August 5, 2011

Silence is Golden

Today I had to walk out of church after Mass lest I be led into sin.  No, it was not something that was said in the homily, or the fact that the priest ad libbed parts of the prayers, or that he chose not to celebrate the memorial of the Dedication of St. Maria Maggiore, one of my most favorite churches in all the world.  What caused me to leave was the behavior of the assembly after Mass.  I am not a stickler for absolute silence in church, however there is a certain etiquette that should be followed regarding being quiet in church, whispering if one must speak so that those who choose to pray are able to.  

Over the past week, the notion of silence has manifested itself to me in different readings and in my personal meditations. I had planned on writing about silence since God certainly was speaking to me about the need for it, yet I was procrastinating. After this morning Mass, I guess God was telling me that I should not put it off any longer. In the book Rediscovering Catholicism, Matt Kelly writes about how important silence is to prayer and how our lives are filled with so much noise that it is almost impossible to hear the voice of God.  He writes, "Our modern world is spinning out of control, and one of the chief contributors to the chaos and confusion of our modern age is noise. We are filled with noise. We are afraid of silence."  In this coming Sunday's first reading, God is found not in the loud thundering sounds of storms, wind and earthquakes, but in the "tiny whispering sound." 

In one of my readings from the Holy Rule this week, Benedict writes with regard to silence in the oratory, "After the Opus Dei, all should leave in complete silence and with reverence for God, so that anyone who may wish to pray alone will not be disturbed by the insensitivity of another."  Pretty strong words.

The benefits of silence are many.  It allows the mind to quiet itself and bring to the forefront things that are really important by taking away the distractions that come with noise.  It allows us to focus our prayer. Most of all, it allows us to hear the still, small voice of our Lord.  

Ridding ourselves of noise is not easy, especially when you live with others who do not share the same views on silence. I guess Jesus faced some of the same issues (although He didn't have to deal with modern electronic noise making devices), because he always went off alone to pray.  We don't always have that luxury, but there are ways to achieve times of silence.  For years I have not played the radio in the car.  Although I once loved listening to music all the time, I find that not listening, even at home, is a good thing, and also lets me appreciate music better when I do choose to listen.  Once a TV addict, I now only watch a little of it, and avoid the news and gossip stations.  My cell phone is usually on silent or vibrate, although I do get chastised for missing calls, most that really weren't that important anyway (what did we do without cell phones - especially in church).  I believe that noise is a huge obstacle to prayer. If we want to pray well, we need to turn off the noise in our lives, or at least a portion of it.  

This brings me back to this morning's incident at church. Several different groups of people were making a lot of unnecessary noise and it got louder and louder as each group tried to be heard over the other.  One group was actually shouting the Rosary, as if our Lady was hard of hearing.  The ladies setting up for a funeral were yelling across the church to each other. A large family group was loudly conversing. There were people in the church trying to pray.  I had the need to pray.  Finally the distraction got so unbearable that my thoughts were wandering far from God, so I left to continue my prayer at home.  I would have preferred to be in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but God is everywhere.  I could have offered up the annoyance, but it was so noisy that this thought didn't even come to my mind until I was home for awhile, and it still would not have given me the silence I needed to hear God.

What all this is telling me, and I hope telling some of you, is to make time for silence in your life, and in places of peace and quiet, to be aware of others need for silence. We can't always go away to pray, although a retreat is probably the best way of achieving silence. Yet even on retreats I have found that there is unnecessary noise and chatter. Why are we afraid of silence?  Why are we afraid to hear God?  One of the things that stand out for me during my travels to Italy, were the old ladies in the churches who would call out "silencio" when people started to speak above a whisper in church.  Perhaps we need some of those old ladies in our churches, on our street corners, in our homes and workplaces.  Maybe we need to be less afraid of silence and realize that it is in the silence that we meet God.

Post script:  Just in case I gave the impression that I lack patience, I did try to pray through this for 15 minutes before I left the church.

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