Mary, Woman of Silence
The Silence of Mary
Whoever has walked through the countryside at night knows how different it is to walk in the light of a full moon and walking in darkness. The light of the moon helps us make out the contours of the landscape laid out before us. Yet, we also know that the moon’s light is not its own, but the sun’s reflection.
The moon has always been a symbol of Mary for it illustrates the presence of our Mother and the role she plays in our Christian life. All of the brilliance that we perceive in Her comes from the radiant splendor of the Sun of Justice, who is her Son. Mary is the serene and gentle reflection that depends entirely on the Lord Jesus. However, we cannot forget that Mary is her own person and reflecting the splendor of her Son does not make her distant nor does it take away her own identity. Rather, it is precisely in Her being Herself - for remaining rooted in her selfsameness - that she achieves the strength and solidity to recieve and reflect the Son’s presence. If the moon was not present with its own characteristics and with a determined form, it wouldn’t be able to reflect anything. The sun’s rays would inevitably be lost in the infinity of space.
With the limitations and imperfections associated with this analogy, an allusion to the moon helps us to comprehend the silent presence of the Mother. Mary’s silence, as we know, is not passive; it is, on the contrary, dynamic, and implies fullness and presence. She preserves silence, but not to keep quiet. Rather, it is in order that the Eternal Word pronounced by the Father can resonate with clarity and strength through Her. Thus, in the Mother’s silence we find two fundamental dimensions: what we could call openness or receptivity on the one hand, and participative expressiveness on the other.
The Silence of Expressiveness and Receptivity
Before we continue, let’s take a quick look at these two aspects of silence. It is important, however, to point out that even though one of these dimensions maybe emphasized over the other, we are not speaking of two separate realities. Rather, they form a unity, harmonizing with one another and are balanced in a single dynamism.
On the one hand, the silence of expressiveness is needed in order to correct our external manifestations, harmonizing and giving equilibrium, especially to word and body.
On the other hand, the silence of receptivity works especially in the realm of the mind, understood as both thinking properly and using our memory and imagination as they were meant to be used, and in the realm of the heart, especially in seeking to have the same feelings and loves as Jesus.
To understand these two dimensions of silence, let us look to Holy Mary, in whom this virtue is so well formed in her that it is characteristic. The Scriptures are rich with examples from which to learn this virtue and attitude from Mary. To go in depth into every passage would be impossible. For that reason, we’re only going to mention a few, taking particular care to reflect on one - the Annunciation-Incarnation - on account of its centrality in Mary’s life from which her entire existence can be interpreted.
“Hail, full of grace…”
Let us start by considering Mary’s attitude listening with reverance at the moment of the Annunciation. This is what permits her to welcome the Good News delivered by the angel. If her life had been full of noise, if she had been submerged in activism, or if she lived unconscious to her inner state, it is hard to imagine that she would have heard God’s voice with any clarity. We know that He often manifests his Plan, not in the clamor of an earthquake, a fire or a hurricane, but in “the whisper of a gentle breeze.”
On the other hand, Mary tries to comprehend and be receptive what initially surprises her. She is troubled at the angel’s greeting, but continues listening while “she considered what kind of greeting this might be.” The young Virgin is surprised. Perhaps, it was because she remembered – having been familiar with the Scriptures – the Messianic prophecies and the promise of a Savior who would come by means of a woman. In her heart, she begins to understand the gravity the messenger’s words. Mary not only listens, but also “reasoned”, thinking over in heart the profound meaning of the message. Her silence of receptivity leads her to search her memory and to go into herself, pondering the scope of what is being announced. How many times do we hear without listening, or listen without comprehending? How often could someone be dying at our side, who in agony could express everything in two words, and due to our hardened heart, we are incapable of understanding him. Mary’s example makes us question our most common, everyday attitudes, for it is in those everyday moments when God often manifests His Plan.
But, there is still more to the passage. When she no longer understands, recognizing the feebleness of her own comprehension, Mary presents a question. She doesn’t answer. It is her questioning that continues synthesizing information in the receptive dynamic of silence; she requests more light in order to understand. The question, “How shall this be done, since I do not know man?,” is not a rejection to the announcement. Rather, she is asking for more light and instruction on how to realize her mission more fully because she doesn’t comprehend how she could be a mother, having already given her virginity over to the Lord. Indeed, this is an endless mystery, one only possible in God.
What an example she is for we who are so often perplexed in less mysterious circumstances, and scarcely think to seek the answers from God himself through prayer. Thus we see how our lack of a receptiveness to God that is both silent and dynamic makes us deaf to the divine Plan.
Mary’s “Let it Be Done”
In the end, Mary’s response comes without hesitation. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” says the young Virgin, who despite her age affirms her own identity with a sense of permanence. She seems to say, “The one here is me,” showing her self-possession and self-mastery. She defines herself as the Servant of the Lord - the One who serves - and in whom the dynamic of self-giving is one of her distinctive features.
She finishes her response by saying: “Let it be done unto me according to thy word.” With these words, she makes her self-donation complete, an expression of her total gift of self to God’s Plan. Her inner dynamisms of permanence and unfolding are harmonized in this singular response.
Mary’s silence in both receptivity and expressivity becomes clear with these passages. She speaks with discretion. She weighs her words and says what is necessary. But she doesn’t maintain her silence for the sake of silence; she speaks when she must. And from this moment on she can bring the Eternal Word, which she has welcomed into her womb, to others in a singular and privileged way: to her cousin Elizabeth, to the shepherds in Bethlehem, to the Wise Men, to the aged Simeon and to the prophetess Anna,  among others.
Even during the moving passage of the Cross in which Mary utters not a single word, her mere presence and visibility to the Son as she stood at the foot of the Cross attentive to the Lord Jesus’ final testimony, all manifest her total acceptance of God’s Plan.
The silence of her attitudes make us question ourselves once again. How quick we are to close ourselves off selfishly during difficult times, or in moments of pain. We bitterly complain or give in to self-pity without realizing that the Lord Himself is speaking to us from the Cross. With eyes downturned, we fail to see the lips of the Good Shepherd utter our names from high on the Cross. If only we could be there with Him, at the foot of the Cross, attentive, listening; that would be enough for Him.
To Live Silence
Living as Mary did means following her, with docility, by the path of silence in the double dimension we’ve discussed. Silence ought to illuminate our every effort to welcome and recieve grace in order to attain holiness, as well as our entire apostolic horizon.
Let us not forget the Lord’s words: “Behold, I stand at the gate and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door to me, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with me.” The Lord is clear. The first condition is this: to listen to his voice. If we don’t listen to him, we won’t be able to open the door of our hearts. Thus, this definitive encounter with the sweet Lord of Nazareth simply will not happen. May we never lose sight of Our Mother. May we permit her to educate us in the reconciling and harmonizing path of silence. In this way, we will achieve that full conformation with her Son, the Lord Jesus, that we so long for.
Mary Meditates on the Word: Lk 2:19,51.
Mary Welcomes and Communicates the Word: Lk 1:39-45; 1:46-55; 8:19-21; 11:27-28.
Silence During Moments of Joy: Lk 2:15-20.
Silence During Moments of Pain: Lk 2:35; 2:51; Jn 19:25-27.