Silence is not noiselessness but the condition for receiving what God wishes to give us
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.” — Luke 2:19
The season of Advent is a special time of preparation to reflect upon the mysteries of our faith so that they may truly become the treasures of our heart. Like the beautiful hymn Silent Night that celebrates God’s greatest gift to us, Christ Jesus, these mysteries are best received in a heart that is quiet and still.
The greatest mysteries of life unfold in silence — in the beauty of each day’s sunrise and sunset; in the embrace of a husband and wife in their intimate love for each other; in the wonder of a mother and father beholding their newborn infant; or in the solemn presence of a family gathered around the bedside of a dying parent. Before such moments as these, silence is what opens the heart to the mystery.
But greater still than all these mysteries of life is the mystery we encounter upon entering a Catholic church where Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament and upon the altar in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Shouldn’t this mystery of God’s presence be met with an even greater reverential silence than the earthly mysteries that give our hearts pause?
Sadly, our churches and even our sacristies are becoming increasingly filled with the noise and distractions that people fail to leave behind them when they enter through the church doors. Our churches and sacristies are not the parish hall but sacred space. For this reason Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, laments that “Catholics no longer know that silence is sacred,” that silence is the very dwelling of God in our hearts.
Silence is not noiselessness but the condition for receiving what God wishes to give us — His very self, His grace. But ours is an age that does not foster recollection, and so saturated are people with the constant noise of our modern technological age that many become visibly uncomfortable with the experience of silence, particularly in our churches.
Where noise is present, mystery disappears. Noise closes our heart. And this loss of the sense of mystery is a most terrible poverty of soul, for without the mystery of God we are left with only the dullness and staleness of the earthly and material. These can never satisfy what the inner sanctuary of the human heart truly aches and thirsts for — the encounter with the mystery of God.
Because of this, Cardinal Sarah is warning the faithful of the dire effects noise has upon our spiritual health and our worship. In his book, The Power of Silence – Against the Dictatorship of Noise, he reflects upon sacred silence as the “indispensable doorway to the divine.” If time is not given daily to allow for silence and prayer, he warns, noise can easily lead to a “desecration of the soul.”
Cardinal Sarah’s book challenges all of us, particularly the clergy, to recover the meaning of sacred silence and its place within the Mass, saying, “Let us not be afraid of liturgical silence!” This is a subject I spoke about with all our priests during our fall retreat.
Cardinal Sarah also speaks about the noise in our churches, not only before and after Mass, but also during Mass itself. Electronic amplification has made it easier for us to hear in one sense. But unfortunately, it can also easily overwhelm our heart’s ability to be receptive and to pray. As even a little too much salt can spoil a wonderful recipe instead of making it better, amplification can easily kill the prayer of our heart instead of lifting it up.
Each of us needs to make efforts to quiet our heart and embrace silence in our lives. In this season of holy expectation, I invite you then to make silence and prayer a part of each day so as to better “prepare the way of the Lord” in your hearts.
Set aside quiet time each day with your phone, television, and music muted, and sit with the Scriptures or daily Mass readings and invite the Holy Spirit into your heart as you read and ponder. Silence may prove difficult at first, for the echo of the noises of our heart take time to fade.
But these times of sacred silence alone with God will bring about great blessings and will open the door to even greater graces in your life.
On behalf of Cardinal Rigali, I pray your Advent season is most blessed and that you have a wonderful Christmas!