Courage Between Silence and Speech

“Many’s the man lost much just because he missed a perfect opportunity to say nothing.”

From An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl, based on the novella Foster by Claire Keegan

My personal relationship with silence is complicated. For many years in what was otherwise a happy childhood, I dealt with an overwhelming shyness. I have many memories of desperately wanting to speak but being unable to, whether I was speaking to individuals or groups, even if those people were familiar. This affected my academics, my extracurricular activities and participation, and my relationships with others.

The person I was then could never imagine that I would go on to several careers (law, preaching, and teaching) that would all require frequent public speaking and encounters with new people. I was able to overcome a paralyzing shyness by facing those fears directly and ultimately by having a profound love for my faith, for teaching, and for people. The process of learning to speak has given me two important gifts: the ability to speak up when it is beneficial, but also the ability to choose silence. Choosing to be silent is much different than being unable or afraid to speak, or not being allowed to speak. There is a power in chosen silence.

Many of us are invested in our ability to speak because it provides us with our sense of worth. Being able to speak on demand and having the answers can make us feel special. Indeed, I consider these profound gifts. But I’ve also had to learn to be secure enough to choose silence. To admit when I don’t have the answers. A famous story about the early Muslim scholar Imam Malik b. Anas (711–795 CE) describes a man who journeyed for six months to reach Imam Malik so he could ask about a pressing matter on behalf of his people. The great Imam responded to his question (or in some narrations, to his many questions), “I don’t know.” The man asked him, “What shall I tell my people?” The response came, “Tell them that Imam Malik said, ‘I don’t know.’”[1]

When we have wisdom to share or a perspective to contribute, we should do so. That is a precious gift to our community and to our world. We should not, like my younger self, remain silent out of fear. But perhaps we should not speak out of fear either. We should not speak out of insecurity or the need to say something. Perhaps we can recognize the power of chosen silence. One of the insights of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam was that those who want good for the marginalized must sometimes take a break from lecturing and listen instead: “The knowledge of social well-being and reform is to be learned, not from books, nor from the public platform, but in climbing the stairs to the poor man’s garret, sitting by his bedside, feeling the same cold that pierces him, sharing the secret of his lonely heart and troubled mind.”[2]

The benefits that flow from chosen silence are many. There is a humility in silence, especially in the face of questions. The theologian Ruben Rosario Rodriguez recently visited DePaul and spoke about how the humility to admit what we don’t know or even cannot know can be a key entry point to gaining the trust of those who are a bit cynical about arrogant claims to have all the answers.[3] The humility of chosen silence allows us to listen. To listen to others, to colleagues, to students, to those who have experiences different from our own. To listen to the internal voice of one’s heart. To listen to the signs of creation or to the divine call of Providence.

We often fill silence with noise. Perhaps we do so out of anxiety, but this only leads us to be more anxious and unsettled than ever before. I think of people in the time of Vincent writing a letter and then waiting days, weeks, or longer for a response. We may think we would go out of our minds, but perhaps such a conversation by correspondence would be all the richer for consisting of well-chosen words surrounded by much silence, by much listening and contemplation. Perhaps even when times or our roles may seem to call for (re)action, we can benefit from taking a pause to listen and to reflect, and in a little time, we can find a better way together.

Reflection Questions:

  1. In your own role at DePaul, what are times when you can benefit from silence? What are times that you need the courage to speak?
  2. What are the benefits of silence that you have found in your own professional or personal experience? What is the history of your own relationship with silence?

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care and Muslim Chaplain.

[1] Jāmi’ Bayān al-‘Ilm 2/838 as quoted in Abu Amina Elias, “Malik on Knowledge: When to Say I Do Not Know,” at:

[2] Attributed to Ozanam in His Correspondence by Right Reverend Monsignor Louis Baunard. See, Raymond L. Sickinger, Antoine Frédéric Ozanam (Notre Dame Press, 2017), p. 235.

[3] His recent book is Theological Fragments: Confessing What We Know and Cannot Know About an Infinite God (Westminster John Knox Press, 2023), 262 pp.

Courage and Love for Community

We live in a time of challenges and change. The future is always unknown, but it seems clear that the future of higher education will have to be different in some ways from the present. We live in a time of dramatic polarization, when almost every event is viewed in completely contradictory ways. Navigating such times successfully requires many virtues, and among them are courage and love of community.

Several years ago, I went to an event with Rev. Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, and currently the Chair in Faith and Justice and the founding Director of the Georgetown University Center on Faith and Justice. He was speaking about one of his books, and I remember what he said when he was asked a really good question, one with which many of us probably often struggle. After hearing Wallis’s impassioned call to be active in the struggle against racism and for social justice, a questioner asked whether people of faith can lead a movement for social change when religious institutions have their own internal problems of injustice, and fewer people are identifying with organized religious movements. Wallis replied to this “What people on the street are drawn to is courage. If people of faith show courage, people will follow them.”

Courage is indeed something that is powerful and inspiring. It can often be enigmatic as well. Sometimes courage is associated with destructive acts of violence, but often such actions are in fact acts of cowardice. Change always requires courage. This is true whether we are talking about individual growth or social transformation. To be an international student traveling to a new land away from family and friends and seeking a college degree in a language that is not your native tongue requires enormous courage. To be a first-generation college student balancing work and study in a world in which you are sometimes not sure you belong requires magnificent courage. If one looks at the writings of many of those we honor as the greatest of social justice thinkers and orators, from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Malcolm X, we find that many of them were obsessed with courage. They knew that it was attractive, and they knew that it was necessary.

