We live in an extroverted world, and as an introvert and a writer, I love the idea of shutting out the rest of the world for several hours each day to write about faith. I often find it beneficial to remember what the Prophet Elijah experienced in 1 Kings, 19:12 when he found God’s presence not in earthquake or fire but in “a light silent sound.”
God speaks to us in those silences, which, in all the bustle and noise of modern life, can be hard to come by. As Catholics, our faith brings us to an experience of God through communal worship in the liturgy, as well as through parish life and the Works of Mercy. But for a Catholic introvert like me, it can be a challenge to find the balance between that active engagement with the world and the quiet contemplation I need to sustain me.
Fortunately, our faith connects us with the great Communion of Saints — all those holy souls who have gone before us and still offer us their wisdom and guidance in living a holy life. Whether or not any of them were true introverts is a question lost to history, but the saints can teach us valuable life lessons about how to be our best introverted, spiritual selves.
Saint Clare of Assisi
Clare lived an introverted expression of one of the more extroverted of religious orders, the Franciscans, who were actually among the first orders to reject the cloistered life. They begged in the streets, preached in the towns, and made themselves living examples of the Christ-centered life.
But Saint Clare and the sisters of her order (commonly known as the Poor Clares) lived in a cloister. This was more in keeping with the tradition of the day for all religious orders, men and women. Francis and his brothers were considered eccentric for the public nature of their lifestyle; for Clare and her sisters, it would have been scandalous. They were able to live out the Franciscan charism from within the cloister walls.
The Poor Clares, like their Franciscan brothers, were an order devoted to being public examples of a Gospel-centered life. And like Francis, Clare rejected the idea of the cloister as protection against the evils on the outside. It was a spiritual refuge – a place, as Jesus said, to withdraw to her inner sanctum, close the door, and pray to God in secret. For this Catholic introvert, my prayer time can be like that cloister — a place of quiet, solitary retreat when I need spiritual rejuvenation.
Saint John the Baptist
A fiery, outspoken prophet might seem like an odd example of an introverted saint. But in my own experience as both introvert and amateur stage-actor, I can say that losing oneself in a role is a great way to engage the outside world from within the sanctuary of an outsized personality. And John the Baptist certainly threw himself into playing the role of a prophet.
According to Scripture, the Prophet Elijah was supposed to return to announce the coming of Christ. And the Angel Gabriel declared that John “will go before him with the spirit and power of Elijah.” John the Baptist was a star prophet — from the camel’s hair tunic to the backdrop of the Jordan River where he performed baptisms.
But when Christ appears, John willingly – joyfully, even – recedes into the background. “He must increase; I must decrease,” John says. For an introvert, there can be a difficult balance between wanting to be seen and noticed, but not wanting to be the center of attention. John strikes that balance well, taking on a supporting role and then playing it to the hilt.
Pope Saint Celestine V
Piettro del Morrone just wanted to withdraw from the world into a life of prayer, penance, and solitude. Instead, he was elected to the highest office in the Medieval world.
Piettro was a simple man from a humble background who devoted himself to the solitary life of a hermit in the wilderness. But his reputation for holiness gained him many followers. Eventually, reluctantly, he organized these followers into a religious order.
Meanwhile, the College of Cardinals was having trouble electing a new pope. Several years went by, and Piettro del Morrone declared that God wasn’t happy with the Cardinals and would bring punishment upon them if it went on much longer. Apparently, they took the warning to heart and promptly, unanimously, elected Piettro as the new pontiff. Very reluctantly, he accepted and took the name Celestine V.
After becoming pope, Celestine V actually decreed that a pope could resign from office and made good on that decree, stepping down just five months after his election.
Celestine V lacks a long list of papal accomplishments, but he did break a political stalemate that had left the papal seat empty for two years. And he did step up and do his best when the Church needed him. But more importantly, I think, he recognized his own limitations and stayed true to who he was. He never wanted to be more than a humble, solitary, prayerful hermit with no stake in the affairs of kings and princes. The world, with its constant pressures toward action and activity, doesn’t often recognize the importance of quiet, thoughtful contemplation. And yet, it has need of it. For that, ultimately, is where we most often hear the voice of God.
So, the next time you feel like an introvert out of place in an extroverted world, remember the saints who went before you, setting an example of how to be a vessel that God can use.
Originally published June 19, 2019.