In the Broadway musical My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle in frustration sings: “words, words, words. I’m so sick of words. I get words all day through. If you’re in love show me.” This entertaining plea of course is not a theological proposition, but if we love the Lord we too should show Him not just in routine words but in practical ways. One way to accomplish that is to spend quiet time with him, time in silence.
There are two aspects to silence, quietly going to God in prayer and prudentially speaking with others. The first informs the second.
Saint Mother Teresa speaks of going to God in silent prayer, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls. . . The essential thing is not what we say, but what God says to us and through us. Jesus is waiting to listen to us in silence. In this silence he listens to us and speaks to our souls. And there we will hear his voice.” (In the Heart of the World)
Robert Cardinal Sarah recently published a thought provoking book entitled: ‘The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise’ that speaks to what we say and how we treat others with our words.
He notes, “The virtue of silence does not mean that we must never speak. It invites us to remain mute where there are not good reasons to speak up. . . . Saint Arsenius acknowledges that he often regretted having spoken but never regretted having kept silence. Saint Ephrem says, ‘Speak much to God but little with men.”
This invites avoiding violations of the Eighth Commandment: you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. We break this commandment with gossip, lying, slander, defamation and calumny which diminishes or destroys the good reputation and honor to which every person has a right. (Compendium 523) These are common in our culture and sadly even in the Church.
Silence is hard to come by. There is constantly ‘breaking news’ and musical intrusions just about everywhere, not all of quality at least to my old ears.
Even at Holy Mass we have a tendency to fill every void with sound. Sacred music and the spoken word are powerful vehicles of prayer that can lift us to the transcendent. Sometimes though it is simply resting in our thoughts and yearnings that provide the greatest and enduring lift beyond ourselves and the moment.
Pope Francis has been using his weekly audiences to teach on the Mass. A few weeks ago he encouraged priests to not be in a hurry and neglect a moment of silence at the collect or opening prayer.
He said, “Perhaps we (those attending Mass) come from days of challenges, joy, pain, and we wish to say this to the Lord, invoke his help, ask that he be close to us; we have family and friends who are going through a hard time; we wish to trust the fate of the Church and the world to God.”
This he suggested is encouraged by the moment of silence after which the priest invokes the name of God, praises what he has done for the world, and then pleas for his intervention, “with his arms wide, imitating Christ on the Cross.”
The Holy Father also suggested that there be a moment of silence after receiving Holy Communion to reflect on the incredible gift of Christ himself to us. I notice that the Pope includes that moment of silence when he prays Mass.
One of the beautiful rediscoveries in our faith is that of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. I have been struck over the years by how impactful adoration has been to so many youth, who live in the world of constant noise with ear phones pumping out sounds all day long.
The story is told of a father who misplaced his watch. His entire family was frantic looking for it but to no avail. Finally he shouted for everyone to stop and be silent. In that silence they heard the ticking of the watch and it was recovered.
Sometimes we just need to stop and listen to discover the presence of God in our lives and restore a sense of hope and perspective in our busy world.
As we enter the season of Lent, a time of prayer and penance, when the Gloria is not sung and simplicity is encouraged, perhaps we might make an intentional effort to include moments of silence. Perhaps we might give up for Lent some of the noise of our days and replace it with quiet time with Jesus. He regularly went off by himself to pray to the Father in silence. That teaching is a worthy one for us to adopt. As Saint Mother Teresa reminded us: God is the friend of silence; there we will hear his voice.
May this Lent be a time of spiritual renewal for you as we prepare for the glory of the Resurrection and Easter joy which came with the silence of the empty tomb.