During the season of Christmas, we adore the newborn king. We worship the Prince of Peace for he is at the centre of our celebration. Silence is one of the primary reactions one gets from the act of adoration. The silence at being in the presence of the Divine. It is a silence that is our response to the sense of mystery at being in the presence of Someone far greater than ourselves. Since we are in the Year of St. Joseph, it is fitting to reflect upon the person of St. Joseph and the vocation to silence. St. Joseph is highly revered in the Church. He is the patron of the Church and the guardian of the Holy Family. A carpenter by trade, he trained Jesus and it was under his and Mary’s guidance that Jesus “grew in wisdom” (Lk 2:52).
We also know that he was betrothed to Mary. He discovered she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and wanted to dismiss her quietly yet changed his mind when he realised the deeper meaning of the event. We know also that he named Jesus, and cared for his family for he was a just man (Matt 1:18-21). We find him standing silently beside Mary at the scene of the Nativity. There is something about him that I find most fascinating: his words are not recorded anywhere in the Bible. He was a man of silence. We live in a busy world and even at Christmas, we can feel its effects. One wakes up, prays, goes to work. At work, there is always a deadline to meet: meetings, interviews and everyone goes about looking very busy. Some have headphones plugged in and so the noise of the street is blocked out by the noise of our own choosing. Work is good but what is life without a moment of silence? In a monastery, very far from here, the monks had a very strict rule of silence.
It was so strict that each member was only allowed to speak one sentence once every three years. That was not all, the words had to be spoken before the abbot and his council. It was the turn of a particular monk and his first words were “The cell is too cold”. Three years later, he returned to say “No hot water”. The third opportunity, he was fed up with the situation so he said: “I quit”. While reviewing his words, a member of the council simply wrote: “I’m not surprised, he has been complaining ever since he got here”. The monk had spent most of his time pondering on the problems in his environment more than the depth of his vocation to prayer. He was physically present but spiritually absent. There are three enemies of silence that we must be wary of and they are linked together: gossip, not minding one’s business and false humility. Gossip destroys the peace of the soul and it is a sin against charity for it seeks to spread bad news about others.
A person who gossips cannot mind his or her own business. Such a person is always seeking to feed the habit of gossip by prying into the private lives of others and if nothing can be found, set traps to make another person fall. There must always be a weakness in the other person worth sharing. To such persons, the words of Thomas Merton come as sound advice: “To be contemplative, you must learn to mind your own business”. A person who gossips and does not mind his business will always seek a way to cover his weaknesses since he would not want to be discovered. The best way to hide is to put up a false sense of humility. Everyone sees you as humble, but are you? Everyone sees you as a model of piety, but how pious are you? False humility robs one of inner peace as it occupies the space of contemplative prayer and replaces prayer with the rehearsals for your next show of false humility.
At the nativity scene, we see St. Joseph standing behind Mary. He takes a protective posture yet does not interfere. He says nothing yet his presence gives a deep feeling of comfort to his family. Without being told, he knows that he has witnessed something extraordinary. He is before not just an Saint Joseph: The vocation to silence ordinary child, but one for whom he would give up everything to love. This type of acceptance is an invitation to us. We too are before the Divine. We have centuries of theological development to understand what happened that night yet it is the spiritual encounter between God and I that sits at the heart of adoration. Silence. Here I am before my creator and my God. Attracted by the realisation that I am before Someone greater than I am and yet feeling unworthy in his presence. This is the territory where silence reigns.
The realization that I have been drawn into an encounter with my Creator and my God. The King and Spouse of my soul and the centre of my life. The One who loves me immensely. This silence is not empty. It is an act of love. Some religions speak of silence as a state of emptiness. A moment in time when nothingness reigns due to a higher state of awareness. When the individual is cut off from everything and everyone else and discovers something profound about the self. Silence is more. Silence is an act of love. In the moment of silence, I am aware yet overwhelmed by the love of God for me. The love of God who became man to save humanity. Like a lover who is entranced by her beloved, I am caught up in this awareness yet not cut away from reality. Silence has a place in my daily life. Moments of silence help me sneak away from the busy day to say “Lord how much I love you. Help me to love you more!” Silence becomes a powerful act of love which enriches my day.
Silence is the bridge to greater understanding. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46: 10). I think St. Joseph had an idea of what he was entering into but may not have known the full magnitude. As events unfolded, he began to understand better his relationship with the Son of God. As an act of love, silence draws us closer to God. As we move closer, each person in his unique way begins to discover something special about communion with God. It leads to greater growth in understanding because I see more clearly who I am in relation to God and my neighbour. Silence enables me to see more clearly, to love more dearly and to follow the Lord more nearly. That is, I see more clearly the connection between my daily experiences and the love of God for me; I respond in love knowing that like a child my gestures may seem inadequate but to God, it is the intention, not just the action that matters; I follow knowing that it is the Lord that leads me. I believe in the love of my Heavenly Father even when He is silent; when I cannot feel his touch.
I realise that He is closer in my moments of doubt, difficulty and sadness: comforting me, consoling me and carrying me when I cannot go on. I am comforted by His words: “For even if a mother forgets the baby at her breasts, I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). Silence enriches my daily work. My encounter with God puts me at the centre of his love. I am the apple of His eye (Ps 17:8). Caritas Christi urget nos (2 Cor 5:14). The love of Christ compels us to put into action the love that we enjoy. To share with others the profound closeness of God with us through our work. It does not often require that we speak; it is manifest through our work. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Acta, non verba. Actions, not words. Let us return to the scene of the Nativity. It is like a photograph of a moment in history. A moment which records the day when the Son of God was born. As pictures are silent yet speak a thousand words, so too does the Nativity of our Lord speak of the Eternal Word, the Son of God and invites us to worship. We have the silence of St. Joseph as our model: a fruitful and meaningful silence that draws us into a deeper love of God who loved us first. Venite adoremus Dominum.
• Rev. Fr. (Dr.) Jerome Omoregie is the Priest-in-Charge, Catholic Church of the Ascension, Ikeja, Lagos.