Popes & Saints: Advocates for Spiritual Stillness in a Chaotic World

In a world where movement, noise, endless “to do” lists, deadlines, and long work hours are the norm– is it any wonder we sometimes find ourselves depleted, overwhelmed and just plain worn-down by daily demands and the flurry around us?  Beyond this, we live in times where busyness has reached epidemic proportions and tends to leave us feeling guilty when we aren’t keeping busy enough!  Amid the chaos, God calls us to be counter-cultural and go against the grain of our fast-paced world.  More directly, he calls us to be still. Why?  Because it is only through stillness we are brought closer to him.  In fact, Psalm 46:10 explicitly says this – “Be still and know that I am God.”

There is no better time than during Lent to begin the practice of spiritual stillness.  Since nothing is more important than our relationship with God, it is necessary to develop the discipline of interior stillness in to order draw nearer to him.  Stillness isn’t about laziness or shirking our responsibilities. It is about taking time each day to be still before God in order to receive his grace so we can better fulfill our duties according to his holy will.

shutterstock_91778141 2While he lived a highly active life, Blessed John Paul II often emphasized the importance of taking time to be still.  In his 1995 Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen, he wrote, “We must confess that we all have need of silence (stillness), filled with the presence of him who is adored.  This is what man needs today; he is often unable to be silent for fear of meeting himself, of feeling the emptiness that asks itself about meaning; man who deafens himself with noise.”

Likewise, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI also advocated for stillness, “We live in a society in which every space, every moment must be ‘filled’ with initiatives, activities, and sounds. Often there is not ever time to listen or to converse.  Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us not be afraid to create silence inside and outside ourselves if we wish to be capable not only of hearing the voice of God, but also the voice of those near us, the voice of our fellow man.”  Similarly, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, “We need to find God and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness.  We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

If you are like me, training yourself to be still is a supreme challenge! Yet, it is possible! Turn off the TV, phone, internet, and radio and create a quiet atmosphere. Then quiet the noise of your own mind.  Make yourself comfortable and focus your thoughts on God, asking him to rid you of all that which blocks your relationship with him.  Then, simply be still and silent in his presence. Try starting with 10 minutes a day, ideally in the morning or evening, and then increase the time as you can.  If your mind becomes distracted follow the spiritual advice of St. Francis de Sales – “If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your time would be very well employed.”

Spiritual stillness can also be practiced throughout your day – over a quiet lunch break, during your morning commute, in front of the Blessed Sacrament and even amid chaos!  For as Saint Catherine of Siena said, “there is a ‘secret cell’ within us, where at any moment, whatever one may be engaged in, God’s presence can be found.”

The benefits of spiritual stillness are many for it helps us to see ourselves more clearly.  It rejuvenates our hearts, minds and souls – fostering holiness, prayer and mental clarity.  Stillness helps us to remain faithful to God’s will and opens the way for spiritual growth within us.  It creates order amid chaos and provides us an opportunity to praise him for his goodness.  Stillness is restorative, redemptive and redirecting.  Far from being oppressive or a waste of time, it instead frees us to be attentive to God who yearns to speak to us in the silence of our souls.

This Lent, why not begin to learn what Popes and Saints have long practiced.  Entrust yourself to God in stillness.  During these 40 days, let’s join Christ in the stillness of the desert and there ask the King of Kings who “makes all things new” (Rev 21:5) to restore and renew us.  For as Saint Augustine once wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”


Image by Shutterstock.com

Judy Keane


Judy Keane is a Catholic writer and a communications/marketing executive who resides in Washington, D.C. She holds an MBA in International Business and is the author of Single and Catholic, published by Sophia Institute Press.

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  • Elizabeth

    This is a beautiful article, and a good reminder for me. Thank you Judy Keane. I feel that I need to comment on the photo, though, that was chosen to accompany the article. While the woman depicted is in a posture prayer, her clothing is a little lacking. My computer screen only showed the picture first and I had to scroll down to see the title of the article. Based on the photo, I was assuming the article was going to be about the need to dress modestly in a church, since this is an all-too-familiar scene of cleavage and bare shoulders in churches. Since it is still pretty early in the morning, would it be possible to change the photo that will grace our family’s homepage for the rest of the day?

  • dove4near

    I totally agree that while the article was excellent, the photo is most inappropriate. Too many girls and women today dress most inappropriately in church. Not only is it disrespectful, it can be very distracting. Please do not give the impression that this doesn’t matter on your excellent Catholic Exchange site.

  • marisa

    Unfortunately the provocative picture detracts from the message of the article.

  • catholicexchange

    Hello everyone,

    As you can see, the image for Judy Keane’s article has been changed. We felt that the original image put Judy in an awkward position, and so I want to be very clear that she had nothing to do with the choice of the image.

    On behalf of all those who were not offended by the image, I would like to offer a brief but humble defense of the image, though I do not expect all to agree. I liked the image (I didn’t choose it– a female staff member did). I do not agree with the commenters that it was immodest; on the contrary, I saw a normal, pretty girl dressed in a light, pretty outfit, who had found the time one busy day to slip into a church for a bit of “spiritual stillness”. The description of “cleavage” was very strained (I saw a touch of shadow and a medium neckline), and I see nothing wrong with bare shoulders–not during Mass, preferably, but, again, the suggestion of the photo (I think) is that this person is stepping out of an ordinary day for some quick, perhaps unscheduled prayer time, not for Mass.

    I would also like to emphasize, as I have before here, that Catholic Exchange is not necessarily a “family-friendly” site, in the same way that, for instance, a G-rated Disney film is “family-friendly”. We refuse to allow gratuitous images of sex or violence, but on a weekly basis we offer content that is often about disturbing things and we choose images that highlight the topic. We choose images (and articles) that are for adults and young adults, not for young teens and children, and it is the responsibility of the readers whose families include members of those age levels to regulate what they view on the internet.

    God bless,

  • DaveOKC

    This is great writing by Judy Keane. It intelligently focuses on the root problem of media distraction, explains its effect on our souls, and offers concrete steps to combat it.

  • Peter Nyikos

    The replacement image is wonderful. The young woman’s expression could be interpreted as troubled, or just intently focused. I can hardly think of a better picture for depicting saintliness — there is plenty in the world to be troubled about, and prayer [in the broad sense of lifting our minds and hearts to God] is the best way to calm ourselves about it.

  • rosebud

    Thanks Judy, Have you ever heard the expression; “If evil can’t make you sin, it’ll make you busy.” I use acronymns & picture images to create a succinct, readily available way to keep me spiritually on track; This article reminds me of S.P.F. – L.S.P. and the image of someone getting “Spiffed(S.P.F.) up” in nice clothes and then speaking with a lisp(L.S.P.) It reminds me of the “Recipe”; S ilence leads to – P rayer leads to – F aith leads to – L ove leads to – S ervice leads to – P eace