First Things has published an essay, written by Benedict XVI, that will be an afterword in future printings of Robert Cardinal Sarah’s recently published book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise (Ignatius Press). Here are a couple of excerpts:
Sarah teaches us silence—being silent with Jesus, true inner stillness, and in just this way he helps us to grasp the word of the Lord anew. Of course he speaks hardly at all about himself, but now and then he does give us a glimpse into his interior life. In answer to Nicolas Diat’s question, “At times in your life have you thought that words were becoming too cumbersome, too heavy, too noisy?,” he answers: “In my prayer and in my interior life, I have always felt the need for a deeper, more complete silence. … The days of solitude, silence, and absolute fasting have been a great support. They have been an unprecedented grace, a slow purification, and a personal encounter with … God. … Days of solitude, silence, and fasting, nourished by the Word of God alone, allow man to base his life on what is essential.” These lines make visible the source from which the cardinal lives, which gives his word its inner depth. From this vantage point, he can then see the dangers that continually threaten the spiritual life, of priests and bishops also, and thus endanger the Church herself, too, in which it is not uncommon for the Word to be replaced by a verbosity that dilutes the greatness of the Word. I would like to quote just one sentence that can become an examination of conscience for every bishop: “It can happen that a good, pious priest, once he is raised to the episcopal dignity, quickly falls into mediocrity and a concern for worldly success. Overwhelmed by the weight of the duties that are incumbent on him, worried about his power, his authority, and the material needs of his office, he gradually runs out of steam.”
Cardinal Sarah is a spiritual teacher, who speaks out of the depths of silence with the Lord, out of his interior union with him, and thus really has something to say to each one of us.
And he concludes with: “With Cardinal Sarah, a master of silence and of interior prayer, the liturgy is in good hands.” Read the entire essay on the FT site.
I’ve now read most of The Power of Silence and find it to be a rich and rewarding work, marked by the same deep insight, careful expression, serene clarity, and challenging exhortations so readily evident in the Cardinal’s previous book. Here are a few excerpts from the book:
From the opening chapter (“Silence Versus the World’s Noise”):
6. It is necessary to leave our interior turmoil in order to find God. Despite the agitations, the busyness, the easy pleasures, God remains silently present. He is in us like a thought, a word, and a presence whose secret sources are buried in God himself, inaccessible to human inspection.
Solitude is the best state in which to hear God’s silence. For some- one who wants to find silence, solitude is the mountain that he must climb. If a person isolates himself by going away to a monastery, he comes first to seek silence. And yet, the goal of his search is within him. God’s silent presence already dwells in his heart. The silence that we pursue confusedly is found in our own hearts and reveals God to us.
Alas, the worldly powers that seek to shape modern man systematically do away with silence.
I am not afraid to assert that the false priests of modernity, who declare a sort of war on silence, have lost the battle. For we can remain silent in the midst of the biggest messes and most despicable commotion, in the midst of the racket and howling of those infernal machines that draw us into functionalism and activism by snatching us away from any transcendent dimension and from any interior life.
21. Today, in a highly technological, busy world, how can we find silence? Noise wearies us, and we get the feeling that silence has become an unreachable oasis. How many people are obliged to work in a chaos that distresses and dehumanizes them? Cities have become noisy furnaces in which even nights are not spared the assault of noise.
Without noise, postmodern man falls into a dull, insistent uneasiness. He is accustomed to permanent background noise, which sick- ens yet reassures him.
Without noise, man is feverish, lost. Noise gives him security, like a drug on which he has become dependent. With its festive appearance, noise is a whirlwind that avoids facing itself. Agitation becomes a tranquilizer, a sedative, a morphine pump, a sort of reverie, an incoherent dream-world. But this noise is a dangerous, deceptive medicine, a diabolic lie that helps man avoid confronting himself in his interior emptiness. The awakening will necessarily be brutal.
From Chapter II (“God Does Not Speak, But His Voice is Quite Clear”):
176. In heaven, speech does not exist. There on high, the blessed communicate with each other without any words. There is a great silence of contemplation, communion, and love.
177. In the divine homeland, souls are completely united to God. They are nourished by the vision of him. Souls are completely taken by their love for God in absolute delight. There is a great silence because souls have no need for words in order to be united to God. Anguish, passions, fears, sorrows, jealousies, hatreds, and impulses disappear. Nothing exists except the unique heart-to-heart with God. The embrace of souls and God is eternal. Heaven is the heart of God. And this heart is silent forever. God is perfect tenderness that has no need of any speech in order to be diffused. Paradise is like a huge burning bush that is never consumed, however forcefully the love that burns there spreads. There above, love burns with an innocent flame, with a pure desire to love infinitely and to plunge into the intimate depth of the Trinity.
194. The silence of Jesus is the very silence of God the Father. Did Jesus not say to Philip: “He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (Jn 14:9–10). We must never grow weary of repeating this sentence by Saint John. It means that the unity of God and man in Jesus manifests in time the eternal unity of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. The silence of the Father is the silence of the Son; the voice of the Son is the voice of the Father. To hear Jesus is to hear the Father.
195. In Nazareth, God was constantly and silently with God. God spoke to God in silence. In examining this silence, men reenter the unfathomable, silent mystery of the Trinity.
From Chapter IV (“God’s Silence in the Face of Evil Unleashed”):
350. When God comes to take a person, two forms of silence set in: the silence of the living, who are petrified by the death, and the silence of the dead person, which causes us to enter into the mystery of Christian hope and true life.
The former are confronted with the mystery of an agitated, sad, painful, disconsolate silence. This silence marks their faces with anxiety, sadness, and the refusal of the death that comes to disturb a tranquil indifference.
351. Nowadays Western societies reject death, traumatized by the pain and grieving that accompany it. Modern man would like to be immortal. This denial of the great passage leads to a culture of death that permeates social relations as a whole. Postmodern civilization denies death, causes it, and paradoxically unceasingly exalts it. The assassination of God allows death to keep prowling all the time, because hope no longer dwells within the horizon of men.
From The Afterword:
It is time to revolt against the dictatorship of noise that seeks to break our hearts and our intellects. A noisy society is like sorry-looking cardboard stage scenery, a world without substance, an immature flight. A noisy Church would become vain, unfaithful, and dangerous.
Related at CWR:
• Cardinal Sarah’s Address on the 10th Anniversary of “Summorum Pontificum” (Mar 31, 2017)
• Cardinal Robert Sarah on “The Strength of Silence” and the Dictatorship of Noise (Oct 03, 2016)
• Cardinal Sarah has challenged “the prejudices” behind “certain modern liturgical practices” (July 13, 2016)
• The Quiet Courage of Cardinal Robert Sarah (Nov 02, 2016)
• Cardinal Sarah’s pastoral call to “turn to the Lord” (Nov 21, 2016)
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