Aleteia

Pope Francis and Cardinal Sarah invite us to silence. Does that scare you?

Johann Heinrich/Public Domain
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The other day I wrote about my introvert’s tendency to dread entertaining until it happens. I’m happy once my guests have arrived, but there always comes a point, especially if I’m having my family over, where the television is turned on, even though no one is watching it. People seem to need the noise and so I have begun to make sure I have music on in the background — Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, usually — before anyone arrives.

But it always puzzles me. When we’re all gathered and talking, why do people need that wallpaper of noise in the background?

We are so inundated with noise, everywhere — televisions blare at us, even as we shop or take a break for lunch. The constant intrusion of smartphone apps pinging away, the noise of social media — we’ve become so used to, and dependent upon, the external cacophony that I wonder if we are trying to drown out our internal noise, as well.

But we lose something in all of that: the power that comes from making connections — connections of thoughts to feelings, of feelings to something greater — that can only come once silence has been sought, and not just sought but embraced.

In his homily yesterday while celebrating Mass at the Domus Santa Marta, Pope Francis made an invitation for Christians to bring silence into their day:

“I invite you to take, today, five minutes, ten minutes, sitting, no radio, no TV; sit and think about your own story: the blessings and troubles, everything. The graces and sins altogether. I am sure that amidst the things that may be bad – because we all have them, many bad things in life – if today we do this, we will discover the beauty of God’s love, the beauty of His mercy, the beauty of hope. And I’m sure we all will be filled with joy.”

These are such important and welcome words! But where may we find some silence? Even Mass is often nonstop verbal and musical noise, without a pause for simple silence.

An African priest sometimes visits our parish and after Communion has finished, and the vessels are put aside, and the Communion song has ended, he sits in silent prayer for a bit, and the congregation is silent too.

It does’t last long. People become restless (I suspect because we are so unused to it, and silence within a community can be very intimate) and when they do the priest begins to sing, unaccompanied, in a rich baritone voice, the Holy name of Christ.

“Jesu, Jesu,” he sings, to the tune of Amazing Grace, “Jesu, Jesu…” and the congregation joins in, and then something happens. A connection is made. As the final “Jesu…” fades, we are wrapped up in a silence much deeper than before, and Father Visitor lets us sit within it for a minute or two.

And it is stunning, powerful, refreshing; intimate, yes, but also comfortable. People love it. In that brief silence, there is no fussing or shifting about. We’ve found the gemlike bit of respite that comes with the quiet.

Cardinal Robert Sarah also talked this week about the “dictatorship of noise” while promoting his book, The Power of Silence.

“God’s first language is silence.” In commenting on this beautiful, rich insight of Saint John of the Cross, Thomas Keating, in his work Invitation to Love, writes: “Everything else is a poor translation. In order to understand this language, we must learn to be silent and to rest in God.”

“Silence is not an idea. It is the path that enables human beings to go to God. … Carried away toward the exterior by his need to say everything, the garrulous man cannot help being far from God, incapable of any profound spiritual activity. In contrast, the silent man is a free man. The world’s chains have no hold on him.

No dictatorship can do anything against a silent man. You cannot steal a man’s silence from him.”

He’s right, as is Pope Francis.

Holy Week brings us a special invitation to silence — to turn off the noise all around us, and to resist the monkey chatter that then shows up, interiorly; to simply turn the noise aside.

This weekend and through to Easter, try silence. Find a crucifix, or an icon, or a pastoral scene, or sit before the Tabernacle, and make an effort to become acquainted with silence. Turn off the television while you cook, and your phone notifications which will distract, and let yourself be quiet. Ask your Guardian Angel to help you be silent with God.

Your angel will do it. And you will be glad.

Elizabeth Scalia is Editor-at-Large at Aleteia and the award-winning author of Strange Gods, Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life and Little Sins Mean a Lot: Kicking Our Bad Habits Before They Kick You. ​
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