It seems to me that modern society is terrified of silence. Go to most any restaurant and you’ll hear music playing in the background. Often it is blaring so loudly it is hard to hold a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Many large company picnics or similar events will have a band of some sort playing. Again, it is often so loud that it is difficult to think much less talk to anyone around you. In many households the TV is on for much of the day. Not because someone is actively watching anything but just to provide some “background noise”. How many of us instinctively turn on the radio whenever we hop in the car to go anywhere. Others, while jogging or walking, will have a radio or music player plugged into their ears for the same purpose. It’s as if we must avoid silence at all cost. What is it that we’re afraid of?
Pope Benedict XVI, on a July 4, 2010 homily given in honor or Pope Celestine V, stated:
“We live in a society in which it seems that every space, every moment must be ‘filled’ with initiatives, activities, and noise; there is often not even time to even listen and dialogue. Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be afraid to be silent outside and inside ourselves.”
There’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with TV, radio, music players, going to loud restaurants or picnics, and attending other public events that may be quite noisy. But we should be careful to balance our lives with frequent periods of silence. Silence, especially in prayer, is most essential if we are to truly hear and be able to reflect on the word of God.
I’m convinced that making our lives noisy is one of the tools used by the devil to prevent us from actively seeking God. By bombarding us with constant distractions, Satan does his best to keep us from doing any sort of deep reflection within our hearts. And deep reflection is a key component of a good Christian life. Mary, the mother of Jesus, certainly spent considerable time meditating on the mysteries encountered in her own life. We read in the Gospel of Luke, on that first Christmas night, when the shepherds revealed to Mary and Joseph, the vision and message they received from the heavenly angels:
“All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:18-19)
Also again, when Jesus was twelve years old, after Joseph and Mary spend 3 days In Jerusalem looking for their son. Upon finding Jesus, Mary says:
“Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:48-51)
Cardinal Robert Sarah, one of the top officials in the Catholic Church, recently wrote a book entitled “The Power of Silence”. Throughout this work he repeatedly praises the value and importance of silence. Here are just a few of his quotes.
“Through Sacred Scriptures, when it is listened to and meditated upon in silence, divine graces are poured out on a man…” (Thought 4 of “The Power of Silence”.)
“No prophet ever encountered God without withdrawing into solitude and silence. Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist encountered God in the great silence of the desert. Today, too, monks seek God in solitude and silence. I am speaking, not just about a geographical solitude or movement, but about an interior state. It is not enough to be quiet, either. It is necessary to become silence…” (Thought 5 of “The Power of Silence”)
It is in silence that we encounter God. Jesus himself would often go to a mountain alone and pray in solitude to speak to his Father. Thus silence is much more than just the absence of noise. Quoting Cardinal Sarah again:
“Silence is not an absence. On the contrary, it is the manifestation of a presence, the most intense of all presences…” (Thought 12 of “The Power of Silence”)
Mother Teresa often spoke of the necessity of knowing silence. From her book “Jesus, The Word To Be Spoken”, she writes:
“Jesus taught us how to pray, and he also told us to learn from him to be meek and humble of heart. Neither of these can we do unless we know what is silence. Both humility and prayer grow from an ear, mind, and tongue that have lived in silence with God, for in the silence of the heart God speaks.”
Indeed Mother Teresa speaks time and time again about the necessity of silence in one’s heart and mind if we are to achieve real substantial prayer. If we truly with to join ourselves with God in prayer, we must learn and respect silence. In Lavonne Neff’s book “A Life for God”, Mother Teresa is quoted as saying:
“It is difficult to pray if you don’t know how to pray, but we must help ourselves to pray. The first means to use is silence. We cannot put ourselves directly in the presence of God if we do not practice internal and external silence…..”
“To make possible true interior silence, we shall practice:
Silence of the eyes, by seeking always the beauty and goodness of God everywhere, closing them to the faults of others and to all that is sinful and disturbing to the soul;
Silence of the ears, by listening always to the voice of God and to the cry of the poor and the needy, closing them to all other voices that come from the evil one or from fallen human nature: e.g., gossip, tale-bearing, and uncharitable words;
Silence of the tongue, by praising God and speaking the life-giving Word of God that is the Truth that enlightens and inspires, brings peace, hope, and joy, and by refraining from self-defense and every word that causes darkness, turmoil, pain, and death;
Silence of the mind, by opening it to the truth and knowledge of God in prayer and contemplation, like Mary who pondered the marvels of the Lord in her heart, and by closing it to all untruths, distractions, destructive thoughts, rash judgment, false suspicions of others, revengeful thoughts, and desires;
Silence of the heart, by loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and one another as God loves, desiring God alone and avoiding all selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy, and greed.”
“To foster and maintain a prayerful atmosphere of exterior silence we shall:
respect certain times and places of more strict silence;
move about and work prayerfully, quietly, and gently;
avoid at all costs all unnecessary speaking and notice;
speak, when we have to, softly, gently, saying just what is necessary;
look forward to profound silence as a holy and precious time, a withdrawal into the living silence of God.”
If all the above seems a bit distant and strange to you, do not worry. Spiritual growth, like nearly all other growth, is often a very gradual process. The key point to remember is that you only need to ask God for help. Simply ask the Lord each day in a sincere, humble, and confident fashion for the grace to grow in prayer. Ask him to help you “make time for silence”. Remember, God loves to give good things to his children. We need only ask. He will show us the way.
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(This article was first posted on October 25, 2017)