Let us consider Mary as many artists have depicted her. Mary in the silence of the morning's dawn sitting contemplating the Good Things Isaiah had foretold about a liberator for God's people. In the silence of this morning the desires of many generations were meeting in Mary. In the words of the French novelist Georges Bernanos: "The ancient world of sorrow, the world before the access of grace, cradled her to its heavy heart for many centuries, dimly awaiting a virgo genetrix (Virgin mother)."¹ She had been prepared in silence in the womb of her mother, St. Ann, and now she was betrothed to the silent, strong Joseph as Gabriel made his approach.
Let us recall here the first of all mornings at the beginning of the book of Genesis and the most silent of times when, "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters."(Gen 1:2) The spirit moves in silence at the beginning of creation and at the beginning of the new creation in Mary's womb.
In silence we are able to hear the Word speak and when the Word speaks we are recreated. Our own time is deaf to the silence; noise is ever present. We have the literal noise of cell phones ringing, even in Church. We have the noise of the stereo, the Ipod, the car radio, the noise of TV, and the noise of 24 hour news. There are other figurative senses of noise or distraction: in the old criticisms of others that ring daily in our heads, in addiction to substances, in shopping for what we don't need, in internet and email habits, in gossip and beauty magazines, and in being jacked up on coffee and sugar all-day-long. There is the violence in our cities and vulgar advertising that accosts us in and outside of our homes.
The spirit moves in silence at the beginning of creation and at the beginning of the new creation in Mary’s womb.
We are in need of silence.
In silence we can respond as Mary did because silence is attuned to the gentle voice of God that Elijah heard in the whispering wind. Silence allows the Other to speak. The person of holy silence is confident, trusting, mindful, and unafraid. To be silent is to be faithful because there is no need for noise when we know the love that the Other has for us. The person of holy silence is attentive, anchored, and so, remembers. Thus Mary remembers the promises God made to her father Abraham.
Often the prophets railed against the people of Israel because they had forgotten the promises of God. Instead they allowed themselves to be seduced by the noise of the pagan neighbors. This noise was often literal in a pagan worship that consisted of drunken revelry, orgies, and paying homage to a plurality of gods.
Silence is attuned to the gentle voice of God that Elijah had heard in the whispering wind.
On the feast of the Annunciation, in the midst of Lent, let us ask Mary and the Holy Spirit to grant us the gift of silence; Mary and the Holy Spirit who worked together to bring Christ into the world and who, as St. Louis de Montfort said, even now work together to bring to birth great saints in the Church.
In looking to Mary we can say with the author of the Psalm: "Truly I have set my soul in silence and peace, like a weaned child on its mother's breast even so is my soul."(Ps 131) Have you ever seen a weaned child sleeping on its mother's breast when it no longer seeks to be fed by the breast? It is pure tranquility. Let us then rest our heads on the breast of our mother, Mary, whose heart beats with the rhythm of the heart of the child in her womb. Mary has the contemplative silent heart. We seek this heart whenever we pray the Rosary, contemplating in silence with Mary.
When we make a "visit" we sit before the silent Love of Jesus present in the tabernacle, a presence that is the result of the "yes" that was born from Mary's trusting silence. Here we recall the story of St. John Vianney, who sat for hours before the Eucharistic presence. When asked by another: "What do you say to Jesus?" he replied: "I look at him and he looks at me." We have seen this in old married couples and in friends of many years who are more than content to sit silently alongside the one for whom they love and care.
Is there a time for making a noise? Silence gives birth to joy and so Mary can go and proclaim her Magnificat to Elizabeth in the Visitation. In silence we contemplate the goodness of the Lord until we burn to share that goodness with others. But always Mary returns to silence, offering once again her yes. At the foot of the cross she says yes again as her son, who "was silent like a sheep before the shearers and opened not his mouth" (Is 53:7), is put to death for our salvation. She is silent as the mystery of God unfolds and her son is taken from her again in the Ascension. This silence prepared her as it prepares us, however, for the mighty wind and tongues of fire of the Spirit at Pentecost that allow us to make a joyful and public witness.
Our own time is deaf to the silence.
Our life in Christ has a rhythm that we learn from Mary and it begins in silence. Only out of silence can we make a response. Beautiful music may be said to be sound tamed by silence. With Mary may our lives become a beautiful hymn of praise!
1. Bernanos, Georges. The Diary of a Country Priest, Trans. Pamela Morris, Carroll &Graf: New York 1983, 210.