By Meghan Falconer
Nonverbal Communication Consultant (please call 920-555-9572)
It was widely publicized last February through flyers, emails and the university’s social media network pages that the seminarians of Holy Trinity Seminary had together decided that the best way to grow in dedication and self-control was to make a vow of silence during the Lenten season. In the past, personal sacrifices of Facebook, desserts or music sufficed, but this year the aim was to step up their piety and dedicate 40 days to God without uttering a syllable, and instead use only writing, miming and charades to communicate.
Now that Easter is quickly approaching, Holy Trinity seminarians, as well as University of Dallas students and teachers, have been expressing their opinions about the great sacrifice of the spoken word. However, there seems to be little agreement about whether or not the vow of silence was practical in an academic community.
Fourth-year Holy Trinity seminarian Elmer Herrera vehemently expressed his belief that the vow has been a wonderful experience. When asked for his thoughts, he energetically wrote on his dry-erase board.
“The vow of silence enhances the spirituality that we are going through in the seminary, and at the same time helps us bond with people in different ways. As far as my experience in class [goes], we [the seminarians] are doing much better; we are not contributing as many terrible ideas or heretical thoughts as we normally do,” he wrote.
Likewise, senior theology major Karen Bless reported that the vow has in fact made a visibly positive impact on her education.
“We actually get stuff done in class!” she said. “Seminarians ask way too many questions, and in the past few weeks I’ve learned so much more from the time we’ve saved by having the seminarians just sit quietly.”
Likewise, Dr. Christopher Malloy, professor of Systematic Theology II, which is a required class for seminarians, said he feels his silent students have been a pleasure to have in class.
“At first I thought they hadn’t been doing the reading,” he said. “I came to accept that they had ascended by way of silence, the via negativa, having kicked the ladder of articulation out from beneath their faith. Man, they’re deep.”
However, this positive sentiment about the vow is not shared by all. For Dr. Matthew Walz, who advises all seminarians attending UD, the Lenten vow of silence made by the seminarians has been the cause of some difficulties in his own Lenten experience.
“As an element of my Lenten penances, I usually include my meetings with the seminarians when I have to patiently listen to them carry on about their classes and formation program,” Walz said. “This year, however, because of their vow of silence, the penitential element of Lent has been missing for me. In fact, it seems almost Easter-like not to have to listen to the seminarians talk! If they decide to make a vow like this again next year, I suppose I’ll have to come up with new ways to make my Lent more penitential.”
Fourth-year seminarian Brian Cundall communicated through elaborate charades his opinion that the practicality of the vow is most questionable during his daily life.
“When we are eating dinner together and no one can pass anything, we’re all just sitting there in silence and I want to use the salt because the meat is not salty enough and I just weep bitterly to myself because it is too far away to reach and I don’t want to receive 30 lashings for standing up out of turn,” he gesticulated.
Whether or not the Lenten vow of silence will be repeated in future years has yet to be decided by the students and faculty of Holy Trinity Seminary. However, one particular seminarian has requested that table seasonings at mealtimes be passed around the entire table.