Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.




“The dumb spake.” Our Lord had given him the power of speech. I remember writing once to you and expressing some curiosity as to his first words. Whatever they were they revealed the nature of the man. But this year I find myself thinking about the uses of silence.

Silence is only good when there is a good motive. Otherwise silence might be selfish or rude or eccentric. Religious silence is quite different. The purpose of religious silence is to give opportunity to listen to the voice of God. The sense of the Presence of God prompts religious silence. Religious silence is regarded as refreshment rather than restraint. In Convents and Monasteries silence is an important and essential part of the rule for the devout life. In the Contemplative life silence is rarely interrupted. In the Active life periods of silence are provided as work permits. In the mixed life the periods for silence are extended as far as is consistent with the duties of the life. Those who are in the habit of making devotional visits to Religious Houses have learned to value the healing hours of the silence which enfolds a Religious Establishment.

Retreats are happily incorporated into the devotional life of the Church today. Many opportunities are provided for Retreats for laypeople in Religious Houses for three days. One-day Retreats are accustomed events in parish churches. The silence rule is required of all retreatants. It is recognized as a protective measure.

In the parish churches where the devotional life is being carefully cultivated, silence is strictly enjoined. The parish church is a haven of silence. The world outside affords unlimited opportunity for speech. The door of the church opens the way of escape. Once inside the church, silence is an inviolable right which should never be trespassed upon. All should feel secure against interruption. Each person who is seriously using the church comes with a definite desire. The mind is concentrated upon the matter in hand. Spiritual influences are at work. Trains of thought are in motion. The soul is passively receptive. The slightest interruption of a human voice is enough to distract the mind, to dissipate the influence, to divert the train of thought and to cut off the connection of some Godly motion which without interruption might have solved a problem, answered a question, determined a decision and filled a day with peace.

There is another use for silence which needs to be kept in mind. We fast before Communion from the previous midnight. Silence may be offered as a fast from speech during the same period. It would be consistent to keep the silence until food is taken. This would give the opportunity for recollection on the way home from church. It would be an effective safeguard against distractions which sometimes prove to be disastrous to interior peace.

There is another aspect of silence which deserves mention. Silence is sometimes an enforcement of aloneness. It will rescue a person from loneliness if the enforced silence is offered up to God. A silent night ought not to be a lonely night. It ought to be a holy night. So it ought to be with silent days and hours. Silences are God’s opportunities.

Every spiritual blessing helps the body as well as the soul. It often happens that an overstrained body is spared the discomforts of a journey and the expense of a sanitorium, by judicious doses of silence taken with regularity at home.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury