05 May 2009

The Silence Of The Lamb's Mother

In the Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, Pope John Paul II writes: “A discovery of the importance of silence is one of the secrets of practicing contemplation and meditation.”

In that same letter the Holy Father shares some thoughts on our Lady as a model contemplative: “The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the Face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the Face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to Him at the Annunciation, when she conceived Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense His presence and to picture His features. When at last she gave birth to Him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the Face of her Son, as she 'wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger' (Luke 2:7). Thereafter Mary's gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave Him. At times it would be a questioning look, as in the episode of the finding in the Temple: 'Son, why have You treated us so?' (Luke 2:48); it would always be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving His hidden feelings and anticipating His decisions, as at Cana (cf. John 2:5). At other times it would be a look of sorrow, especially beneath the Cross, where her vision would still be that of a Mother giving birth, for Mary not only shared the Passion and death of her Son, she also received the new son given to her in the beloved disciple (cf. John 19:26-27). On the morning of Easter hers would be a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection, and finally, on the day of Pentecost, a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Spirit” (cf. Acts 1:14).

Does our Lady desire that her gazes of tenderness, of adoration and wonder, even of sorrow, of questions, of penetration and being able to understand her Son, perceive His feelings, anticipate what He will do – does our Blessed Mother desire that these gifts be possessed by her alone? Mary longs to draw us to a closer union with her Son, our God, and thus achieve that closeness with our Brother, our Father, the Paraclete, that we too may possess all these wonderful gifts given from silence and contemplation.

That gaze of our Lady surely speaks louder and more clearly than the most gifted orators among us. At the Annunciation the angel Gabriel begins with, “Ave, gratia plena; Dominus tecum; benedicta tu in mulieribus” (Luke 1:28). What follows is Mary’s troubled, fearful gaze but no spoken words. Scripture says she thought within herself trying to determine what was going on (cf. Luke 1:29). She was using her inner gift. Most of us would likely scream out of fear or frantically call for help; or the bold among us would directly ask: “Who are you and what do you want?” But that gaze of Mary spoke eloquently enough to the angel Gabriel, questioning the reason for his visit, that without any verbal response from Mary, he was able to continue to explain his mission.

Contemplatives are listeners, waiting to hear the gentle whisper that speaks not to the ears but to the heart. After Gabriel had said everything he was sent by God to say, I’ve often wondered how long was the pause before Mary gave to God, to Gabriel, to the souls imprisoned by death, and to the world her fiat. Many things must have been going through her mind; and at the top of that list was surely the possibility of being stoned for being with Child. It is then that her gaze turned inward and she could see the hidden God and then fearlessly and with love say yes to what God had called her to do.

In the Magnificat, Mary verbally extols the beauty of her interior life. She has a soul that proclaims the greatness of her Lord and a spirit that rejoices in God her Savior (cf. Luke 1:46-47). Perhaps by the Holy Spirit she verbally declares this not for Elizabeth's sake, but for the sake of her centuries of children who are unable to see her gaze of two-thousand years ago. And perhaps it was that same gaze of two-thousand years ago, unseen by us, which prompted her to tell us: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).

Our Lady is silent at the most agonizing time of her life. One can only imagine the interior battle that is waged between deep human sorrow and an unshakeable trust in God. This is her Son and her God she watches on the Cross. She experiences deep sorrow as a Mother for her Son and yet remains silent in order to hear every word spoken from her God as He hangs on that Cross. Such a tremendous gift of silence and contemplation!

On the day of Pentecost, after that very dramatic scene of heavy wind, tongues of fire, speaking in diverse tongues and the bewilderment of the various nationalities who witnessed it, and then finally some of the onlookers who accuse the apostles of having too much wine to drink, our Lady, who was present, never speaks. Perhaps that gaze of hers this time was aimed at Peter. Peter could easily have said to Mary: “Blessed Mother, you have much more experience with the Holy Spirit than I, He is your Spouse; perhaps you should speak to the people.” Of course, there is no such conversation recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and perhaps it was Mary’s gaze at Peter which spoke to him saying: "Peter, my Son appointed you His Vicar. This is the birth of His Church. Your flock is waiting to hear from you.” And as Scripture records, it was Peter who stood up and addressed the people. (cf. Acts, chapter 1).

O the power of her gaze, the depths of her silence and contemplation! How can we not go to the school of Mary! Is there anyone among us who wouldn’t have wanted to witness our Blessed Mother’s first Eucharist, or even any which followed? To see one of the apostles’ standing before our Lady, holding up the Eucharistic Host before her eyes and saying: “The Body of Christ.” What was that gaze like? What was happening to her interiorly after receiving Holy Communion?

Saint John Chrysostom says that, “Silence is a fiery chariot which takes us up to heaven. O silence, … the ladder of Paradise, the way to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, destroying all that can disturb us: how sweet is your yoke, and how delectable.”

Saint Bernard adds: “Silence is the mother of the virtues, and their faithful guardian. It is… the strength of the soul … the mark of the wise, the practice of the angels and the daily exercise of the contemplative.”

“Words dissipate the mind,” says Saint John of the Cross, “silence fosters a spirit of recollection and gives the soul strength to go to God. Our Lord teaches that he who loves to hold converse with men has but little time for God.”

Finally, Dom Rouvier states: “You see what the saints have thought of silence. Be quite certain that silence is the father of devotion, the teacher of the interior life, the joy of the heart, the source of all prayer, the perfection of solitude, and the gate of Paradise" (Le Mois de Marie).

Our Blessed Lady knew of all these attributes of silence, and then some. Most likely, Mary spent her remaining years in silence and contemplation, communing with her Son and her God.