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.

The Bane of Communities—and its Remedies

Dorothy Day beautifully captured the spiritual journey of many when she wrote, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”[1] Our Vincentian legacy was pioneered by people who created communities of both religious and laypeople dedicated to noble missions. We have encouraged the DePaul community to see itself as a community gathered together for the sake of our mission.

Yet we have probably found that other stuff comes with community too, and not only good things. We find numerous examples in the letters of Saint Vincent where he advised people, often superiors of different Vincentian communities, about handling the mundane problems of community life. In one such letter, Vincent observed “The bane of Communities, especially small ones, is usually rivalry; the remedy is humility.”[2] Vincent also advised his confreres of his own struggles with anger and being short tempered.[3] While Vincent was probably being especially hard on himself to prove a point, in his remarks and in his writings, he convinces us he is no stranger to the experience of being annoyed by people. In our time, when we are used to dashing off a text or calling someone in times of frustration, it is remarkable to contemplate writing a letter in frustration and having to wait for a reply!

In response to such difficulties, Vincent consistently recommended two of the central Vincentian virtues, gentleness and humility.[4] Vincent often used the example of Jesus[5] to counsel forbearance in human relationships. “I can well believe what you write me about M … but I ask you to bear with him as our Lord bore with His disciples, who gave him good reason to complain–at least some of them did. Yet, He allowed them to remain in His company and tried to bring them gently.”[6] One finds a similar call in the Qur’an describing the character of the Prophet Muhammad[7] with his companions, “By an act of Mercy from God, you were gentle in your dealings with them—had you been harsh, or hard-hearted, they would have dispersed and left you.”[8] Vincent saw the reality that human relationships are often difficult and that conflict among personalities not only makes life less enjoyable but prevents important tasks from getting done, leaving those who are vulnerable to suffer. Yet Vincent also believed in the power of gentleness and humility, especially from leadership, to win over hearts.

In a letter to a sister, Vincent began poetically: “I received two letters from you, which consoled me because they are your letters, but distressed me when I saw, on the one hand, that your Sister is not well, and on the other, that there is some slight misunderstanding between you. I ask His Divine Goodness to remedy both of these. The latter situation distresses me more because it seems to disrupt charity, of which forbearance is one of its principal acts; it is difficult for two persons to get along without it.” But Vincent was confident in the power of virtuous behavior, along with prayer, in such relationships: “[T]he virtue of humility is a good remedy for such antipathies because it makes those who practice it lovable.”[9] Vincent’s advice to those in leadership consistently makes clear that while verbal reminders may sometimes be part of their role, setting a powerful example of such virtues is most effective.

Reflection Questions: What are some personal relationships in your work that you can sometimes find difficult? What are practices you can engage in or foster for others that allow people to bring their best, most gentle, and humble selves to their work?

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

[1] “The Final Word Is Love,” The Catholic Worker, May 1980, 4. Available online at: https://‌www.‌catholicworker.‌org/‌dorothyday/articles/867.html.  Also included in the postscript to Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness.

[2] Letter 2037, “To Louis DuPont, Superior, in Treguier,” March 26, 1656, CCD, 5:582. Available online at:

[3] Conference 202, “Gentleness (Common Rules, Chap. 2, Art. 6),” March 28, 1659, CCD, 12:151. Available online at:

[4] See Robert P. Maloney, C.M., “A Further Look at ‘Gentleness,’” Vincentiana 39:4 (1995). Maloney explores the various meanings with which Vincent uses the term gentleness (French douceur). See: Gentleness article.

[5] Peace be upon him!

[6] Letter 1676, “To Mark Cogley, Superior, in Sedan,” November 5, 1653, CCD, 5:47.

[7] Peace be upon him!

[8] Qur’an 3:159 tr. M.A.S. Abdel Haleem. Note: For Muslims this example is especially powerful as they consider the companions of the Prophet to have been very righteous, yet, they would have run away if not treated gently, a similar point to that made by Vincent in talking about the disciples of Jesus.

[9] Letter 2110, “To Sister Charlotte Royer, Sister Servant, in Richelieu,” July 26, 1656, CCD, 6:50. Available online at:

Submit names of loved ones lost over the past year and join us for the Annual Gathering of Remembrance:

The DePaul community is invited to join the Division of Mission and Ministry for our annual Gathering of Remembrance, an interfaith memorial service for all community members who have lost loved ones over the past year. This service in Cortelyou Commons (and broadcast over Zoom) on November 17 invites us to stand together in mutual support and solidarity with our colleagues as the calendar year draws to its close.

We invite the entire DePaul community to please submit the names of loved ones for remembrance by the end of Thursday, November 10th so that they can be included in the service. If you know of anyone who has lost a loved one over the last year, please share this announcement. We want to honor their memory. All are invited to join us as we celebrate their memory.

Learn more at:


“Humility is the origin of all the good that we do.”

Robert P. Maloney, C.M., The Way of Vincent de Paul (1992), 41. See:

Vincent de Paul believed true humility “brings all other virtues with it.” (Maloney, Way of Vincent de Paul, 41.) Louise de Marillac believed “true humility will regulate everything.” (L.11, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac [1991], 20.) Because of our reverence for these two saints, who together began what we now call the Vincentian family, it remains for us to ask, what was true humility for Vincent and Louise? How might they have defined and recognized it? Moreover, how might we nurture that virtue in ourselves and how is it relevant for us today?

Based on their lives and correspondence, we have come to understand that humility meant many, interrelated things for the two saints. Gratitude for ones gifts, an absence of vanity, having a heart for service, emptying oneself of selfish desires in order to follow the will of God, and being open to transformation by attending to the poor, who are our brothers and sisters. These examples, and more, provide us with guideposts to follow as we pursue that most noble of virtues.

