Servant of Silence

Taizé recently held a meeting for young adults in Milan (“Brother Roger is here, amongst us,” said a 28 year old schoolteacher). During the last night, Brother Roger’s successor, Brother Alois, spoke about “going forward together on this road of hope”: “Day after day, prayer will be a support. And even if we do not always manage to express our inner desire in words, being in silence is already an expression of openness to God. During this time of Christmas, we remember that God himself came in a great silence.”

The following is from an article about the late Brother Roger of Taizé in the Australian journal Eureka Street, written by its publisher, Andrew Hamilton, SJ:

But silence was Br Roger’s way. His early memories, at a time of sharp religious division, were of his father, a Reformed Pastor praying alone and silently in the Catholic church. He continued to see the Catholic church as a place for silence. He was a dull speaker. His Conferences were the supporting act that prepared the audience for the main event: the silent prayer that followed them.

Certainly, that is how he saw the activities at Taizé. The chants that identify Taizé to so many people find their meaning in the silence that follows them. The hospitality, trust and range of activities that the monastery offers its thousands of young visitors lead them to silence. There they can hear the still voice that speaks to them of great desires.

Taizé was to be about reconciliation. In its earliest years it offered Jews shelter from the Nazis, and German prisoners shelter from French anger. More recently it has promoted reconciliation between divided Christians, between Christians and members of the other great world religions, and between First and Third World. It offers few structures, no detailed plan, only a shared silence before the mystery of God. Br Roger saw this as the contribution of the monastic tradition to all churches.

This reticent style made possible Taizé’s distinctive contribution to Christian unity. Churches welcomed it precisely because it did not challenge their discipline, rhetoric or beliefs. It accepted, for example, the restrictive Catholic discipline of Eucharistic hospitality, but invited people to a silent unity beyond it.

Silence, however, is inherently subversive. It does not challenge words head-on, but invites them to judgment. The more ringing the declaration, the more logically forceful the claim, the louder the sound of boundary pegs being hammered in, then the longer the words will hang in silence. The more space we shall have to assess if the timbre is precisely right. Silence also allows us to weigh our own posturing silences of disengagement and disapproval. It is particularly subversive when we value certainties above truth and rely on a strong rhetoric to sustain them.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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