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The Grace of Imposed Silence

Laura Phelps

Writing the last post of 2019 feels like an enormous responsibility. There are so many directions to take this. Do I talk about our resolutions? Share my word of the year? Maybe focus on the Solemnity of Mary that’s just around the corner? And I know I should just pick the most important one out of all of these, but that’s the problem. It all feels important. I can talk all day long about each of these topics. Which makes what happened to me on Christmas Eve all the more remarkable.

I lost my voice.

Being silent is not one of my spiritual gifts. You might recall back in October, I went kicking and screaming to a three-day silent retreat. How’d that turn out, you ask? Ironically, when it comes to describing the silent retreat, I am speechless. All I can say is that God speaks loud in the silence. And thanks to the quiet, my life was radically changed.

Speaking of silence, it is no coincidence that as the year comes to an end, I have found myself drawn more and more to Saint Joseph, a man of no words. It was on the silent retreat that I was introduced to him in a whole new way when a Sister described the familiar scene of Mary and Joseph and no room at the inn. “Here she was,” she said, “pregnant, while on a donkey, and Joseph cannot find her a place to stay.” She continued with four words that I will never forget: “How stressful for Joseph.”

I was certain she was going to say how stressful for Mary.
But she didn’t.
It wasn’t just about Mary.
It was also about Joseph.
An incredible revelation for any woman in a relationship, don’t you think?
Leave it to a humble woman like Mary to lead me to this truth.

2019 was the year I consecrated myself to Mary. She’s my go-to girl. We are tight, me and mama Mary. But lately, Joseph keeps getting thrown in my face. And I am intrigued by it all; by the fact that despite being a righteous man, he stood by Mary. That he said yes to being the foster father to the Son of God. By his faithfulness, trust, obedience, devotion, spiritual leadership, and fortitude. But mostly? By his silence. I think it was his silence that allowed him to surrender and be all of these things. Wanting so badly to silently surrender, I decided that 2020 must be the year I consecrate myself to Joseph. For a girl who loves nothing more than the sound of her own voice, I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a guy like him in my back pocket. Immediately upon this resolution, I felt that sort of thrill and excitement that one gets after a first date that goes really well, and began talking incessantly about Joseph. I talked about him to my husband. I talked about him to my girlfriend. I even talked about him to the dogs. Seriously, anyone who could sit long enough and appear to be listening, I spoke to. I could not stop speaking of Joseph.

Until, I lost my voice.

I will be honest. Losing your voice is never a good thing, but on Christmas Eve? This was so not convenient. I couldn’t help but think how, once again, God’s timing was all wrong. I’d like to say I went in haste to prayer, but went in hesitation is more like it. Quite frankly, I was a little annoyed with God. This time of year is hard enough already. Now, with no voice, how on earth was I to complain to others about how hard it was going to be? Eventually, I made my way to my Bible, and opened up to Saint Luke’s account of the nativity story. Then Scripture did as Scripture does when I shut up long enough to allow it to speak.

“While they were there, the time came for her to have her child.” Luke 2:5

While they were there.
These four words shot into my heart and instantly changed everything.
Being in Bethlehem does not sound like perfect timing for Mary to go into labor.
Not for us, at least.
But for God, it is and it was.

If this was the way for the story to go down, the way for our King to be born, it had to be the right timing, and because we already how this story ends, we know that that this has to be true. What looks like bad timing to us is always perfect timing for God. And how do we refer to this most incredible event? We call it a silent night.

This Christmas, as I sat speechless in front of a fire, I thought about that silent night; of the quiet surrender of both Mary and Joseph that changed the world forever. And how for a man of no words, no one has spoken more loudly in my ear the message God has been sending me all year long:

BE SILENT. God will take care of everything.

As it is written in my Advent devotional, “Zechariah received the great grace of imposed silence.”(1) This Christmas, I believe that I did, too. Next to my furry pink bathrobe, I have to admit, silence has been the greatest gift of all.

Through the intercession of Saint Joseph, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a silent New Year.

With love,

(1) Sister Faustina, O.C.D., The Living Gospel Daily Devotions for Advent 2019, Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, reflection for Thursday, December 19, 2019.

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