Trust Him when dark doubts assail you, Trust Him w... Read more
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[T]he LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD — but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake — but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire — but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave — 1 Kgs 19:11-13.
Sometimes the hardest thing to hear is silence.
Just as, for a writer, a blank page is often the most energy-draining, hope-sapping, skull-crushing thing in the world, so too, for many of us today, silence is a very difficult thing to endure.
We quickly turn on the TV, the radio, YouTube, something, anything, in order not to be alone, not to be in silence. We seek all sorts of connections, both real and artificial, so as not to hear the silence, not to listen in the quiet of the night, not to wait for the still, small voice.
Why? What's so terrible about silence?
Perhaps because there's a lot to avoid in the modern day. There are many, many terrible tragedies going on all over the world. Perhaps for those who have lived, are living, or will soon be facing them, a distraction seems like it could help.
Perhaps some people can't bear to remember, to think back on what they've done and on what they've failed to do, fearing to confront sins of omission and commission alike.
Perhaps many people don't like their own interior life that emerges into view whenever they are alone and still.
Perhaps many people are subject to restless appetites and habits that make a clamor whenever they are still and silent, whenever they try to rest and be at peace. C. S. Lewis once said, describing the process of his conversion to Christianity in Surprised by Joy:
For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.
Perhaps silence is the mirror of the soul, and for we the fallen, we the sinful, we the exiles still walking in this valley of tears, that mirror reveals far more than we can bear to see without the help of grace.
And yet there is silence in a desert. Christ's forty days of fasting and prayer would have been very still, broken only by whatever vocal prayers He offered; the wind over the sand and rocks; the occasional sound of the life that abides even in the desert.
His example of silence has been imitated down through the centuries by saints and ordinary faithful folk alike. Saint Faustina wrote very strongly about the need for silence, especially for consecrated religious:
[I]n order to hear the voice of God, one has to have silence in one's soul and to keep silence; not a gloomy silence, but an interior silence; that is to say, recollection in God. ... God does not give Himself to a chattering soul which, like a drone in a beehive, buzzes around but gathers no honey. A talkative soul is empty inside. It lacks both the essential virtues and intimacy with God. A deeper interior life, one of gentle peace and of that silence where the Lord dwells, is quite out of the question. A soul that has never tasted the sweetness of inner silence is a restless spirit which disturbs the silence of others (Diary, 118)
So there should be silence in Lent. There should be silence throughout our year, in fact — not all silence all the time, but certainly times of silence, of stillness, of drawing apart from the noise of the present age and into the stillness where we can hear God, that small voice. We are to make a regular examination of conscience, and then bear the fruits of that silence, that clear understanding of ourselves, to the confessional to lay our sins before the priest who stands in persona Christi capitis, in the person of Christ the Head. There, we shall be absolved, our sins washed away and grace given so that we may go and sin no more.
The fruits of silence can be a clean mind and heart, can be an ever deeper, ever richer life of prayer, can be a great many wonderful things — but we are so used to noise and distraction! Silence will be a cross to bear, at first, making us die to self before we can abide the silence of the tomb and the light of the resurrection.
But we must, at least, try.
Listen! The Lord is speaking to you. He speaks in Scripture and Sacrament, in your needy neighbor and in history, through the Church and His prophets. Jesus speaks — the Word made flesh speaks in words of flesh, in human beings and everyday life, in moments small and great. Can you hear Him? Listen; be still; be silent.
And then the deaf shall hear, so that the blind may see and captives be set free.
Lent Spirituality Series