Silence Is Needed
Sometimes, it is best to escape the noise and listen in solitude
“I feel bad that you are starting your priestly ministry having to deal with this. I am on the tail end of my years of priestly ministry and didn’t experience stuff like this for years.”
I said these words to a recently ordained man in his 20s when we were talking about his ordination and his first assignment. Obviously, once ordained, every generation has its hard knocks to weather. Some things come at you quickly and blindside you out of the gate. Maybe I have forgotten the hard knocks of the early 1980s but the knocks today do seem harsher.
The assortment of hard knocks to which I refer is the divisiveness, “the lines drawn in the sand,” the vitriolic words, and the anger that is on the surface everywhere. These behaviors are exhausting, and there appears to be no end in sight. I meant the words I shared with the young priest as he is barely a month into his priestly ministry and receives the brunt of this misdirected anger.
Over the past few years, it appears everybody has one nerve left, and everybody is getting on everybody’s last nerve. The attitude of “I am free to do or say whatever I want to do or say” seems to take precedence over civility. Do you ever wonder what ignited the behavior? Did it begin overnight or was it a small wave that, as it moved onward, took on more and more energy and now there is no stopping this tsunami.
Since “misery loves company,” the Church can take some solace in the fact that it is not just happening to us. It is everywhere. People have shorter fuses; people are more frustrated. You see it in stores when customers are frustrated and speak so disrespectfully to the minimum-wage/summer-job teenager at the checkout. You hear the anger in people’s emails when they write a second time in a few hours wondering why you have not responded yet.
All the screaming, but no listening, among the pro-lifers vs. pro-choicers, or the pro-guns vs. anti-guns peoplr, or red states vs blue states, etc., etc. The lines are drawn at work, at school, on playgrounds and in churches. If I don’t speak enough from the pulpit or print in the bulletin or post on social media what that parishioner thinks should be said, I receive an email beginning with the words, “Father I don’t mean to criticize, but …” “Then don’t criticize” is what my fingers want to type. Or, after Mass and still vested, “Father, do you have a moment? I mean no disrespect, but …” My inside voice, which is becoming more difficult to keep “in” is, “Then don’t be disrespectful.”
A few Sundays ago, between Masses, I saw a parishioner whom I know casually sitting in the pew quietly. I did not think anything about it until I came back an hour later to prepare for the next Mass and saw he was still sitting there. We exchanged pleasant nods, so I walked over to ask if everything was OK? He said: “Yes, I just needed to sit a while, and the longer I sat in the sheer quiet, I did not want to leave. The noise out there, Father (pointing to the world in general), is loud.” His succinct and reflective (after sitting quietly for an hour) comment is so true. No one listens from, to or for the quiet anymore. Listening is becoming a lost art.
There are many places in Scripture depicting Jesus unplugging (to use an anachronistic metaphor) and sitting quietly for a while. His interaction with the Twelve might not be too different from a contentious staff meeting — the bickering as to who gets to sit at his right and left is no different than a staff person wanting his/her way. Afterward, Jesus might have been praying about whether he should find a different Twelve. He jumps into boats to go to the other side (needing to escape for an overnight to be anywhere but where he just was). After a long day of ministry feeding thousands of people, he is exhausted (like any of our Sundays). Christ, too, had to escape the craziness of the crowds, the interrogations by the scribes and the noise of the Pharisees who apparently “meant no disrespect.” He needed just to regroup, to escape the din and listen to the silence. I find I need an extra day off more often just to be silent and put things in perspective. Do you feel the same?
FATHER PATRICK M. CARRION is the pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Ijamsville, Maryland, and the director of Cemetery Management for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.