Paris, Your Parish, and the Wisdom of Silence

Sometimes it’s only in silence that our hearts can hear most clearly what’s being said.

Last week, news from Paris began streaming across our TV screens, smart phones, and tablets. In the midst of TV news anchors updating us on the latest developments, politicians shouting for retaliation, reporters reading the terrorists’ messages, it was the silences in between that spoke to our hearts.

We did not need to know a word of French to “hear” the terror in the eyes of people who wanted only to take in a soccer match. We “listened” to the people who fled the café, their faces “screaming” fear that their companions may not have made it out alive. We wept as we “heard” the tears on the face of someone who had just lost a beautiful daughter. We “listened” to the sadness and confusion of the faces of refugees, forced from their homeland, and being turned away once again, this time out of fear.

Sometimes it’s only in silence that our hearts can hear most clearly what’s being said.

In ministry, what we do not say is often as important as what we do say. There is a “time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) Recall the story of Job, who lost family and property and health. Scripture tells us that those who knew Job “sat down upon the ground with him seven days and seven nights, but none of them spoke a word to him; for they saw how great was his suffering.” (Job 2:13) Sometimes our silence speaks volumes.

That is quite often what ministry is all about, what evangelization is all about, what witness is all about. There is often a temptation in ministry to listen to the saying, “Don’t just stand there, do something!” Quite often, the grace in ministry is the wisdom, “Don’t just do something, stand there!” Stand there and know that God is God, even in the midst of crisis; maybe especially in the midst of crisis. We need to pause from time to time and let God speak to us and through us in the silence.

Sometimes, it is not the words we say, or the statements we issue, or even the power of our preaching. Rather, it is in the silence of our hearts that we hear most clearly what God is saying to us. It is seeking the face of God, having the grace to allow God to break our hearts with what breaks His heart.

Listen to the words of Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel: “Enthusiasm for evangelization is based on this conviction. We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love.” (EG, 265)

Let the depths of our hearts be penetrated by listening to God and God’s people and let us bring the infinite love of God to a world that experiences much sadness.

Sometimes it’s only in silence that our hearts can hear most clearly what’s being said.

How can we, as parish ministers, cultivate the wisdom of silence in our ministry?

By Ruth Puls and Deacon Siegfried Presberry

2 replies
  1. dCliff
    dCliff says:

    Perhaps “silence” can also be described as “presence”. In ministry sometimes our biggest contribution during another’s suffering is not what we say or do (well described in the blog post) but in just being present…. to “suffer with” or “compassio”, the root of compassion.

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