The Power of Silence
I am writing this bulletin article while sitting on a train traveling somewhere in the hills of Virginia on January 25. It is a remarkable thing to cruise through the forests at 75mph. After spending three days with family in Georgia and looking forward to another three days with family in the northeast, it is a blessing to have a very quiet day. There aren’t many people on the train and I have a small cabin to myself. It has been an excellent time to read, pray, and watch the scenery roll by.
In all of our lives, there is a battle for silence. We are uncomfortable with idle time and we quickly check our phones, turn on the television, or make small talk. Our lives are full of busyness, to-do lists, and constant engagements. We have more tools at our disposal to accomplish our tasks and become productive. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make more time for silence; it simply increases the demands. Our world is noisy.
In the heart of Advent, someone asked me, “What are our parishes going to do for Lent? Is there going to be a shared goal or theme?” I honestly didn’t consider it when they asked me. I tried to say as charitably as possible, “I’m not sure, nothing comes to mind.” In my head, however, I thought, “I’m just trying to get through Advent and Christmas. I don’t have any mental bandwidth to think about Lent in December.”
Despite my lack of energy for Lenten plans, it seemed that God had plenty of time to plan for Lent in our parishes. I wasn’t asking the Lord about what we should do or any initiatives to take, but it seemed clear that we need to focus on silence this Lent. During Lent we oftentimes want to grow in our prayer life, and silence is the context of prayer. An atmosphere of silence makes prayer possible. I recalled a profound book that I read a few years ago by Cardinal Robert Sarah entitled, “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.” There is incredible power in silence, and our parish goal this Lent is to recover the power of silence.
In his book Cardinal Sarah states, “Silence is difficult, but it makes man able to allow himself to be led by God. Silence is born of silence. Through God the silent one, we can gain access to silence. And man is unceasingly surprised by the light that bursts forth then. Silence is more important than any other human work. For it expresses God. The true revolution comes from silence; it leads us toward God and others so as to place ourselves humbly and generously at their service” (page 17).
In our Gospel this Sunday, we learn that Jesus entered into silent prayer with His Heavenly Father, “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Jesus worked incredible miracles, taught the New Law, and offered Himself as a sacrificial victim for our sins. Yet all of His activity flows from His silent prayer. The most important aspects of Jesus’ ministry are borne of silent prayer.
This Lent, we are encouraging everyone to intentionally enter into silence. Our world is noisy, God meets us in the whisper. Even some of the best Catholic formation can be a distraction from silence. There are great Catholic podcasts, books by Scott Hahn, and videos from the Augustine Institute and Ascension Press, yet if we don’t enter into silence we’ll miss our Loving Father. All of these formation resources are incredibly powerful, yet they too can become a distraction from God. We must enter into silence to grow in our relationship with God.
Next week in my bulletin article and Couch Chat, I’ll explain three initiatives to help us grow in silent prayer. They are aimed at helping us grow in silence personally, at Mass, and in our groups.
Finally, let us pray for one another, that we may grow in love for God this Lent; that Lent will be transformative, and we may meet Our Lord in the silence.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Sean Wilson