Humility in Silence
Sometimes we can share more wisdom by simply being silent. I will notice when I say or do something that Sr. Faustina doesn’t agree with, she sometimes remains silent. Even though sisters are not supposed to correct me, but rather approach the novice mistress to correct me, I think rather her silence lies in the hidden wisdom from her years of contemplative life.
Novice Mistress: This is the sister in charge of all of the new sisters who is tasked with making sure they understand and are properly following the rules. I will be a postulant for one year and a novice for the next two (hence the term novice mistress) before I make my first vows. I am under obedience to her. If I want permission to send a letter or give something to another sister I must ask her permission and do as she requests.
Sr. Faustina is a doer and fixer, running all the extern duties, never having a spare moment because of her servant heart for the community, but also a woman of deep prayer and love for her Eucharistic Lord. For evening recreation, I was playing cards (Euchre – a great Midwest game – Californians you have to play it!) with her and her sister who was visiting. We took recreation in the visitor’s or extern quarters since her sister can’t come into the cloister.
Recreation: We have recreation each evening (except Saturdays and Silent Wednesdays) in the monastery for an hour. We all join in the community room for cards, games, sharing, puzzles, book reading, or whatever we would like. Lately we have been stuffing our newsletters to send out (sign up on our website: www.opnuns-fh.org). During this time, the cloister is no longer silent and chipper laughs are heard and stories told.
Sister asked if I was the bell ringer to announce that recreation was over. Since I was still learning the protocol as the bell ringer (a big task to ring the bell for the community and for the outside world each time of prayer or meal), I knew there would be another sister there to help. I said that she could do it but I was supposed to be trained for it tonight. I knew she wouldn’t mind covering for me. Sister remained silent.
Upon reflection, I begin to think: “Why did I want to put the job on the other sister? What were my motivations?” If I looked deep down, it was for my benefit, so I could keep playing cards. We need to look at our motivations even if we never think about them. It takes silence to look at why we’re doing the things we are doing. Sister didn’t say, “You have a job you better do.” or “You’re only thinking of yourself.” These were my reflections from her keeping silent. It was selfishness and pride at the root of it that kept me from ringing the bell. If I had focused on the needs of the community, on the other, I would have jumped at my task and honor to call the sisters to prayer. When we take the time for silence we will see our true motives aren’t always the best – stemming from what is most beneficial to us – pride.
Sister ended the card playing 3 minutes early and said, “You have time to go ring the bell,” guiding me to fraternal charity through her silent witness.
Mother of Humility
Another time I was talking with her while petting our German Shepherd, Dash. He was shedding and without thinking I dropped the fur on the ground. She continued the conversation and simply picked up the fur and threw it out. I knew she was annoyed but she spoke through her silence. She could have said, “Would you mind picking it up so I don’t have to clean it later?” which would have led to an apology from me. She remained silent. She served me instead. She loved me, through doing an act of charity and showed me instead of telling me, humble, sacrificial love.
If you notice, Mary shows her true humility in the Bible also through her silence. Few words are spoken by this holy woman in Scripture but when she talks at the wedding feast of Cana she says to the servant, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). In her few spoken words, she chooses to tell not just the servant but the whole world to do what Jesus says. To trust. She is always pointing to her son, having humility himself, in his being born as a innocent babe for us and dying a most cruel death to save poor sinners.
Make a Home in Me
Working on growth in the interior life and fleshing out your weaknesses is no easy task. Pride is only the beginning of my long journey within to finding Him. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity has a beautiful quote that I think summarizes the contemplative life:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
Pride and selfishness is only my leaky roof. Once I get myself out of the picture He can show me in humility what I really need in order to reach peace and freedom. I have to realize that these sisters have lived it, they know all about this painful process of God fixing up our little house so He Himself, as their groom, can dwell deep within. I’m blessed to have these sisters who are beautiful witnesses to me. Seeing them like the older sisters I never had, I can silently observe them and model their holy, humble behavior, sometimes even subconsciously.
Even if you’re not a contemplative nun, we all have baggage. Put silence in your life and ask Our Lady for humility to see how to improve and grow in self-knowledge.
Thank you for the letters. I’m actually able to write with discretion (to family more than friends), so when I get the time I will write; however, I can’t have any communication over Advent and Lent. For Lent, maybe focus on turning that phone or radio off to hear God speaking to you in the silence. Or pray the Litany of Humility daily! Have a blessed Lent! Know of my prayers and please pray for my sisters and myself.
© Jamie Leatherby 2018
Photo: Sr. Jamie with her three fellow externs. Left to right Sr. Faustina Marie, Sr. Jamie, Sr. Miriam, Sr. Anna Maria
Editor’s Note: As Sister Jamie stated above, she will not have internet access during Lent. This is the second of four posts she has provided me. I will publish them every other Friday.