A contemporary understanding of humility, though still seen through a Vincentian lens, is to equate humility with realism. (See Udovic, “Our good will and honest efforts. Vincentian Perspectives on Poverty Reduction,” VH 28:2, 71.) It is to know oneself, and the world in which we live, and to discern what we are capable and not capable of doing. Humility as realism means giving our whole-hearted efforts towards worthy goals. Then, when the work is done, we must have faith that all will be well and that someone or something else will see it through. Recognizing we do not have all the answers, and being open to the gifts and contributions of others, is humility in action. It is the particular benefit of being part of a community. Vincent and Louise understood this.

We might pause and consider how we understand this virtue of humility and its relevance to us today? Do we recognize our own limitations? Are we open to the gifts of others? Do we look to the future with hope, but tempered always by realism? How might you practice humility in your daily life and work?

Reflection by: Tom Judge, Chaplain, DePaul Division of Mission and Ministry 


Upcoming Events:

Day with Vincent: A Day of Service and Reflection for Faculty and Staff

Friday, March 6th, 2020: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

DePaul faculty and staff are invited to a day of service, reflection, and community. On Friday, March 6th, we will gather at DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus for breakfast then go out into the city to serve with and learn from our community partners. This is a great opportunity for staff and faculty to serve Chicago, grow in community, reconnect with your values, and deepen your understanding of our Vincentian mission. We hope you’ll join us! For questions, contact Tom Judge at: To register go to:


Resolutions for the New Year

Vincent de Paul suggested that we focus our resolutions on those that help us acquire the spirit of the mission entrusted to us.

Let’s take renewed resolutions to acquire this spirit, which is our spirit; for the spirit of the Mission is a spirit of simplicity, humility, gentleness, mortification, and zeal. Do we have it or don’t we?” (CCD, 12:251.)

Mortification doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and today, humility and gentleness may not be the virtues to which we aspire above all others. However, Vincent’s wisdom may serve us well as we face the New Year, and perhaps as we commit to renewed resolutions for the time ahead. Vincent suggested that our lived values should be those that ultimately enable us to serve a bigger mission or purpose, our calling, or that which we are seeking to fulfill. He believed that his commitment to serve those who were in need required an imitation of the virtues he recognized in Jesus. A contemporary translation of Vincent’s characteristic virtues suggests that we must strive to be honest, approachable, self-disciplined, realistic, and hard working.

As you pause to consider your own personal sense of mission and the mission entrusted to us here at DePaul, what do you believe are the primary values essential for us to make real in our daily decisions and actions during the year to come?

We will be focusing Mission Monday reflections on these Vincentian virtues in the coming weeks as we begin the New Year. For more on a contemporary interpretation of the virtues, see “Our Good Will and Honest Efforts,” by Edward R. Udovic, C.M.:




Reflection by:

Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Mission and Ministry

The Soul of Good Leadership

“When I said that you must be unwavering as to the end and gentle as to the means, I am describing to you the soul of good leadership.”  Vincent de Paul (CCD, 2:403)

Checklists, systems, and metrics can serve important purposes in ensuring the consistency and effectiveness of our performance. However, if we consider the “soul” of good leadership, we recognize that these things can only get us part of the way there. There is more to good or soul-full leadership than simply following a prescriptive recipe. The soul of good leadership includes an ability to intuitively discern the signs of the times, the flexibility to adapt to circumstances beyond our control, the courage to take risks while remaining committed to guiding principles, and the grace to relate to others as human beings in a way that exhibits compassion and concern. How do you engage with the “soul” of good leadership in your life’s work, and how do you help others to do the same?

Indiscreet Zeal

“The spirit of God urges one gently to do the good that can be done reasonably, so that it may be done perseveringly and for a long time.” Vincent de Paul  (CCD, I:92)

Vincent seemed to be aware that he and others often falter by pursuing passions uncritically. Rather, he advised his followers not to rush into new ventures, aware that “indiscreet zeal” can at times lead more to harm than good. He advocated for a more discerning approach, rooted in experience. In his regular Tuesday Conferences, he would often invite the input of others with different perspectives, reflecting a way of proceeding in which discernment was dynamic and dialogical, open to various viewpoints, and aware that one person does not hold all of the answers. What regular practices of discernment can help to provide a healthy balance to your zeal and enthusiasm? How do you invite diverse and even contrary perspectives into dialogue with your own thinking?

The Virtue of Humility

Humility is in no way contrary to magnanimity (XI:273). St. Vincent de Paul Vincent de Paul was known for his emphasis on the importance of developing virtues, among them the virtue of humility. Therefore, Vincent was suspicious of our efforts that have “the most pomp, extent or renown,” for he believed that “good work, sooner or later speaks a much more favorable language than anything done for one’s own ostentation and show.”(11:311) In an era of self-promotion, how can Vincent’s emphasis on humility be instructive or offer an important counter-balance within our culture? What can you do this week to speak through your actions rather than your words?

Humility the Sure Foundation


For Vincent de Paul, the virtue of Humility served as a foundational one without which we have nothing.  It requires us to avoid self-aggrandizement, self-advancement, and seeking the praise of others.  At the same time, however, it encourages our recognition of the gifts we have been given so long as we remember that we bear these gifts so that God may use them for God’s own purposes.  Vincent counsels superiors in his community to be models of humility in dealing with those subject to their authority.

“Humility, the Sure Foundation” is a chapter from the book Windows on His Vision (pp. 131-132) available at:

It is also available as an ebook here: