Many parts of the world are easing up on the stay-at-home orders, though social distancing as well as other restrictions are still in place. This has been a difficult period for everybody, though for some more than others. For those living alone, it has been a time of loneliness while those in tense family-situations may have missed not having a room of their own. The temptation might have been great to drown one’s sorrows by bingeing on series and social media. Silence may have been a threat for some and a vainly aspired necessity for others. But how to discover the beauty of silence? And acquire it in the midst of noise? When we finally experience it, we often shy away from the purification that comes with it: of having to face ourselves, the fatuity of our false idols and the lies we keep repeating to ourselves. There is nothing harder for man than to stay alone in his room, as Pascal famously said.
The Virgin Mary’s silence
Yet silence is at the heart of God and therefore of the spiritual life, as Cardinal Sarah shows so convincingly in The Power of Silence. Mary was often silent, if we go by the Gospels. After telling the servants at the wedding of Cana – and really to all of us – to do everything Jesus tells us, no further word of hers is recorded in the Bible. Yet she must have followed Jesus around during his public ministry at times, she stood under the Cross when He died, waited with the Apostles for the Holy Spirit to come down and was palpably present as Mother of the Church in its early beginnings (and still is from Heaven). Contrary to what one might think, it is not the business of the noise-filled world that is powerful; silence is – it is life-changing.
For authentic silence is not an absence; nor is it the same as moroseness or narcissistic self-absorption, but is the expression of an overflowing heart. Love can only happen in the silence of the heart; for silence is the language of love and is God’s way of touching us. The French philosopher and mystic, Simone Weil, called the Logos paradoxically the “silence of God”. And she defines silence not as “an absence of sound, but the object of a positive sensation, more positive than that of sound”. Even in suffering, when we cry out to God our “why me?”, the silence enveloping us is “something infinitely more full of significance than any response, like the word itself of God” . When Christ cried out to the Father on the Cross asking why He had abandoned Him, He was met by His silence – but that was the fullest answer. For “the absence of God down here is the same as the secret presence here of God who is in the Heavens” .
Silence, a precious gift
Yet silence is not just the prerogative of contemplatives who have left the world behind them. Nor is it an opportunity that we have now lost with the lifting of stay-at-home orders. Silence is a precious gift we can carry around with us even in the bustle of the world. To maintain it, we need to return to its source – to God – in silent prayer, in adoration, by meditating on the mysteries of the rosary (which we can say even in noisy surroundings). The blessed Mother will help us fight the addictions of noise, internet and business that we wrongly use to satisfy the restlessness of our hearts. If we try to focus on God every day for at least fifteen minutes – despite our distractions and the temptation to find this a boring and useless exercise – then we will reach an authentic peace. Our hearts will sing inwardly while keeping the bride’s modest silence about her union with God.
Our Lady, Untier of Knots, please free us from the vicious cycle of our restless hearts that seek distractions only to feel more unsettled, help us weather the purifying kenosis as we enter into silence and lead us to imitate your silence that opens our hearts to God.
Marie Cabaud Meaney
Iconographic source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Magdalen_Reading_-_Rogier_van_der_Weyden.jpg#/media/File:The_Magdalen_Reading_Rogier.jpg