, to let her know through feel that they were there. It took a few minutes for everyone to settle down, get to a comfortable place in the room, and touch Mary. But they did, and then I laid hands on her sacramentally as well—in complete silence. It lasted 2-3 minutes, and the silence was overpowering—it led to all kinds of tears and sobbing, especially after the anointing itself, and the prayers of commendation.

The following morning at Sunday Mass I was privileged to confer the sacrament of Confirmation on a young woman. Again, there is a laying-on of hands in silence before the anointing (this time with the Sacred Chrism). The whole church silently prayed for her with me during this time. And again, the silence was deafening in its statement of presence.

Cromwell and Norfolk (in A Man For All Seasons) are talking about Thomas More’s refusal to take the oath of supremacy and standing on his silence. Cromwell remarks, “Not being a man of letters, Your Grace, you perhaps don’t realize the extent of [More’s] reputation. This ‘silence’ of his is bellowing up and down Europe.” And so it can, even if More attempted to take his stand on the legal maxim Qui tacet consentire [Silence gives consent]. Cromwell, in the trial scene, is quite right on one point: “So silence can, according to circumstances, speak.”

It is amazing (and very true) to think that silence can be regarded as eloquent. Do people in love always need words, or is not it often the case that looking into each other’s eyes is the best way of saying enough?

Our silence in prayer (even, according to the circumstances, in liturgy) is for some just a time of fidgeting—“When will the priest finally stand up and get on with it?” For others, it is a time of deep communion of heart and soul with our divine Lord and Savior.

The psalmist understood silence: “No speech, no word, no voice is heard; yet their message goes out to all the earth, and their words to the utmost bounds of the world” (Ps 19:4-5).

And in the spirit of wondrous, silent presence in love, I wonder if we cannot ourselves draw strength to be witnesses (martyrs) for the Lord by our example far more than our arguments. We can leave those to the debaters; let’s instead be people whose silent, loving witness draws others to the Master. And we can all gaze into His eyes and know we are loved, and home.

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