St. Catherine of Siena describes religious life as a ship “ready to receive souls who want to race on to perfection and to bring them to the port of salvation. The captain of this ship is the Holy Spirit, who lacks nothing. His religious subjects who violate his orders can hurt only themselves, never this ship.” This goes not only for the ship of religious life, but also for the barque of St. Peter, the Church. The ship can never be sunk, though it can be steered into hurricanes.
Growing up around sailboats, I learned the cardinal rule that one would never guess from pirate movies: silence is key. This is true for three major reasons. First, without silence you can’t hear the captain’s orders. Silence is not only a lack of external noise, but internal listening. Without it crucial directions can be missed. The Holy Spirit is not usually a yeller.
Secondly, you need to hear your shipmates. They have specific duties that cannot be explained in the midst of a storm. They may need your help with one of their tasks or they may need to get by you to reach their station. At times, it is through your shipmates that you hear the orders of the captain.
Thirdly, you need to hear your ship. The external structures of the ship require attention and the creaks of the ship communicate to the sailor. St. Catherine describes the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as ropes that hold up the sails of the ship. Terrible consequences come of a frayed rope in the midst of a hurricane…
In this extended metaphor, silence is correctly seen as a positive aspect of the religious life and of the Christian life in general. It not only provides the space to listen to God, but it is a weapon of the Christian life. As St. Faustina wrote: “Silence is a sword in the spiritual struggle. The sword of silence will cut off everything that would like to cling to the soul.” Storms are not the only danger to a ship, but sea serpents roam the waters too.
We must be prepared to listen past the winds of the world, struggle against the noise of our hearts, and fight the demons of the depths. Silence is the weapon with which we fight the world, concupiscence and demons. It is in the silence of the cross that the ship sails into safe harbor.
Image: Fra Angelico, Peter Martyr Enjoining Silence