The Precious and Challenging Gift of Silence

Our Lord came into the world to say many salutary and salvific things. With that said, it is easy to forget the space in between His words. In other words, there were many moments and many occasions on which He did not speak. Quite dramatically, the Cross becomes the culmination both of Christ’s teaching ministry of consolation and challenge but also the realization of silence when He had no more to say, when the Word of God was exhausted in the silence of death. Seeing the four Gospels together, the Church speaks of seven ‘last utterances’ that form the Good Friday sermon delivered from the awful pulpit of the Cross.

The proclamation of the Passion Narrative of the Gospel according to St. Luke within the Palm Sunday liturgy this weekend brings to our attention a few of these ‘last words’: “Father, forgive them!” – “Today you will be with me in Paradise” – “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. Holy Week becomes a privileged time to ponder the meaning of these words as well as the things that could only be ‘said’ in salvific deeds and those things that cannot be expressed at all but only appropriated in silence.

Our world is awash in all manner of words, images and information that sadly lose their force because of a desensitization to the content that they would communicate to us. Holy Week—and Palm Sunday that provides an entry point for us into the mysteries of our salvation—is a reminder that without silence life becomes absurd. Silence alone provides space for words to make sense, for understanding to grow. It gives space for resonance, recollection and intelligibility. Imagine removing all the white space from this page, including the spaces between these words. We would have a mere jumble of shapes, an indecipherable and meaningless cacophony.

All words with no silence is like all exhalation and no breathing in. All words must come forth from silence and all words return to silence. When Christ said all that He had to say, He allowed the Silence to speak to our longing and restless hearts. We experience silence as jarring, demanding and challenging, but it is also refreshing and essential for our survival and spiritual and emotional well-being.

I distinctly remember the words of a retreat master before one of our annual seminary silent retreats. He reminded us that silence is a necessary gift we give ourselves and our neighbors. Silence is not merely external, for our senses alone, but also interior. External silence does indeed foster interior silence but silence is a much deeper reality than merely keeping our lips zipped. If silence is a necessary ingredient to what allows a movie theater, library or golf green to function well, how much more is this true about the important place of silence in our parish.

Here I would offer a gentle but firm reminder of the importance of observing silence when we are together in church—during Mass at certain key moments, but also as a preparation and a thanksgiving before and after Mass. There is of course a communal dimension to our time in church, but the primary communion it is meant to foster is between our souls and the Lord who beckons us into the silence. This means that our visits to church cannot be a merely social time. Silence is a gift we give our neighbors. Silence can be easily broken by inattention and a lack of discipline, but it is a communal exercise to observe it.

Quality prayer really depends on silence. Even brief moments of silence at Mass such as between the readings or after the homily can be extremely potent. They can allow us to interiorize what is heard to allow it to penetrate and possess our hearts. Again, we are not called to ignore our neighbor at Mass or in the pew near us, but to bless them by remembering how much we need to practice and savor silence together. As the weather is growing nicer by the day, it is a good season to encourage people to take extended conversations and mingling to the vestibules and even to outside the church. Thanks for your vigilance in ensuring that our churches are places primarily set aside for quiet prayer and communal worship during Mass and Adoration.

Here on the threshold of Holy Week I wish you all the blessings that this week can bring into our lives. May we have the courage to live this week intensely and intently. May the Lord draw us deeply into the mysteries of our redemption. I invite you to consider attending the Triduum in its entirety: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Like last year, we observe these high liturgical occasions as one parish with the exception that on Good Friday we have multiple Celebrations of the Lord’s Passion and communal celebrations of the Stations of the Cross to choose from. Remember that Good Friday—as Ash Wednesday—is a day of fasting and abstinence from meat. (*See pg. 6 for note on fasting/abstinence guidelines) Remember as well that this is the perfect season to make a humble confession. We have lots of confession times still available, our regularly scheduled times and additional Lenten ones.

St. Teresa of Calcutta was a great friend of silence; it made her who she was, and she taught the value of silence to her sisters and all she met. If we do one deliberate thing as a parish to live this week distinctly and practically, perhaps it can be in a concerted effort after greater silence. This can mean many things, but especially savoring the moments that are ‘unplugged’ and real—not turning to technology if we can at all avoid it. It can mean slowing down and being content to do less. It can mean being a bit more sparing in our words and conversation so as to be able to listen and appreciate more. It can mean closing our eyes and turning inward a bit more.  It can mean reading selections from the Bible, journaling or even just sitting still in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in church or the Adoration Chapel. It can mean any of these and other ways of insisting on the sacred silence that our lives need.

Mother Teresa said, in a very pertinent reflection for Holy Week when we ponder on the weighty betrayal of Our Lord by Judas: “We must cultivate that sacred silence which makes people remember the words of Jesus: See how they love one another. How often we find ourselves speaking of the faults of another. How often our conversation is about someone who is not present. Yet see the compassion of Christ toward Judas, the man who received so much love yet betrayed his own master. But the master kept the sacred silence and did not betray Judas. Jesus could have easily spoken in public— as we often do—telling the hidden intentions and deeds of Judas to others. But he didn’t. Instead, he showed mercy and charity. Rather than condemning Judas, he called him his friend.”

She said demonstratively in one other famous and familiar passage: “The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.” It is hard not to believe her. Even if we are skeptical about silence or even afraid of it, let’s try it and see for ourselves—this Holy Week and beyond.

To all of our visitors in these Holy Days, welcome. If you will be celebrating Easter elsewhere, be assured of the prayers of our parish community for you and yours. Felix Pasqua – Joyous Easter – Wesołych Świąt!

In, with and through Christ, our Crucified Redeemer,

Fr. Howe