23rd Thursday in Ordinary Time
Saint John Chrysostom
Today we remember St John Chrysostom as a great preacher, which is why he was called Chrysostom, “the golden-mouthed”. What is not so well known is that before he became the Patriarch of Constantinople, he lived as a monk. And that tells us something of where the power of his words came from: namely, from his experience of silence.
Nowadays it is rare to find a person who can speak thoughtfully or clearly, and rarer still to find those who will listen carefully or critically. And yet the strength and vitality of our faith, and of our vocation, are based upon the telling of a community’s story, the ability to communicate to one another and with one another from generation to generation, from day to day. The measure of John Chrysostom’s preaching is the power of that preaching to inspire and assist others to tell the story, to make the living Word live in words.
We at Genesee are deeply indebted, not only to John Chrysostom and the Cistercian Fathers, but to all those who in their own words and experiences, either written centuries ago or spoken just yesterday, open our eyes to deeper insights, newer expression, and greater clarity of the story. The value of their witness, as of their words, comes from their source, which is silence.
Silence is not an emptiness, but on the contrary by its very nature a fullness; but a fullness providing a context in which our thoughts are made known. Speech that is the result of bustle and noise is bound to be superficial. The seat of silence should be the depths of our being, and that “being” only utters something true and profound when it comes from that silence, and is its expression.
That is why the world’s speech – conversations, the media and so on – is so tiresome and quickly out of date: who can remember yesterday’s newspaper? That is why, on the other hand, in the monastery, John Chrysostom, like faithful monks and nuns, experienced such peace. There, everything springs from the calm depths of the soul, where all is recollected and silent. That is where God dwells and where we infallibly find Him, if we dwell there too.
Not everyone, obviously, because of the circumstances of their lives, can experience that same recollection that John Chrysostom experienced when he was in the monastery, but they should not be afraid to set aside as far as possible at least some moments, however short, for recollection, and to give some time to Him who is within them. It is in that silence that He speaks to us, and bids us listen to Him.