Monday, March 1, 2010

Silence, Listening, Action

I once had a dream. I found myself having a conversation with Donald Trump the multi-billionaire (who someone I know said “is just outrageously wealthy”), the one with the famous quip: “You’re fired!” I heard myself saying, “Mr. Trump, you have so much wealth. Perhaps you could use some of that not only to build casinos, towers and golf courses but also to put up really great shelters for the homeless and big feeding centers for the hungry around the world.” With eyebrows meeting and eyes squinting he said to me, “Excuse me? What did you say, er-Sir?” I repeated my words. But he shouted, “I’m sorry. I really can’t hear you. It’s so noisy where I am.” With a sigh I said, “In that case, Mr. Trump--” He almost screamed, “In that case what?” I said, “In that case, Mr. Trump, you’re fired!” End of the dream.

I couldn’t believe I fired Mr. Trump in a dream (in reality he can be anything but). I rewound that conversation in my mind. I wondered why he said he couldn’t hear me in the noise where he was. Then it occurred to me that our attachment to possessions can dispossess us first of silence and the ability to listen to others and, especially, to God. By possessions I mean not simply hard cash or money in the bank, jewelry, real estate, cars etc. My ideas, my perspectives, my plans, my desires are also my possessions. And they can create as much (if not greater) noise in me as my material possessions can cloud my mind. As loud music shatters a conversation, lack of silence and listening keeps us from the right action.


The silence that a disciple of Jesus Christ needs is not only external silence but especially inner silence. Jesus himself models this silence for us. “Though he was in the form of God,” says St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, “he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave coming in human likeness; and found in human appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). Jesus dispossessed himself of his divine glory (inner silence) before he was even born in a manger (external silence). We are told by the gospels that Jesus could spend nights in prayer (cf. Lk 6:13) which required a huge amount of external silence. But that was because, as he says in Jn, “my food is to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn 4:34) which means he had an equally enormous amount of inner silence. From the start he let go of his own plans, perspectives, desires and focused on that of the Father. Because of this inner silence Jesus was able to go through the external humiliation and suffering of the cross. His resurrection is the Father’s proof that both the inner and external silence of Jesus has truly allowed the God of Life to fully reveal himself. This isn’t unlike the inner and external silence of the death of winter giving way to the explosion of life in spring and summer. Indeed April showers bring in May flowers.


After Jesus there is Mary. For me our Lady is like the moon to Jesus who is like the sun. The moon’s light reflects that of the sun. So does Mary reflect Jesus. This is so true especially in the matter of Mary’s silence. The silence of Mary is first of all inner because from the start she made a decision: “I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38), as she said surrendering herself to the Lord’s plan announced to her by the Archangel Gabriel. Because of that inner silence should we wonder why in the pages of the gospel we seldom hear Mary utter a word? In fact, in the whole New Testament it’s only in the first two chapters of St. Lk and the second chapter of St. Jn that Mary speaks. In Mary inner silence flows right into external silence. Even at the foot of the cross, grieving, Mary stands silent. This reminds me of a woman who said, “I love my mom not only for what she has taught me but especially for the moments in which she simply kept quiet.” Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement has, to my mind, the best way of putting it: “Mary is the silence through which the Word of God speaks”. If the drama of salvation were to be staged Mary would be the backdrop through which the Star breaks into light. By her silence she is able to receive Jesus in her womb as well as in her heart and mind. She pondered the Word in silence, treasuring that Word in her heart. Then she translated what she heard by her obedience. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28) is really Jesus’ tribute to Mary. No wonder she is the foremost disciple of the Lord. She did not stop at receiving Jesus the Word. She also enabled the Word to be brought to fulfillment and was first to share it with others; thus, in the language of PCP II, Mary, “the first to be evangelized”, was also “the first evangelizer”.
After Jesus and Mary could there be you and me?