Our recent snowstorm missed setting a record by just one-tenth of an inch, almost matching the blizzard of 2006. Even so, it surpassed the storms of 1888, 1947, 1996 and 2010. Going through my files, I found my message in the weekly bulletin of my former parish mentioning the “Presidents’ Day” snowfall of 2003, and I wrote then the same things I can observe now: how edifying it was to see how many of the faithful trudged through the snow to attend Mass, and how quiet the city suddenly became.
Such silence does not last long in the city, but it is a reminder of how precious the gift of quietness is. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). God works his ways through the busyness of daily life, but he often gets his message across, as he did to Elijah, not in the wind or earthquake or fire, but in a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). Most especially, he communicates by coming as Christ himself, the living Word who became a man and dwelt among us. “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
Increasingly in our time, loud music in public places masks the inability to engage in genuine conversation. The poet W. H. Auden visited me once and told me to turn off the record player: “Do you want to hear me or that?” He put me off background music forever, and I am glad that I listened to him.
Before the blizzard struck I received in the mail my latest book just published by Ignatius Press, entitled He Spoke to Us. The production of a book takes long enough for an author to read with detachment what he wrote. The title is from the appearance of the Risen Christ on the Emmaus road. When he vanished, the two men said, “Were not our hearts burning within us when he spoke to us on the road, and when he made the Scriptures plain to us?” (Luke 24:32).
The point of this collection of essays is that God speaks through circumstances and people, and he gets his message across “in many and various ways” if only we quiet down and pay attention. So I noted at the beginning of the book: “Wherever that Emmaus road was in fact, it stretches for all of us from the start of our lives to its setting . . . If the human race is too dull to recognize Christ on those occasions when he appears in the events of each day and in curiosities we stumble upon, he patiently explains to us who are ‘slow of heart’ what is going on.”