In a few blog posts back, regarding Saint Michael, do you remember how there was silence when Michael battled Satan? Novices are taught the power of silence early on and are expected to carry it with them throughout their entire religious lives. Silence becomes, in a way, another Holy Habit. But silence is often misunderstood; in Cardinal Sarah’s book The Power of Silence, he very quickly makes the reader understand that silence is not merely NOT speaking, as that would only mean “being quiet”. One can remain silent even when they are saying much. What do I mean by that? In order for you to better understand this type of silence, I must share a short example of something that happened to me (has happened on more than one occasion, in fact) that will help the reader to better familiarize themselves with the “internal silence” I will expand on when I end this post with that small tale.
Cardinal Sarah made a few notable examples, in time, when there was silence: from the creation of the world to life being formed in a Mother’s womb. But one instance he referenced really made me stop and ponder… “the soul listens to music in silence.” That almost does not make sense… until he confirmed the theory with these words of Plato:
“RIGHTLY TRAINED”. Before wanting to be a hermit, Our Lady had to first open my heart to the cloister; this was a crucial and necessary step. From moment to moment, I could sense my heart expanding, to let the contemplative life sink into the heart. I noticed some drastic changes within, but nobody could see them from the outside- even my closest friends. God let me experience multiple trials of humiliation from souls, who helped detach me from self, who would say things such as:
– Yeah… someone like YOU would never last in a cloister.
– TRUST ME, you’re just like me; you will enter a cloister and realize that you will not last and choose missionary life.
– You talk way too much…
That last one is REALLY important, because it has everything to do with silence. This took me years to comprehend. Before even discerning the cloister, let alone the vocation of the Magdalen, I used to be big on having to share “my testimony” (a phrase that makes me roll my eyes now), needing people to see me pray my “many rosaries”, they HAD to know that I loved Mary- seeing me at Mass etc. etc. Even my Marian consecration chain. But something I will never forget, when I entered Carmel, was my novice mistress had me remove the chain because she said the life of Carmel is not what we wear exteriorly; it is the matter of the heart. Outside of the Holy Habit of course, everything else is only seen by God.
I realized later how silly I know I acted in the past, in essentially bragging about my prayer life with pride, when I heard a sister some years later show off her consecration chain by saying, “I wear MINE on my ankle” as if to say “LOOK AT ME; I am so neat”. “Oh Lord, did I sound like that in the past?” was my reaction? I sure did. This sister had been a religious for over thirty years, and I quite frankly could not believe my ears when I heard those boastful words. All of this led me to see how, not all the time but often times, souls speak this way or have the need to be seen by others because they cannot live without affirmation from God’s creatures, rather than from the Creator.
What does any of this have to do with silence? Everything; stay with me. There came a period in 2017 where, little by little, as my interior was being formed for a hidden life, my exterior no longer felt the need to be seen- what devotions I had, what I prayed. Whether I was with my Catholic friends, friends from work who had no faith, or even my family for that matter- instead of speaking of the things I loved most: Our Lady, Her Son, the Church and Mass, I sensed how important it was to rather, show that love in my manners, my joy and instead, just try to be present with whoever I was with and let my behavior speak for itself. Instead of carrying around the rosary, for all to see, I began carrying on a continual hidden conversation that no one could see. On the outside, no one would ever know I was praying. But I believe this is the true power of silence. Praying in secret…
The tricky part in this, was on the outside, even though I knew I was changing within, on the surface it perhaps looked as though I was not as fervent as I used to be, or what have you. But as I was speaking with another, there was a hidden temple of silence on the inside, which no one could see, that I did all I could to cultivate and never leave, while on the exterior, I was letting the friend or family member lead the conversation. I was indeed speaking, but Our Lady was teaching me the important lesson, of keeping the treasure in the interior temple of silence, where the true gifts of secret conversation must be kept for Jesus and Mary alone. Think about it, Our Lady would not have ever had a prayer life for all to see; it was hidden for God alone.
This silence, inside the little castle of the soul, began producing true aqueducts of rich graces that turned into Living Water, but it was invisible to the outside world. This Living Water was filling the crevices of insecurity; I saw this in action when I began hearing the comments I mentioned above of, “trust me, I know you, and you could never last”… and how, they did not disturb me as much anymore; in fact, I even began to smile when I heard them. There were indeed moments of “ouch, that hurt” but then I would remember the hidden sanctuary, Our Lady set up in the soul, and I would find immediate relief in the Ones waiting for me there, the Ones who knew the REAL me. That little story, I will end with, happened when a friend I had worked with at Ace Hardware, knew me from when I dropped out of college and only knew me as the woman who wanted to be a missionary sister.
Everyone at Ace knew how loud and talkative I was and there were plenty of times when I did not even want to be a sister, let alone a contemplative, so I would gratify my insecurities and ask things like, “You can’t see me as a nun, right?” and some would say, “NO, you’re WAY too joyful- you’re a Julie Andrews” (as if nuns are not the happiest women in the world; please!). For some reason at the time, deep down, I cringed at those answers. I knew they would tell me what I wanted to hear, but why did I secretly wish they said the opposite? I did not want to be Julie Andrews… I wanted to imitate Our Lady.
So, you can imagine, about a week before entering Carmel, when one of these friends and I took a trip up to Breckinridge, Colorado and on the way home I was filling the car ride with exhausting (I was really exhausted) chatter, not because I liked to, but because I knew I had the ability to keep a conversation going if things got awkward. I tended to have a lot of friends, more on the shy side, who relied on me to keep the conversation going. I sincerely do not mean that with pride; I knew in my heart that I spoke, not because I needed to, but I knew how to speak- big difference. This has always been done, out of charity, for those who need help conversing rather than for my own satisfaction.
In these experiences, I knew I was misunderstood- it often looked as though I NEEDED to speak, when in reality I was not speaking for myself at all. Finally, this friend, as we were driving back to Denver, said: “How will you last in a cloister? You cannot keep silent; you NEED to talk”. In the gentlest way possible, I described to her the words of Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, when Mr. Darcy was totally silent in the middle of the dance. When Lizzie did all she could to keep the conversation going- not because she liked to- Darcy finally asked:
“Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?”
Elizabeth: “Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible.”
“Saying as little as possible” is the line that said it all. Like Lizzie, I knew it would be odd, while in the company of a friend, to keep even the exterior silence I longed for, so I talked “by rule”, so while at the same time, I could keep company with the Friends in my soul.