ColumnsNaming Grace

Prayerful silence

What did Pope Francis know about Theodore McCarrick’s abuse of minors? Did the pope take part in a cover-up? Why does Pope Francis remain silent? Rumors, accusations, reports of who knew what/when have been flying across social media like a junior high food fight. Many faithful Catholics shake their heads, “If Pope Francis is innocent, why won’t he speak?”

At his Sept. 3 Mass, Pope Francis answered critics as he counseled for -“silence and prayer.” When confronted “with people lacking goodwill, with people who only seek scandal, who seek only division, who seek only destruction, even within the family: silence, prayer.” Perhaps our Holy Father took his cue from this Sunday’s readings. As the prophet Isaiah declared, “The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”

With New Testament eyes, the chapters from Isaiah, known as the suffering servant passages, prophesy Jesus’ death. While on the cross, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy by uttering not a word: “Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth.” Jesus set His face like flint and opened not his mouth. The 2018 Liturgical Training Publication Workbook comments: “Silent suffering is not a sign of cowardice; God strengthens him in the face of tormenters.”

No amount of arguing, shouting, or convincing could deter Jesus from loving to the end. Trusting in the Father’s faithfulness, Jesus went to the cross in silence. As Pope Francis preached, “Silence wins, through the cross.” When Jesus asks Peter in this Sunday’s Gospel, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ.” Jesus then warns the disciples “not to tell anyone about him” — to remain silent. Jesus is the Silent One, reconciling us to the Father.

A woman going through a painful divorce set her face like flint. She refused to open her mouth in defense. No matter the accusations flung, she spoke not a word to discredit her husband. Though her heartbroken, she placed her trust in God as her help and her shield. Her silence paved the path toward healing for members of her family.

As parents/grandparents, Jesus, the -Silent Servant, serves as the model for our homes. When the toddler throws a tantrum, we stay silent until he or she stops. When a teen argues, we refuse to engage and wait to speak. When words fly between spouses, a moment of silence — not the silent treatment — aids understanding. Prayerful silence — listening to the voice of God — allows the Spirit to work, calming spirits and changing hearts.

Pope Francis’ silence sparked debate, but hopefully, in time, his silence helps to heal our broken church. Henri Nou-wen observed, “When we are boiling with anger and eager to throw bitter words at our opponents it is better to remain silent Words spoken in rage will make reconciliation very hard. … Choosing to remain -silent … open[s] the way to healing.”

Pope Francis concluded by praying, “May the Lord give us the grace to discern when we should speak and when we should stay silent. This applies to every part of life: to work, at home, in society.” In this silence, the Holy Father said, “we will be closer imitators of Jesus.” May God help us wait in prayer and silence, allowing the Holy Spirit time and space to reveal the truth and heal our wounds. Now, that’s good news.

When have you experienced silence as a way for healing?

How can you teach your children to be silent at critical times?

Naming Grace in the Domestic Church reflects on the Sunday readings through the lens of a parent/grandparent, aiding parents in their vital task as “first preachers” of the good news in the domestic church — the church of the home.