Let us do what the Prophet says: “I said, ‘I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue. I have set a guard to my mouth.’ I was mute and was humbled, and kept silence even from good things” (Ps. 38:2-3). Here the Prophet shows that if the spirit of silence ought to lead us at times to refrain even from good speech, so much the more ought the punishment for sin make us avoid evil words.
Therefore, since the spirit of silence is so important, permission to speak should rarely be granted even to perfect disciples, even though it be for good, holy edifying conversation; for it is written, “In much speaking you will not escape sin” (Prov. 10:19), and in another place, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).
For speaking and teaching belong to the master; the disciple’s part is to be silent and to listen. And for that reason if anything has to be asked of the Superior, it should be asked with all the humility and submission inspired by reverence.
But as for coarse jests and idle words or words that move to laughter, these we condemn everywhere with a perpetual ban,and for such conversation we do not permit a disciple to open his mouth.
What has caught my attention most in today’s reading is St. Benedict’s injunction “at times to refrain even from good speech.” This isn’t something which is apparently logical. Why should we refrain from speaking good at times? From my own experience, even when I’m “speaking good”, having what I think might be an edifying conversation, many times it goes downhill rather quickly, either degenerating into useless talk (either pointless or even bad), or the topic ends up being about myself (even if in a veiled way). How many times have I caught myself in the act and regretted it? What St. Benedict recommends here and which is applicable for the lay oblate, I think, is prudence in speech. One should take circumstances into consideration before talking.
It may be a bit forced, but today’s readings at Mass brought to my mind this chapter of the Holy Rule. In the Epistle St. Paul reminds us of the Israelites in the desert with whom God was not pleased. And what was Israel’s great sin in the desert? Murmuring. In the Gospel account we have murmuring again.
Murmuring tends to be a lack of interior silence, of ruminating a grievance interiorly until it festers, and like a rotting mass it atracts flies (other noxious thoughts), whose buzzing fills us interiorly and removes our silence. But why is silence important? As our holy father said in the Prologue and re-states in this reading, the disciple needs to listen. If there is no interior silence, how can I hear the Word? If I do not listen, how can I obey?
Exterior silence is helpful in prepairing the interior. We are bombarded on all fronts by noise (TV, radio, Internet,mobile phones,…), as if to block out the silence. Why are we afraid of it? Curiously, I have gotten the same answer from many different persons from all walks of life – “if it’s too quiet, I start thinking about my life, and if I do that no good can come of it.” Am I afraid of silence? Am I afraid of hearing the Word, of its implications for my life? Do I create moments of silence in my own home, even when the family is around?