From the refuge of silence (4)

Another quote which greatly talked to my heart from Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book The power of silence: against the dictatorship of noise is the following: Silence is born of silence.

Temporal silence comes from eternal silence, that is God’s silence. St Teresa of Calcutta says: We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.

God, who is silence, is found in silence. St John of the Cross tells us: What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.  

Christ’s Cross shows God’s silence and who God speaks in a privileged way through silence. In his catechesis of Wednesday 7 March 2012 Pope Benedict tells us:

In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, I spoke of the role that silence plays in Jesus’ life, especially on Golgotha: “here we find ourselves before ‘the word of the cross’ (cf. 1 Cor 1:18). The word is muted; it becomes mortal silence, for it has ‘spoken’ exhaustively, holding back nothing of what it had to tell us” (n. 12). Before this silence of the Cross, St Maximus the Confessor puts this phrase on the lips of the Mother of God: “Wordless is the Word of the Father, who made every creature which speaks, lifeless are the eyes of the one at whose word and whose nod all living things move!” (Life of Mary, n. 89: Testi mariani del primo millennio, 2, Rome, 1989, p. 253). The Cross of Christ does not only demonstrate Jesus’ silence as his last word to the Father but reveals that God also speaks through silence: “the silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the Incarnate Word. Hanging from the wood of the cross, he lamented the suffering caused by that silence: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mk 15:34; Mt 27:46). Advancing in obedience to his very last breath, in the obscurity of death, Jesus called upon the Father. He commended himself to him at the moment of passage, through death, to eternal life: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (Lk 23:46)” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, n. 21).  Jesus’ experience on the cross profoundly reveals the situation of the person praying and the culmination of his prayer: having heard and recognized the word of God, we must also come to terms with the silence of God, an important expression of the same divine Word.

Silence opens us for listening to God’s Word, the silent eternal Word. Within the same catechesis Pope Benedict says: The first is the one that concerns the acceptance of the word of God. Inward and outward silence are necessary if we are to be able to hear this word. And in our time this point is particularly difficult for us. In fact, ours is an era that does not encourage recollection; indeed, one sometimes gets the impression that people are frightened of being cut off, even for an instant, from the torrent of words and images that mark and fill the day. It was for this reason that in the above mentioned Exhortation Verbum Domini I recalled our need to learn the value of silence: “Rediscovering the centrality of God’s word in the life of the Church also means rediscovering a sense of recollection and inner repose. The great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ all involve silence. Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence” (n. 66). This principle — that without silence one does not hear, does not listen, does not receive a word — applies especially to personal prayer as well as to our liturgies: to facilitate authentic listening, they must also be rich in moments of silence and of non-verbal reception.

God’s silence is the clearest answer to our loudest pleas. Pope Benedict teaches us: Yet God’s silence, as happened to Jesus, does not indicate his absence. Christians know well that the Lord is present and listens, even in the darkness of pain, rejection and loneliness. Jesus reassures his disciples and each one of us that God is well acquainted with our needs at every moment of our life. He teaches the disciples: “In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:7-8): an attentive, silent and open heart is more important than many words. God knows us in our inmost depths, better than we ourselves, and loves us; and knowing this must suffice.

In the Bible Job’s experience is particularly significant in this regard. In a short time this man lost everything: relatives, possessions, friends and health. It truly seems that God’s attitude to him was one of abandonment, of total silence. Yet in his relationship with God, Job speaks to God, cries out to God; in his prayers, in spite of all, he keeps his faith intact, and in the end, discovers the value of his experience and of God’s silence. And thus he can finally conclude, addressing the Creator: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5): almost all of us know God only through hearsay and the more open we are to his silence and to our own silence, the more we truly begin to know him.

Lord, help me realize that you are eternal silence. Yet your silence speaks volumes. Transform my silence into your silence which speaks volumes without uttering a single word but fills the heart with indescribable love. Amen.

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap