The Christmas break was a joyous time to be with family and friends back home. Extroverted as I am, I tend to gravitate towards filling my “break” times with many activities and reunions with friends, in addition to helping out back at my home parish of St. Thomas Aquinas. I do so because I wish to nurture and maintain the friendships I have with people, and be as present as possible in the parish to thank people for supporting me with their prayers during the rest of the year. Surely the best thanks that a seminarian can offer those who support him is holding them in prayer; nevertheless, a ministry of presence in the parish, by which the seminarian and parishioners are able to get to know each other can be mutually enriching to both the seminarian and the parish.
This has conclusively been the case within my own relationships with the parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas. Each time I return home whether it is only for a single Mass, or whether I am there for a more extended period, I am motivated and inspired to become a better seminarian, a better future priest, and a better Christian. The support and affirmation I receive through the parish and the relationships I have with the faithful reinvigorate my desire to serve Christ, and his beloved bride the Church by becoming a priest. I count such experiences as great gifts from the Lord, and I am thankful for so many of the faithful, who have participated in my formation by simply inviting me to share in their journey of life whether in big or small ways. I hope that have been a fitting reflection of Christ’s love in my interactions with you.
All said then; I recognize that the Christmas break was a very busy time. This time stands in marked contrast to the past week of retreat, which was silent, and without much outward activity. At the beginning of every silent retreat until this one, I was anxious about the silence. This anxiety was based on my more extroverted nature. Silence, for silence’s sake is ludicrous; as human beings we are called to be in communion with other, so much so that it is written into the very shape of our bodies in the natural complementarity of the sexes. It is natural to express this desire for communion with others through speech and other forms of communication. This communal nature is essential to our understanding of the faith. Why then do the Church and so many of her renowned saints recommend silence as an important part of the spiritual life?
The answer, I am slowly beginning to discover is that in silence, communion is able to be nurtured and grown. Silence is a tool for the Christian that makes possible to reflect more deeply on how well he is following the Master’s call to abide with Him, and to imitate Him by taking up the Cross. Far from destroying communion with others silence makes it more fruitful because, in it, we can grow in fellowship with the Lord.
Our communion with others (Christian or not), should be radically informed by our communion with the Father as members of the Mystical Body of Christ. This communion, into which we were born by the waters of Baptism, stands as an invitation to participate in the inner life of the Trinity; through it, the Christian can abide in Christ. Moreover, it is the source of every genuine coming together of people; it is the hidden seed which, nurtured by prayer and the Sacraments, germinates and makes possible the mode of our relationships with others. Abiding in Christ changes our perspective on the world. It especially changes the way the we view others. For the Christian, another person is not merely a means to an end (whether that end is good or bad), or to be judged merely on their outward appearance, but a person made in the image and likeness of God. The Christian then, if he is indeed living out of a place of deep communion with the Lord, ought to reflect the charity, mercy, forgiveness, long-suffering, and joy of Christ of whose body he is a member. Because of this, he is able to see the deep communion he has with his brothers and sisters. This communion overcomes all the differences he may have with his fellow man. Silence allows us the time to be reminded of the primary communion we ought to have with Our Lord so that we are more able to see the communion that we have with our fellow man. United by the pursuit of the communion for which we all ultimately long most – a deep and abiding communion with the Lord, a resting in the heart of the Father – through silence we grow together in holiness. The silence aids the times of speaking, and the times of speaking aid the times of silence.