Monday, 7 December 2009


A number of years ago I was asked to preach at a Dominican sister's Golden Jubilee of Profession of her religious vows. Nothing extraordinary about that, though she was a dear friend whom I'd known for many years. I felt privileged that she should have asked me to preach on such a special occasion.

But there was a great problem. She was very deaf. That, of course, meant that she couldn't have heard a word I said. Although I was able to give her my text afterwards I feared her deafness would have meant that while others heard my sermon she would have been isolated in her silent world. So after the celebratory Mass I told her about my anxiety.

Her reply was beautifully reassuring. She said that when she noticed my repeatedly smiling at her she smiled back at me. That, she added, had made her happy. That was enough.

I realised that if I'd talked absolute gibberish while smiling at her that would have made he happy. That certainly doesn't mean that the contents of our sermons is unimportant. It most certainly is.

But my deaf friend's remark reminded me that there's much more to communication than appealing to the mind through the use of words. We can express our thoughts and feelings through the way we behave -by a smile or a scowl, shaking a clenched fist or offering an open hand. My friend had the sensitivity to notice my smile and to recognise it as an expression of loving friendship. That was all that mattered.

Our smiling at each other led me to reflect on the different ways we communicate with God and he with us. Sometimes we do need to use words, though not too many. At other times words become superfluous and can be so inadequate in expressing our deepest feelings and longings. We're lost for words. We simply can't express our wonder at the majesty of God and the glory of his creation. Or we may be moved so deeply that we can only laugh, cry or groan. These reactions can be far more eloquent than many words. It's wonderful that Paul should tell us that the Spirit not only knows what they mean, but even inspires these non-verbal prayers, which arise from the very depth of our being, (cf. Romans 8. 26).

And there's so much in worship that is expressed non-verbally. The design of the church building and the position of the seats in relation to the altar express and influence the relationship between the congregation, what is done at the altar and the God we've come together to worship. How we dress, our postures and the way we behave in church should all express our reverence. Sadly, often they don't.

The adornment of the church, with its statues, paintings and stained glass windows can be great preaching aids as well as assisting our personal devotions. These visual aids can appeal not only to our minds but also to our imaginations and hearts. My deaf friend has taught me the important of non-verbal language.

And just as we don't have to use words to communicate with God, so, too, he usually doesn't need words to express his love for us. The letter to the Hebrews begins by telling us that at different times God has spoken to us in diverse ways, (especially through the Scriptures). But now he has spoken to us through his Son. And what Jesus did by dying on the cross was far more eloquent of his love for us than even his sublime teaching.

My deaf friend, who recognised and understood my silent smile, has taught me to be more sensitive to the many non-verbal ways in which God expresses his love for me.

My way to God must include my being able to read the signs of his love, expressed in all that he's done for me, all he has given me. And for me to smile gratefully back at God is a real, deep and loving prayer.
Isidore O.P.

Next week Fr. Peter will reflect on meeting God in 'Mad Money'

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