Seek Silence Wherever You Are
Fr Sebastian Vazhakala, MC
Laudetur Sacra Familia
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the Foundress of the Missionaries of Charity Family and winner of more than 700 awards, was very fond of speaking about the need and importance of silence in our day-to-day life. In her visiting card she wrote about the fruit of silence, which according to her is prayer. In this article I would like to make some reflections on this all important theme of silence.
When we hear the word silence what may come to mind is the opposite of noise. But this is only one aspect of silence. We have five senses and silence demands that we be master of them all in order to have a well ordered spiritual life. In fact all the great teachers and masters of spiritual life insist upon this sort of silence. The teaching of the value of silence can be found at all times, and more so in our own time. Citing a few examples here can help us to understand not only its value but also its necessity in our spiritual life.
On Sunday, 5 January 1964, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI of happy memory, visited Nazareth where he spoke of the need for profound and positive silence: "I cannot leave without recalling, briefly and in passing, some thoughts I take with me from Nazareth. First, we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset as we are by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims, so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God's inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers".
In the various descriptive definitions of contemplative prayer, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "Contemplative prayer is silence, the symbol of the world to come or 'silent love'. Words in this kind of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love. In this silence, unbearable to the 'outer' man, the Father speaks to us the incarnate Word, who suffered, died and rose; in this silence the Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus" (CCC 2717).
The Catechism calls for respectful silence in the presence of the "ever greater" God. "Adoration is the homage of the spirit to the King of glory, respectful silence in the presence of the 'ever greater' God." Adoration of the thrice-holy and sovereign God of love blends with humility and gives assurance to our supplications" (CCC 2628). The Incarnation of the Eternal Word took place "while all was in quiet Silence". The Book of Wisdom says: "When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run the half of her swift course, down from heavens, from the royal throne, leapt your all powerful Word..." (18:14-15).
Practically all important events in the life of Jesus take place in deep silence and solitude. Jesus spent about 30 years of silent life in Nazareth, unknown to all, except that, to others he was a carpenter (cf. Mk 6:1-6). Jesus needed long years of profound silence and solitude to prepare himself for the three years of public ministry. Even during those three years he sought the solitude of the deserts and of the mountains; how many times the evangelists speak of Jesus going up to the mountain all by himself to pray. No silence, no prayer. That is why Bl. Teresa MC says: "The fruit of silence is prayer".
St Mark writes: "Very early next morning, long before daylight, Jesus got up and went to a lonely place where he was absorbed in prayer" (35). Before choosing his twelve men Jesus spent the whole night in prayer on the mountain (cf. ibid. 3:13 ff.). "Jesus went up to the mountain to pray", says the evangelist Luke, "and he spent the whole night in prayer
to God" (6:12). Silence and prayer go together. They are inseparable. They are the two sides of the same coin.
Vita Consecrata writes: "The call to holiness is accepted and can be cultivated only in the silence of adoration..." (38). "There is a time for silence, and there is a time for speech" (Qo 3:7). "Souls of prayer are souls of great silence" (Bl. Teresa MC). Silence is necessary not only to discern the will of God, but to accomplish it as perfectly as possible. Silence has to be deliberate and the fruit of contemplation.
Without the observance of silence, it is impossible to practice true charity. Here we can see the incredibly edifying example of the heroic silence of St Joseph, which was possible for him only because he possessed the all important virtue of charity (cf. Bl. John Paul). Just a word from the mouth of St Joseph was enough for our Lady to be stoned to death. The silence of St Joseph saved not only Mary of Nazareth but Jesus, the Son of God and the Saviour of the world as well, who was the fruit of her virginal womb. Silence then can save or destroy. Our Lady was a woman wrapped in silence. "She kept all these things in her heart and pondered deeply about them" (cf. Lk 2:19, 51).
There is, however, also a negative silence, which has contrary and negative effects. I do not talk to such and such a person because I do not like the person. Blessed Teresa does not speak of that kind of negative silence here.
Silence at times can be culpable. I can be an accomplice in the sin of a person by not telling him or her something on time or speaking to the right person. Without proper positive and creative silence the world has achieved nothing. Silence can save a person from great fall or save somebody else's good reputation, even the very life, like the saving silence of St Joseph.
Finally, it can be said, based on our MC and LMC prayer book, that silence is meekness, silence is mercy, silence is patience, silence is humility, silence is faith, silence is adoration (pp. 128-129): "But Jesus was silent" (Mt 26:63).
Our spiritual life demands true knowledge of how to silence our senses. In other words, to discipline and order our senses by bringing them under the control of our reason.
We need profound and positive silence to accomplish God's will without mitigation and confusion, like St Joseph. "In silence and quiet the devout soul goes forward and learns the hidden things of God, his words and deeds in the Scriptures", says the Imitation of Christ (Book I, ch. 20). Silence is a necessary condition for prayer and for unbroken union with God. Blessed Teresa says that prayer is the fruit of silence.
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1 November 2013, page 13
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