Michelle Francl-Donnay


There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 1 Cor 12:4-6

I sat in the second to last pew, praying Evening Prayer before the Saturday vigil Mass.  Warm spring breezes billowed through the open doors of the church, carrying with them the sounds of passing cars, and people walking past on the street. The vestibule burbled with conversations, as that evening’s batch of excited First Communicants gathered around the baptismal font, and parishioners streamed in.

It sounds distracting, but in truth it wasn’t. And for all that it wasn’t quiet, the river of sound had a current of silence within it. I thought of Madeleine Delbrêl, a poet and author, who founded a contemplative lay community in the suburbs of Paris in the early 20th century. She wondered why we thought that the howling wind and the pounding sea “all count as silence, (but) not the pounding of the factory machines (or) the rumbling of the trains at the station?” Or even the murmuring sound of an assembly gathering to celebrate the Eucharist?


For Delbrêl silence wasn’t so much an external condition, but an internal stance, one that was still and quiet, the better to hear God in the wind, in the roar of traffic or in the hum of a full church.

As Catholics, we believe that Christ is present to us at the Eucharist not only in the bread and wine we consecrate, but in the Scriptures, in the person of the priest — and in the assembly itself. Gathered for this purpose, we are the real presence of Christ, long before we reach the Eucharistic prayer.

What do I hear God saying in those voices washing over me? Delight and joy, in the warmth of the weather, and the ongoing gift of Easter. Excitement about receiving Christ for the first time, calling me to remember how deeply I desired Christ, not just when I first received, but now.

God is present to us in myriad ways. In the deep silence of an empty chapel warmed by the late afternoon sun. In the bustle of a city sidewalk. In the woman wailing with hunger in the subway station. And in the hum of a crowded church, poised to receive him. If you cannot recognize Christ in the beggar at the door, offered St. John Chrysostom, you will not find him in the chalice. There are many voices, but one God, one Lord, speaking to us through them all.

To listen: Composer Margaret Rizza’s setting of David Adam’s poem “Speak, Lord”


Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Bryn Mawr.