Learning the Value of Silence

By Veda Mattingly

Good evening, my name is Veda Mattingly, and on behalf of all the Passionist Oblates and Associates I welcome you to our home here at St. Joseph's Passionist Monastery.

          It's an honor to join you this evening and to be able to share with you a part of my life as a Passionist.

           I'm sure each of you were filled with joy when you received your invitation to begin the Passionist Inquiry program.  My start was a bit different, and so on the day I received my surprise invitation in the mail I was honored, but I didn't exactly jump for joy.  At that time I knew very little about the Passionist Order but I did know about the Carmilites, and prior to my invitation here I had made a decision to follow after my patron Saint Theresa and become a Third Order Carmelite when life began to slow down for me, but God knowing me as He does had a different plan and He called me to the Passionist life during some of the busiest years of my life.

          I've been a Passionist Oblate now for almost 10 years and will bravely announce for the first time I haven't enjoyed every minute of the journey.  I realize that's probably not the best thing to say to each of you, but it's the truth.  Of course there are many, many great things I could speak about, but since I've been wisely given 5 minutes to speak I asked God to place on my mind what He wanted me to share, and in the midst of an extremely busy Grandma schedule God called me to speak to you tonight about the one thing I didn't like about my Passionist Journey.

           Mother Catherine Marie it may be a relief to know that it all took place in my earlier years here at this Monastery, and so before I chicken out I'll make public that my one and only dislike WAS the times we were asked to spend it in silence.  Everyone else seemed fine with being silent, some even appeared to enjoy it, and then there was me trying desperately to figure out how to become more at peace with silent time.

          I want to share a short but disturbing true story about my mom that I believe sheds some light on why I had difficulty during our silent times.

          Sunday Mass had just ended, and like always at that time my 80 year old mom wanted to spend more time praying in church so as she opened her prayer book and began to pray, myself and other family members decided to step outside church and give her the time she needed.  It was a beautiful warm sun shiny day but it was only a short time before I noticed Mom walking towards us looking frustrated.  I went to her immediately and asked her what was wrong, and she said, "let's go, I can't pray in there because of the noise."

          My Mom's experience in church bothers me deeply to this day, because I witness it each Sunday after Mass except in this Monastery's Chapel.  It also brings to mind other frustrations I once experienced during my prayer time.

          During that particular time I felt as if I no longer knew how to pray.   I sought advice on this from a Priest who told me that it could be that God was calling me to a different prayer.  It was a relief to find an answer, but it wasn't long before a new frustration had developed as I struggled discerning what prayer God was calling me to.

          I have had many great teachers in the school of silence especially since I've been coming to this Monastery.  One of those teachers was my now deceased sister-in-law and Passionist Oblate Judy Roby.  During Judy's journey with breast cancer she told me that being a Passionist Oblate, and being with the nuns here at this Monastery had prepared her for her final journey.

          On our last Oblate Retreat with Judy she asked if I'd share a room with her at the Monastery Retreat house.  At this time it was becoming more obvious that she was closer to the end, and so finding time alone with her without family, friends or even some strangers was almost impossible, so I jumped at this opportunity to have MY time with her.

          To be honest I was more excited about being with her than the retreat itself.  Like every retreat here we are given a little booklet with the retreat's schedule.  At the closing of day one I was checking the schedule to see what was next and there in big, bold print was the words, THE GREAT SILENCE BEGINS.  I'm not sure what I was expecting to read, but that sure wasn't what I wanted to read.

          Everyone quickly headed to their rooms for the night including Judy.  All was quiet as I passed by each Guest Room and upon entering Room #3, my special room with Judy, I noticed she was already dressed for bed and it appeared she would be praying soon.  Now I hadn't forgotten the GREAT SILENCE had begun, but I felt Mother would understand my situation, and so not to disturb any of the other Oblates I began to speak to Judy in a whisper and to my disappointment she immediately ever so gently placed her finger to her lips to quiet me, and indeed at that moment and throughout the retreat my time with Judy was spent in silence.  Judy knew the value of silence and she knew at our special time together silence was more important than anything we could talk about.

          In the book Experiencing Jesus with Mother Teresa there is a chapter on The Need for Silence.  Blessed Mother Teresa said, "Silence gives us a new outlook on everything," "Listen in silence, because if your heart is full of other things you cannot hear the voice of God."  And then Blessed Mother Teresa tells a story:

          There is a very important theologian, a very holy priest, who is also one of the best in India right now.  I know him very well, and I said to him, "Father, you talk all day about God.  How close you must be to God!  You are talking all the time about God."  And then he explained, "I may be rattling off so many words and may be saying many good things, but deep down I have not got the time to listen.  Because in the silence of the heart, God speaks."

          According to Mother Teresa, "God is the friend of silence" and the important thing in our  life is not what we say to God but what God says to us.  We should be silent in order to listen.

          Mother Catherine Marie my words of thanks to you and your nuns are not enough.  Your wisdom, your guidance, your openness to the Holy Spirit blesses us, our families and communities in ways you'll only know in Heaven.  I pray that until the end of time the silence here will be safeguarded by the order and always respected by the public.

          St. Paul of the Cross knew the value of silence as he layed down the foundation of the Passionist Order.  He must of known that one day our world would be so full of noise that the laity would also need a quiet place to come and grow deeper in their relationships with God.

          In this special place I call home I have learned countless valuable things, and even though  God's not done with me yet, I believe my time here has helped me become a better child of God.  It's funny today when I think about the one thing I once liked the least about this place has perhaps taught me the most.  I have learned a different prayer here, and it's the prayer of SILENCE.

          I'm not sure when I became a friend of the silence I once struggled with as a Young Passionist, but I do know that each time I pass through the gates of this Monastery I am greeted by the sound of silence and I am extremely happy to be home.