When the angels [who had announced the birth of Jesus] had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2: 15-19).
P erhaps it seems a little odd that when Jesus, the Son of God, is born a human being, a group of shepherds rush to Bethlehem and report seeing and hearing angels proclaiming Jesus as the Savior of the world — and Mary, His mother, says absolutely nothing. Instead, we are told, she “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
A Month of Promise
Our Lady was silent as she considered the fruit of creation, the great mystery of God that is too great for words to express.
Perhaps it also seems a little odd to be talking about silence and reflecting on the birth of Jesus in the month of May. After all, we’re celebrating the Easter season. Winter is over. The grass is green, the flowers are blooming and the unfolding days are slowly getting warmer and longer. School is over and summer is almost here. We want to sing for joy; we don’t want to be silent!
In May, we are looking forward to a lot of things we will do this summer — maybe a vacation, some special project, or something as simple as sitting at a picnic table eating sweet corn. May is a month of promise. We are on the verge of a new season — waiting, anticipating. The earth is budding with hope and new life. We can see it, hear it, feel it, almost taste it. It’s already begun — but also isn’t quite here yet, like slowly ripening fruit in a patch of strawberries.
Have you ever tried to coax a strawberry into ripening faster? You can plant the strawberry plants, water them, fertilize them, weed them and protect them by chasing off the rabbits, deer and birds, but you can’t actually make them grow. It is a mystery absolutely beyond us how something planted in the dark, cold earth slowly and silently sprouts, grows, spreads, and bears fruit.
And so it is with the Kingdom of God, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Mark: “It is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit” (Mk 4:26-27).
What Jesus was telling His disciples — and us — is that the Kingdom of God has already arrived in His Person to whom we all belong. The Kingdom is right here, right now. “The Kingdom of God is among you,” He said (Lk 17:21). It is sprouting, growing and spreading, but it hasn’t fully ripened yet. It’s not quite ready to be harvested; silently it grows, though we know not how.
This is the mystery Mary treasured and pondered in her heart the night the Eternal Word sprouted from her womb. The promise of salvation made by God to all of mankind had been revealed in Jesus and was growing to fulfillment — as it later did through the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, and as it does now through His Body the Church that is anointed by the Holy Spirit.
Like the fertile earth, Mary Our Mother was receptive to this promise, and like the faithful farmer who waits for the harvest, Our Lady of Silence was attentive to the ripening fruit of God’s kingdom, silently treasuring it in her heart. This same treasure is ours, if we listen as Mary did to the voice of the Lord, which is written in our hearts as well.
Mary seems to do a lot of listening. She doesn’t really have much to say throughout most of the Gospel accounts. She offers her consent to the will of God at the Annunciation, proclaims her joyful adoration at the Visitation and expresses her puzzlement at the Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple. Then we don’t hear from her again until Jesus begins his ministry as an adult and performs his first sign at Cana, when she asks Jesus to help the wedding party and guests. At other points in the New Testament, including the Presentation in the Temple, the Crucifixion and at Pentecost, she is present, but is not recorded as saying anything.
Most of Mary’s life was hidden, unremarkable. She was a wife and mother, and lived a fairly ordinary life punctuated occasionally by the extraordinary, much like our own lives. She lived day to day, fulfilling her duties in humble obedience to God, but with faith in the promise that had been announced to her and Joseph. Although she had said yes to this promise and had placed her hope in it, she did not fully understand. She was left to silently ponder each thing that occurred during her daily life as it slowly unfolded.
The Greek word for ponder means “to piece together.” This is what Mary did, like a mother compiling a scrapbook on the life of her child through the years. She quietly attended the slowly ripening fruit of the Kingdom of God, piecing together all the events of her life with Jesus and Joseph. She stored up all these events in her heart, constantly reflecting on them, wondering about them, trusting in them.
She did all this in the silence of her heart, where God speaks to all of us. But we need to listen for it, trust in it. The first word of the Rule of St. Benedict that is followed by monks is “Listen.” This call is for all disciples. “Be still and know that I am God,” says Psalm 46.
But it is difficult to listen, especially in a culture that shouts at us from every corner, it seems. In turn, we experience the desire to respond, the need to act. Our lives are brimming over with activity, noise and agitation. Sometimes, if we try to be still, it is easy to become impatient, preoccupied. A moment’s pause can make us nervous, and we look for anything — TV remote control, cell phone, iPod, e-mail, the latest gossip — to fill the void.
Internal noise is more subtle, but just as distracting. It is easy to get caught up in worrying about something that happened yesterday, or something that may or may not happen tomorrow. Imagined or real conversations sometimes replay in our minds, stirring up our emotions. Prayer can also become a way for us to merely talk to God, rather than a way for Him to speak to us. “Be still,” he says, “and know that I am God.”
As Mary, Our Lady of Silence demonstrates, all God asks of us is to be attentive to His presence, receptive to His whispering voice in our hearts as we ponder, or piece together, all that He provides us each day. In our trust, we praise Him, not in our complete understanding. God is a great mystery to be discovered, little by little, a Kingdom silently and slowly growing for the harvest, like a strawberry patch in the month of May.
In his homily on Jan. 1, 2008, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this pondering. “By learning from Mary,” he said, “we can understand with our hearts what our eyes and minds do not manage to perceive or contain on their own. Indeed, this is such a great gift that only through faith are we granted to accept it, while not entirely understanding it. And it is precisely on this journey of faith that Mary comes to meet us as our support and guide.… In her heart Mary continued to treasure, to ‘piece together’ the events of her life with Jesus.… It is only by pondering in the heart, in other words, by piecing together and finding unity in all we experience that, following Mary, we can penetrate the mystery of a God who was made man out of love and who calls us to follow Him on that path of love; a love to be expressed daily by generous service” to our brothers and sisters.
As we prepare, then, to ponder the mysteries of the Lord with the rosary through the heart of Mary, let us be still and treasure God’s loving presence — today and each day of our lives. Let us pray that we listen for and remain receptive to the seed of God’s word sown in our own hearts so that it may grow, spread and bear fruit for the Kingdom of God — though we know not how.
Let us put our joyful trust in God’s promise as Our Lady of Silence does, piecing together like rosary beads His loving plan in the various events of our lives. Let us listen, pondering in our hearts the treasures of the Kingdom of God as they ripen, little by little, so that we ourselves become the fruits of creation, as sweet as those strawberries we can almost taste. TP
Brother Francis Wagner, O.S.B., a Benedictine monk at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana, is a former editor and reporter in Ohio. He now works at Abbey Press publications, and is studying at the Saint Meinrad School of Theology.