Silence and Humility

Humility seeks silence not in inactivity but in ordered activity, in the activity that is proper to our poverty and helplessness before God. Humility goes to pray and finds silence through words. But because it is natural for us to pass from words to silence, and from silence to words, humility is in all things silent. Even when it speaks, humility listens. The words of humility are so simple, so gentle and so poor that they find their way without effort to the silence of God. Indeed, they are the echo of His silence, and as soon as they are spoken His silence is already present in them.

Pride is afraid to go out of itself, for fear of losing what it has produced within itself. The silence of pride is therefore menaced by the action of charity. But since humility finds nothing within itself (for humility is its own silence), it cannot lose in peace and silence by going out to listen to others or to speak to them for the love of God. In all things humility is silent and at rest and even the labor of humility is rest. In omnibus requiem quaesivi.

It is not speaking that breaks our silence but the anxiety to be heard. The words of the proud man impose silence on all others, so that he alone may be heard. The humble man speaks only in order to be spoken to. The humble man asks nothing but an alms, then waits and listens.

Silence is ordered to the ultimate summing up in words of all we have lived for. We receive Christ by hearing in the word of faith. We work out our salvation in silence and hope, but sooner or later comes the time when we must confess Him openly before men, then before all the inhabitants of heaven and earth.

If our life is poured out in useless words, we will never hear anything, will never become anything, and in the end, because we have said everything before we had anything to say, we shall be left speechless at the moment of our greatest decision.

But silence is ordered to that final utterance. It is not an end in itself. Our whole life is a meditation of our last decision – the only decision that matters. And we meditate in silence. Yet we are bound to some extent, to speak to others, to help them see their way to their own decision, to teach them Christ. In teaching them Christ, our very words teach them a new silence: the silence of the Resurrection. In that silence they are formed and prepared so that they also may speak what they have heard. I have believed, therefore have I spoken (Psalm 115:1).

– Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude II:VI

About catholicsensibility

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