God is eternal silence; God dwells in silence. […] Whoever embraces silence welcomes God, and whoever relishes silence hears God speak.
Silence should penetrate deep within and occupy every area of our inner home. Thus, our soul is transformed into a sanctuary of prayer and recollection.
[L]et us take to heart this lesson on silence, which brings Christ to us. We can likewise learn this lesson from the ever-silent Virgin Mary and all the saints, including our contemporaries, [Saint] Charles de Foucauld and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Let us ask them for a true love of silence.
And what about us? While I was speaking to you this morning, several bombs landed only twenty-odd miles from here. Countless victims died. They then had to appear before God and render an account of their lives.
We will likewise be called one day to render an account of our lives. If we fail the test, we cannot begin all over again [Cf. St. John of the Cross, “when evening comes, you will be examined in love“]. If our lives have not been marked by silence, charity, and obedience on every level, then we will have been unreliable in our service and unfaithful in our vocation.
I would be remiss if I did not speak to you as I have done. I am telling you only what the Lord wants to tell you. Do not think that I am too demanding. It is our ideal that is demanding.
I so wish for your Carmel, which I cherish, to be one of the greatest Carmelite convents in France, ablaze with the love of God.
When we meet one day in heaven, we should be filled with joy that we have done everything asked of us.
Servant of God Père Jacques de Jésus
Conference 8, Silence
Thursday Evening, 9 September 1943
Retreat for the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Pontoise
The Servant of God Père Jacques de Jésus—Discalced Carmelite priest and headmaster of the Carmelite boys school in Avon, France—endeavored to live the truth of his message, living a life of silence, obedience, and charity.
During the Nazi occupation of France, he enrolled three Jewish boys under false names and employed a fourth boy as a worker at the school and monastery of the friars. With the aid of a local villager, he was able to shelter the father of one of the students. Furthermore, he hired a noted Jewish botanist as a faculty member at the boarding school.
On 15 January 1944 between 10:00 and 10:30 in the morning, the German officers came for Père Jacques and the three students he had been sheltering at the boarding school; in a separate Gestapo raid in Fontainebleau, the botanist, his mother, and his sister were arrested at their home.
Although Père Jacques was sent to different concentration camps, the students, their botany teacher, and his family were incarcerated in the Melun detention center in Paris on 15 January. On 18 January they were transferred to the Drancy transit camp in the northeastern suburb of Paris.
On 3 February 1944 the students, their teacher, and his family were deported to Auschwitz in a transport of roughly 1200 persons. Upon their arrival in Auschwitz on 6 February, 985 persons were sent directly to the gas chambers. The Carmelite students from Avon, their botany teacher, his mother, and his sister all perished that day.
Only the fourth boy survived because he was working in the monastery on 15 January when the Gestapo arrived.
Jacques, P 2005, Listen to the silence: a retreat with Père Jacques, translated from the French and edited by Murphy F, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Featured image: Père Jacques and some of the boys he cared for through the years. Image credit: Discalced Carmelites.