Why Silence is Golden

I‘m reading a book by Cardinal Robert Sarah called “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise”Cardinal Sarah talks about the importance of the interior life of prayer and meditation,  and encountering God in the silence within ourselves. It’s a very good read!

The Power of Silence, by Cardinal SarahAs I’m writing this, in fact, I very actively call to mind how important his book is in our day and age, as my concentration is being broken again and again by a text message, an email, another email, and a phone call from someone whose text I didn’t respond to.  The dictatorship of noise, big time!

That’s kind of the point of why I’m writing this.  The world is really noisy, and I agree with the Cardinal when he says that this noise takes us away from God; even makes us run from Him.  Because God is not only silent, he is silence.  To encounter the silence that is God Himself, we must ourselves be silent. We have to create a void for God to fill in that moment. And that is when we encounter Him most intimately.

That’s been true in my experience.  Silence is a difficult discipline to master, especially in this modern age, but in my personal history of spirituality and prayer, the times I have encountered God most profoundly have been those moments when I’ve been able to establish some relative silence.  That means silence within myself, not just silence in my surroundings.

There’s a long history of this dimension of Catholic spirituality. The saints who had some of the most mystical experiences, heavenly insights, divine wisdom, and most personal and astonishing encounters with God have been the saints who made silence central to their lives.  They may not have been silent all day long, like St. Anthony of the Desert and other desert fathers were. But they made silence central to their lives. Their silence, their quiet places, their quiet moments did not proceed from their activity, rather, their activities proceeded from their silence. Being quiet, and being still was their soil and roots. Their activity was the fruit that came out of the tree that sprung from those roots and that soil.

We see this in the Gospel, when Jesus went to the home of Mary Magdalene and her sister Martha.  Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his word. Martha, though, was a busy body. As scripture has it:

40 But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me.

41 And the Lord answering, said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things:

42 But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary
Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary, by Erasmus Quellinus II

This narrative can easily be troubling for anybody who sees themselves in Martha—always doing, and doing, and doing something while others are lazing around at ease.  Martha was doing what needed to be done, and yet Jesus seems to rebuke her for it.  But Jesus wasn’t rebuking Martha for being a good hostess.  That wasn’t the point. He was correcting her for being too busy and for not seeing the value of what Mary was doing—sitting still and silently at Jesus’ feet, listening to him, and just being with him.

We all have things to do. But remember to set time aside for God, and for silence. Even Jesus took a break from his work, sometimes in the middle of the thick of it, in order to go off to be alone to pray to His Father.  Here’s a hot tip for you: Set aside time to pray, but set aside a good five minutes of preparation before you actually pray. Turn off the TV, turn off the music, go into your room or office or wherever it is that you’re praying, and start slowing yourself down. Turn off the cell phone. Get comfortable. Quiet your mind. Set aside five minutes of interior and exterior preparation before you pray, and you’ll find your prayer time to be a lot more fruitful.  Make this a mandatory part of your prayer life, and it will radically change your prayer life.

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