Recently (February 7) we celebrated the Feast Day of Blessed Rosalie Rendu, the great nineteenth-century Daughter of Charity. Sister Rosalie is often associated with courage because she lived during a time of great turmoil in France, of violent political revolutions and repeated cholera pandemics. She lived at a time when anticlericalism often ran rampant. Amid this, Sister Rosalie stuck to a principle of serving all in need of help and assistance, no matter their politics.[1] She observed a firm commitment to a preferential option for the poor but didn’t hesitate to embrace the rich or powerful when they could help in the service of those poor. Her courage and her commitment to what she believed won her respect and even love from many sides, something which is rare in polarized times.

We are nearing the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, the remarkable African American religious leader and human rights advocate.[2] Although Malcolm X later became a celebrated cultural and political figure and even received a commemorative United States postal stamp, during his life he was highly marginalized and often vilified. He was also someone who evolved and was open to change and growth. This requires as much if not more courage than simply speaking against one’s enemies, because it sometimes means speaking an uncomfortable word of truth to one’s friends and allies, or even sometimes to oneself. Malcolm X was able to maintain the love and credibility of the masses because they knew he was true to his principles and true to his love for them. As Ossie Davis said in his eulogy, he was “our own black shining prince!—who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.”[3]

The love of community is built through mutual care for each other. This is what inspires love and loyalty. The guiding reminder of Sister Rosalie’s advice to the Daughters of Charity was that they “must be like a milestone on a street corner where all those who pass by can rest and lay down their heavy burdens.”[4] When you are confident that someone loves you and then that person shows courage and commitment to principle, you will follow them. Courage is creative, it wins over hearts, it inspires hope. Love and courage feed each other and become contagious in community. Connection to the transcendent and connection to the immanent combine to form the leaders who are needed in times like ours.

We invite all of the DePaul community to join the Division of Mission and Ministry and UMMA, the United Muslims Moving Ahead for our Annual Fast-a-Thon, “Love of Community” which will be held February 14, 2023. Program starts at 5:00 p.m. We invite people to try fasting that day as one way of building connection to the transcendent, but whether you can fast or not, please join us for a meal together at sunset, around 5:30 pm. Registration is through DeHub.

Reflection Questions:

  • What connections do you have which give you courage?
  • What issues or situations do you feel call out for or require your courage?
  • What are ways we can build the type of community that makes us courageous in facing challenges and disagreement?

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director, Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care

[1] Louise Sullivan, DC, Sister Rosalie Rendu, A Daughter of Charity on Fire with Love for the Poor (Chicago: Vincentian Studies Institute, 2006), 155. Available online: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_‌ebooks/‌5/.

[2] Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City on February 21, 1965.

[3] Ossie Davis, “Eulogy for Malcom X,” Faith Temple Church of God In Christ, New York City, February 27, 1965, radio broadcast,

[4] Sister Rosalie attributed this maxim to her godfather, the Sulpician superior general Father Jacques Andre Emery.

Enduring Life’s Challenges

“You say you experience great difficulty in the Mission. Alas! Monsieur, there is no lot in life where there is nothing to be endured.” – Vincent de Paul (931, To Claude Dufour, 31 March 1647, CCD, 3:173.)


As we continue to move through the challenging ramifications and unpredictable events associated with the COVID-19 virus, how might we find some perspective in the lived example of Vincent de Paul? Vincent’s era was replete with tragedy and critical challenges, including violent conflict, hunger, sickness, and natural disasters. How might his example in the way he faced such crises offer us perspective in moving through the challenges ahead with grace and wisdom?

Vincent encouraged his colleagues to practice “unwavering courage” and to be “stouthearted in the face of difficulties.” (CCD, 11:216.) He was realistic and pragmatic, and not prone to trusting idealistic fantasies or pipedreams. He recognized that troubles were a part of life and not something we can expect to avoid, for “they are to be encountered everywhere.” (CCD, 8:113.)

For Vincent, such times invited creativity and adaptability as a response. He was tremendously resourceful and believed challenges like these “give rise to the practice of two beautiful virtues: perseverance, which leads us to attain the goal, and constancy, which helps us to overcome difficulties.” (CCD, 4:36-37.) He was known for his “prayerful and calm attentiveness” in facing terrible suffering, particularly among the poor and marginalized. (Deville, “French School of Spirituality,” Vincentian Heritage 11:1 [1990], 40.) He felt that such circumstances can allow us to grow in compassion for one another. Ultimately, and so important for us to recognize today, Vincent remained confident in the future, trusting that “the storm will abate, and the calm will be greater and more pleasing than ever.” (CCD, 5:454.)

Inspired by Vincent de Paul’s example, let us find creative and meaningful ways to apply this Vincentian spirit to the particular challenges before us during this crisis.

How might Vincent’s way of navigating difficulty inspire your own creative action and response to today’s challenges? How can you be a source of encouragement and support for those around you?

Reflection by:    Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Mission and Ministry