The world is a filled with a discord of resounding gongs that fight for our attention.
This is a tale as old as time, of course. In the Garden of Eden, the work of caring for nature required tasks to be done in right order; name the animals, cultivate the earth, be fruitful and multiply.
But all of that was interrupted by the distraction of the serpent. What was once right order was toppled, and the result was the damnation of humanity as a whole due to original sin.
As time pressed on, the right order was restored by God through Abraham and Moses and the prophets. And with each law created, another man or woman was born who would break it. Distraction abounded, but not without order to deviate from.
Time pressed on yet again, as did the ways by which we deviated from a life ordered toward God. Survival gave way to cultures which gave way to politics which gave way to educational progress which gave way to technological advancement which gave way to several broken strands in humanity’s psyche. We were no longer one, but divided.
Even the distractions have their distractions– we’re in a constant loop of seeking shiny things, personal pleasures, a cure to boredom, and a reluctance to sit still.
Because when we sit still, we are forced to become silent.
And silence is a dangerous thing.
In silence, you need to be retrospective.
In silence, you ponder the depths of your being, your place in the world, and ultimately, you’re confronted with the idea that maybe, just maybe, you’re not the center of the universe.
And then, you find out Who is.
And you fight Him.
You fight Him when you bend your mind toward things– money, possessions, debts you owe, side hustles, etc.
You fight Him when you allow the gifts He’s given you to have a higher priority than they should – work, hobbies, movies, screens, music, books.
You fight Him when your mind is more focused on your body than your heart – food, drink, pleasure.
You fight Him when you care more for the ones he sent you to love than you do for Him – spouse, children, parents, relatives, friends, colleagues.
You fight Him when you do all the talking and refuse to listen.
You fight Him when you allow your emotions to overtake your reason.
You fight Him to protect the sin you are unwilling to stop committing.
You fight Him because…
you forget that if you “seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, [that] all these things will be given you besides” (Mat. 6:33).
Stop fighting God by allowing the distractions of the world to divide you.
Instead, fight for silence.
Because “Silence [is] the salt that season[s] this story. Silence [has] the last word. Silence [is] the elevator to heaven.”
The aforementioned quote comes from Robert Cardinal Sarah’s book, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. In my opinion, this book should be required reading for every Catholic who takes their faith seriously. It should be a foundational document in every confirmation class, every seminary, every Pre-Cana, every book club, and every monastery. It’s wisdom is timeless and necessary now more than ever as it places the reader at the forefront of our spiritual warfare battles.
Here’s a brief introduction the Cardinal Sarah’s treatise on the power of silence:
What is Silence?
“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.”
In today’s world, there’s perhaps no greater challenge than being silent. Society tells us to concentrate on who we can become, and not on who we are. We value production and progress over contentment and solace. Our cultures tell us to work more, to scroll more, to buy more, and to rest less, to focus less, to worry less, to be less.
Picture a fulcrum. Now picture the board with its two extremes on top of that fulcrum. On one side, there’s God. On the other, the devil. Now, if the fulcrum of silence is in the middle, there’s balance– nobody wins, not even you. Because your eternal destiny is intertwined with one of these two whether you like it or not.
Now, move the silence fulcrum toward the devil and God’s weight in your life becomes overwhelmingly stronger, heavier, more important. When we silence the devil and his temptations, we join the winning team and join the Saints.
Now, shift that fulcrum of silence back to the middle, then glide it toward God. When you silence God from your life, the devil gains power over you. The battle for your soul is lost and you join the team of demons that helped send your soul to eternal damnation.
When you practice silence, be it to silence toward your God, the devil, or yourself, there’s only one way to win this game, and only you have the power to make that shift.
Silence is the fulcrum of a holy life.
When and Where to Find Silence
“Prayer offered up at night possesses a great power, more than the prayer of the day-time. Therefore all the righteous prayed during the night, while combatting the heaviness of the body and the sweetness of sleep and repelling corporeal nature. . . There is nothing that even Satan fears so much as prayer that is offered during the vigilance at night. . . . For this reason the devil smites them with violent warfare, in order to hinder them, if possible, from this work.”
At night, behind the closed door of your room, tiredness weighs down your eyelids. A glowing screen awakens them, driving our minds to be more alert than the starry sky would allow. A hunger pain hits our stomaches, or a parched mouth makes us yearn for water. If we avoid these natural distractions, that’s when the mental ones kick in. The subversive thought that makes us believe we’re not “doing enough.” As parents, we’re not doing enough. As workers we are not doing enough. As students we’re not doing enough. As citizens, as Christians, as overworked and underpaid and tired human beings we’re not doing enough. And all of this not doing enough is a distraction to the one thing we truly aren’t doing enough of– silent prayer.
We find silence in the early hours of the morning, in the late hours of night, in our rooms with the doors closed.
How to Become Silent
“Those who love God should attempt to preserve or create an atmosphere in which He can be found. Christians should have quiet homes. Throw out television, if necessary—not everybody, but those who take this sort of thing seriously. . . .”
While technology is a valuable servant, it’s a merciless master. We enter into it freely and, more often than not, with good intentions. But developers know how to capitalize on our human weakness, our susceptibility to distraction. Limit your noise, even the silent kind that keeps you from true silence and retrospection, by any means necessary.
“Let those who can stand a little silence find other people who like silence, and create silence and peace for one another.”
Too often in the West we retreat to our own little islands of self. Because we are free, we most times feel we can do it all alone. This is not the Christian way, for we are a community just like God is a community. We are intrinsically wired to connect with one another, for better or for worse. Connection doesn’t always mean communication, though. There’s also a piece of being silent together, knowing that there is a bond of love and respect between you and others that allows for the practice of wordless love.
“Provide people with places where they can go to be quiet—relax minds and hearts in the presence of God—chapels in the country, or in town also. Reading rooms, hermitages.”
Physical space matters. We sleep in bedrooms. We play on playgrounds. We eat at tables. We rest on couches. Silence demands a physical place in which it can be practiced. As Cardinal Sarah mentions, chapels, reading rooms, and hermitages are great options, but they’re not always readily available for people with busy lives. Perhaps we can do the next best thing and find silence elsewhere– coffee shops, libraries, a room, or a corner, in your living quarters that’s dedicated to silence. Find a place where you can enter into silence freely, because “the desire to see God is what urges us to love solitude and silence. For silence is where God dwells. He drapes himself in silence.”
He Who is Silent
“Benedict XVI gravely insisted on the fact that ‘we live in a society in which it seems that every space, every moment must be ‘filled’ with projects, activities and noise; there is often no time even to listen or to converse. Dear brothers and sisters, let us not fear to create silence, within and outside ourselves, if we wish to be able not only to become aware of God’s voice but also to make out the voice of the person beside us, the voices of others.’”
The one who practices silence is the one who can create true balance in their life. In the silence of our hearts, God speaks to us, and pours His grace in the form of wisdom, temperance, fortitude, and hope. As a result, we can only react in an outpouring of this love through charity. He is the potter, we are the clay, and as he molds us into containers that can hold the weight of His love, He fills us up in contemplative silence until it overflows into our active works of mercy.
Why Practice Silence
“Joseph Rassam asserted that ‘silence is within us the wordless language of the finite being that, by its own weight, seeks and carries our movement toward the infinite Being.’”
Spiritual warfare is distraction. It’s whatever deviates us from the Divine order. It’s loud.
And silence cuts right through it.
Opening our souls to the limitless grace of God.