Deacon Jim Keating gave a paradigm-shattering lecture on “silence” that I attended this past week.
Deacon Keating argued that priestly ministry must flow from inner silence. Silence, he said, is the “diminishing of interference with God.” When the priest ceases to practice silence, and fills his life with noise, his ministry becomes sterile, cold and barren. Instead of sitting quietly at the feet of the eternal Word, and suffering the coming of his Truth, they end up downloading homily helps.
That last comment reminded me of a priest I met years ago in Maryland. He was probably the best listener I have ever met. He would sit for lengthy periods of time with me asking provocative questions, listening to my ill-formed thoughts and responding to them with great interest. He was a brilliant philosopher, and so I was well aware that nothing I was saying was “new” for him, which made his rapt attention even more astounding. Before we parted ways for good, he shared with me a piece of advice that my spiritual director had also shared with me in another form not long before. He said,
Remember that the most important — and most rare! — virtue in philosophy is humility — knowing you don’t know and wanting to remedy that. Also, with humility you will find that you can learn something from anyone if you pose the right questions and listen carefully enough to hear what’s being said. You need patience to allow truth to appear. Then you need enough charity to be sufficiently interested in the other to care to listen.
That reminded me further of a comment my son made once when he was around 8 years old. We were at a picnic with a number of other families, and my son, who was in those days obsessed with all-things-aeronautics, captured a gentleman, a kindly amateur pilot we will call John Smith, who spent what must have been the better part of an hour with my son listening attentively to his many questions and comments. Later that night, I was putting my sons to bed. As I laid on the floor between them asking them about the day, my pilot-to-be son said, “Dad, Mr. Smith’s a saint.” A bit surprised, I asked him why he said this. He continued, “Well, he listened to every boring thing I said to him like he cared.”
A great definition of a saint, and the perfect description of God, who ever-suffers our boring minutiae with great interest in listening silence.