Dominican LifeEnlosureMarian Consecration

Silence, Our Lady, and the Pope(s)

Yesterday we united in fasting and prayer with our Holy Father Pope Francis and the universal Church for peace in Syria and throughout the world. Today we continue to pray urgently for this intention as we celebrate Our Lady’s Birthday and ponder on her silence and its relation to our life as Dominican nuns.

The Holy Father’s General Intention for this month is “that people today, often overwhelmed by noise, may rediscover the value of silence, and listen to the voice of God and their brothers and sisters.”

First the intention mentions the obstacle to silence: the overwhelming noise of modern life. This is, as Benedict XVI called it, “that busyness that makes us incapable of stopping, of being quiet, of listening to the silence in which the Lord makes us aware of his discreet voice.” It can be the constant “soundtrack” of pop music, compulsively surfing the internet, or any exterior activity (even good works!) filling our inner life with static to the exclusion of God.

Opposed to this empty noise is the silence which opens the mind and heart to the fullness of God, the silence of the Blessed Virgin. “Mary’s example enables the Church better to appreciate the value of silence,” Blessed John Paul II said in one of his series of Wednesday Catecheses. “Mary’s silence is not only moderation in speech, but it is especially a wise capacity for remembering and embracing in a single gaze of faith the mystery of the Word made man and the events of his earthly life.” In this same vein, Pope Francis recently invoked Our Lady as “Mother of the silence that preserves the mystery of God.”

Francisco de Zurbarán, Childhood of the Virgin

On the feast of her Nativity, we think of Mary not only as preserver of God’s mystery, “pondering in her heart” God’s Word which she received at the Annunciation and followed through His earthly life, but also of the years she spent as a baby and a little girl. The Immaculate Virgin, with no stain of sin to darken her mind or warp her desires, grew up in total fidelity to the grace of the Holy Spirit. It was the habitual silence and recollection of her heart that prepared her to “conceive the Word in her mind before she conceived Him in her body,” as St. Augustine says.

The observance of monastic silence, preparing for and preserving the mystery of God, is at the heart of our vocation as Dominican Nuns. “The purpose of all regular observance, especially enclosure and silence, is that the word of God may dwell abundantly in the monastery” (our Constitutions).  Thus silence is linked to the space of our enclosure and of our hearts: “The nuns should make of their house, and especially of their hearts, a place of silence.”

In one of his general audiences, Benedict XVI commented on this connection:  “God speaks in the silence, but we need to know how to listen for Him. That is why monasteries are oases where God speaks to man; and in them there is the cloister, which is a symbolic place, for it is a space that is enclosed yet opened to heaven.”  Monastic silence, and the enclosure which guards it, opens our hearts to the heavenly Word. As our Holy Father Emeritus again said in Verbum Domini, “Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence.”

Finally, the text of the General Intention speaks of silence opening us not only to God but in Him to our brothers and sisters. Only when the Word of God “finds a home in us” can we love our neighbor with an authentic love, a love that desires the true good for him, both in this life and in eternity. As nuns we live this out on a practical level in our community life: we have to love our Sisters whom we live with every moment of every day! And our vocation calls us to hear God’s Word also in the needs of all people, whom we lift to God incessantly by our intercessory prayer and by our life of sacrifice in union with Our Lady.

So today, on her Birthday, may we give Our Lady the gift of a greater love for holy silence, for her, and for the Word of God, her Son; and may she inspire in many hearts the desire to seek, ponder, and call upon Him in the silence of a Dominican monastic vocation, so that the Word proceeding from the mouth of God may not return to Him empty, but may accomplish those things for which it was sent: to bear fruit in the glory of God and the salvation of souls.