How to Embrace Silence and Charity
"Today, my Beloved, I have offended Thee by the sins of exaggeration and uncharitableness in revealing my neighbor’s faults and sins. Please forgive me, Jesus, and please forget my many sins. Give me the grace to place the word 'Silence' across my lips. And when my lips try to move again in sin and the vice of much talking, please permit lips to feel the word of silence, as if it were Thy holy finger silencing me with peace and calm. Permit me the grace daily to kiss the earth for my own reparation and remembrance of silence, for earth doth not speak, but in the silence of order doth praise God continually." —From Gems by Cora Evans
We find in Cora Evans' words a reflection on her day similar to that of a daily examination of conscience. The spiritual exercise of reviewing one's day at its close is greatly encouraged and even considered crucial to spiritual growth by the great spiritual masters. Familiarity with and practice of this exercise has unfortunately become less common among the laity. There are various methods by which one may make a daily examination of conscience and in a certain respect it must always be a profoundly personal act. Yet, guidelines that saints and the Church have put forth for us can provide both a structure that allows us to better accomplish our personal reflection as well as greater understanding of the spiritual benefits of this practice. It is important to implement the steps of such methods without becoming mechanical––they are only meant to guide one in the sincere prayer being made from the heart.
Ignatian Spirituality outlines five steps in the daily examintaion of conscience. The first step is to acknowledge God's true existence and His presence and to ask the Holy Spirit to come upon you–– to grant you light in reviewing your day. Secondly, reflect on your day, giving thanks to God for the particular blessings that come to mind. An uplifting conversation, moments you responded to grace in the face of difficulties, and the enjoyment of the various aspects in your day, are particualr examples of those gifts we often overlook amidst trials. Practicing gratitude can help us gain humility as it teaches us to acknowledge our reliance on God; through gratitude we communicate our trust in Him. We also foster joy by seeing events in our day as gifts rather than becoming used to entitlement or utter dissatisfaction. Express your gratitude personally to the Holy Trinity. Following this, review your day examining your conscience starting from when you awakened. Think about not only your actions, but your words, thoughts, feelings, and motives in various situations throughout the day. Ask yourself if there were moments in which you did not respond to what you felt called to do. Following the exmaination the fourth step is to express your sorrow for your shortcomings and sins to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to ask for forgiveness sincerely speaking from one's heart. Finally, express your resolve to grow in virtue in these areas and ask God for the graces necessary to do this. Say the Our Father; and, traditionally, the Act of Contrition is said to conclude the examination.
The Sin of Uncharitableness
In a similar form, Cora Evans identifies that through speaking idly or excessively she opened the door to sins of “exaggeration and uncharitableness in revealing [her] neighbor’s faults and sins.” She expresses her sorrow through her desire to make “reparation” by “kissing the earth” and she asks Christ for forgiveness. Through “silence” and the humbling act of “kissing the earth” Cora Evans resolves to strive for greater charity, begging the Lord for the grace to overcome the moments “when [her] lips try to move again in sin and the vice of much talking.”
We may relate to Cora in recalling that we tend to fall easily into conversation that lacks charity with regards to our neighbor. We must answer truthfully concerning the reason these conversations occur in different cases. What are our intentions? Does this stem from frustration, idleness, a desire to impress? Among other vices or sins that may cause us to speak against our neighbor, there can be a sin of pride. Christ counseled us to “take the log out of your own eye before you take the spinter out of your [neighbor's]” (Matthew 7:5). In complaining about our neighbor's faults we fail to acknowledge the shortcomings that we too have, perhaps some more serious than those of our neighbor. We make ourselves superior to them by criticizing their faults, rather than humbly acknowledging Christ as the source of all that makes us good. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux said, “True charity consists in bearing all our neighbors' defects--not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues." We are certainly called to love Christ in our neighbor without reservation. Yet, even saints acknowledge this is a challenge—as Saint Faustina reflects, “O my Jesus, you know what efforts are needed to live sincerely and unaffectedly with those from whom our nature flees, or with those who, deliberately or not, have made us suffer. Humanly speaking, this is impossible. At such times more than at others, I try to discover the Lord Jesus in such a person and for this same Jesus, I do everything for such people.”
The Remedy of Silence and Meekness
In our struggle to improve in love of neighbor, and thereby in love of Christ, we can benefit immensely from pondering the manner in which Cora chooses to accomplish her resolve. She states two remedies––that of “silence” and that of “kissing the earth.”
“There is time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiates 3:7)
Silence is a remedy to idle talking––it is an exercise of moderation and aids us in speaking with intention. It can additionally be a manner of practicing humility as in the silence of our hearts we may practice remembering our own failings when our neighbor's are brought to our attention. Christ tells us, “ on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
Christ calls us to recognize the great value of words to which, out of habit, we have become immune. Cora acknowledges this reality when she says that her lips will “try to move again in the sin of much talking.”
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
Cora prays, “permit me the grace daily to kiss the earth for my own reparation and remembrance of silence, for earth doth not speak, but in the silence of order doth praise God continually." This action is chosen explicitly to further remind her of her resolve to practice silence. It additionally seems to encourage reflection on our own need for redemption rather than that of our neighbor's; for the earth seems to say to us “remember, man you are dust and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). In “the silence of order,” meekly, we acknowledge the state of our misery without Christ's saving grace. With this in mind we may better practice true charity towards our neighbor. Forgetting our self-interest, knowing profoundly it is only Christ who brings us any righteousness, we claim nothing for ourselves: we are moved to silence in reverence and praise of Christ.