The Gospel of Silence
Mother Teresa once famously observed, “The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, and the fruit of service is peace.” I think about this quote a lot. These five things – prayer, faith, love, service, and peace – are things that I want to be an important part of my life. However, for Mother Teresa (who is a saint), all those things start with something even deeper:
Silence is the root of all of these things that I want in my life (and I hope that you want them in your lives too!). Yet, how often in this crazy world of ours do we really get to experience silence? Especially after the hustle and bustle of this past month, even in the midst of a pandemic, silence seems a precious commodity for us.
However, today, after all the excitement, celebration, and joy of Christmas, the Church seems to pause with the rest of the world and settles into a silent “down time.” As children break in their new shoes and fathers put their new tools to use on unnecessary projects, there is a stillness to this time after Christmas and before the New Year begins. Today, we celebrate the Holy Family.
The shepherds have all gone back to work; the drummer boy has played his song; the echoes of the angels’ Gloria have faded. All we have now is a Mother and her Child and her husband, savoring the first and most beautiful gift that God has given them: the family. When we celebrate the Holy Family, we are invited into the intimate silence of the home of Christ, where He grew and learned and prayed and played. All in the silence of the Holy Family’s home – a home that we hear nothing about in Scripture, because it is a place of silence.
We must learn from this silence, if we want to make prayer, and faith, and love, and service, and peace a part of our lives. Perhaps it is for good reason that the world quiets down like this right as the calendar turns. As Christians, we can take advantage of the silence and enter into prayerful contemplation of the Holy Family, centered on the newborn Prince of Peace. This prayer can deepen our faith and fill us with the love of Christ that has entered our world – and we can be that love by reaching out in charity and service to those longing to feel that same peace and love. It is this charity, which is at the heart of Christian discipleship, that has the power to transform the world and bring the peace that we all need. Maybe we have been prepared for it – to make the New Year one where all people can come to encounter and know Jesus.
This is not a distant dream; it is not unreachable. It begins right here; it begins with our families, which are called to be holy families. When we are bound by the infinite love of God, and husbands and wives are united in that love, and children are raised on that love, the world begins to experience the renewal that started all those years ago in a stable in Bethlehem, where a new mother and father quietly contemplated the Gift of their newborn Son. The Feast of the Holy Family is an invitation to enter the silence that God grants us right now.
In these days after Christmas, we should seek to make silence a real part of our lives. With the social distances that have been imposed on us by the coronavirus, this should be an easy thing; however, it isn’t often the case, is it? We fill our time with noise – from the television, from video games, from music, from endless scanning of social media. But what if we take a cue from the Holy Family today, and set all that noise aside? What if we take that silent time to contemplate this great mystery of the birth of Christ and the entrance of God into our world? What would you say if you we gathered there in the stable, around that manger?
That’s good if you have nothing to say. It’s good because now you can just listen. Listen to the gentle coos of the baby Jesus; listen to his hungry whimpers; listen to his cranky crying. That is the sound of God on earth – the beginnings of the Gospel! And they all come in the silence of the stable at Bethlehem.
This feast day, let’s turn off the noise and listen to that new Gospel – in the sound of a mother’s lullaby, a father’s proud tears, and a baby’s soft cries. We might just hear exactly what we’ve been waiting for; and in that silence discover the prayer, the faith, the love, the service, and the peace that this world needs.