“All of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room.”
Blaise Pascal, who offers this insight, also notes in his Pensées that we fear silence more than anything else and seek constant distraction. No one in the past had as many distractions as we do today, making it entirely possible to spend the whole day immersed in images, text, and noise. Without the ability to sit quietly, we cannot perceive the deeper things of life as we live an unreflective life. Hence Pascal’s warning on our misfortunate.
Almost no one would willingly give up a smartphone or return to our pre-Wi-Fi days, even though we are beginning to feel unsettled in our new digital landscape. We want peace and quiet, even as we are addicted to our devices. In fact, our tools increasingly govern our life. We can’t drive anywhere without them. They now manage our houses and the flow of information. We constantly receive new alerts and notifications. Everything is at the tip of a finger; everything, except peace.
Even young people who have grown up in this constant saturation are looking for something else.
For instance, TIME Magazine featured Professor Constance Kassor for running Lawrence University’s most popular class: Doing Nothing. This is how she describes the course “One of the things that we really want students to get out of this class is that we want them to have a space where they can be fully themselves, where they can be present—not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Because I think this is kind of antithetical to what’s being asked of them a lot of the time. It’s really designed as a way to give students the space to slow down a little bit. . . . And that’ll make them better people, more empathetic people, more creative people, deeper thinkers.”
The class’s success points to something that we’ve lost in education and life more broadly.
Rather than take a course on doing nothing, Catholics have ready answers to the domination of technology. We do not seek silence for its own sake (even if that is a start), but as an opportunity for encounter with God. Cardinal Robert Sarah’s amazing book, The Power of Silence (Ignatius 2017), teaches us that silence is the language of God, which we need to learn to converse with him: “At the heart of man there is an innate silence, for God abides in the innermost part of every person. God is silence, and this divine silence dwells in man. In God, we are inseparably bound up with silence. … God carries us, and we live with him at every moment by keeping silence. Nothing will make us discover God better than his silence inscribed in the center of our being. If we do not cultivate this silence, how can we find God?” (22).
We have to learn the practice of silence, although it won’t come from a college course as much as time spent before the Blessed Sacrament.
Silence is a battle in a culture of busyness. Josef Pieper famously reminded us that external activity does not constitute life’s goal. Rather, we find our fulfillment in leisure, which is both the basis and height of culture. His book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, points to internal activity, particularly contemplation, as the source of our happiness and fulfillment, especially when directed to God in worship and prayer.
Leisure is not an absence of activity, or mere recreation and entertainment. It enters into the highest goods; it is drawn into them as if receiving them as a gift. Pieper clarifies: “Leisure, it must be remembered, is not a Sunday afternoon idyll, but the preserve of freedom, of education and culture, and of that undiminished humanity which views the world as a whole.” It withdraws from distraction so as to appreciate the goodness of the world, inspiring us to “waste” our time relating to the source of all goodness in God.
Silence may save your soul. It will enable us to pull back from the craziness of life, gain peace, become reflective, and make space for God. We realize that we need it but don’t want to accept it because the sacrifice of time and convenience that comes from putting down technology may be painful.
It is worth it, as Cardinal Sarah exhorts us: “Through silence, we return to our heavenly origin, where there is nothing but calm, peace, repose, silent contemplation, and adoration of the radiant face of God” (54). If we are overwhelmed by the noise of life, it is possible to find healing and peace. God can repair the damage of modern culture within us, but we need to turn to him ardently in prayer.
This healing may come to us most fully in the silence of adoration and the encounter with Christ the healer in confession. There he gives us his peace and makes us new once again. He can help us to overcome our dread of silence by making us whole with his saving presence.
(Dr. Staudt’s column is syndicated by the Denver Catholic, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.)
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I am all for silently praying in our Lord’s presence at Adoration. This is where I contemplate my responses to CWR and other Catholic on-line media. The same goes with praying the Rosary. I lived back in the pre-internet era and even back then one had to discipline one’s mind to focus on God.
For me focusing my mind on God was life or death. At age 17 I was rapidly falling into deep depression over losing a love relationship. I calculated that, at the rate of speed I was falling deeper into depression, I only had three to six months to live. I immediately took evasive maneuvers, which meant I looked for other things to focus my mind on. Out of all of them, focusing my mind on seeking out God’s Will prevailed. I had to work hard to remove my thoughts which intensified my depression, and replace them with contemplation of God. Over the years it simply became natural.
Disciplining my mind to focus on God is a gift that I have cherished all my life.
The aim of the religion is union with God in love, this also the purpose of the Church and the Sacraments. Without that love, neither Church nor Sacraments can be fully effective. The only way to foster this love is to do it,…it cannot be done in busy-ness and activity until it done first in stillness, with failure to do this the failure of most active lay and consecrated religious, leaving them as the blind leading the blind to the obvious crumbling we see today.
The greatest commandment is quite plain, and the root of all authentic holiness….to love God more than anything, with all that we are.
O Beata Solitudo, O Sola Beatitudo [o blessed solitude, o solitary beatitude]. Words on the doorway mantle of a Camaldolese monastery high above Frascati overlooking Rome where I entered to make my retreat prior to ordination.
During the solitude I learned a deeper appreciation the silence. Taking from the experience to my ordinary life what Dr Staudt’s essay teaches, the immense, even soul saving efficacy of silence.
Leisure thought a frivolous luxury by the hyperactive doer has become more appreciated in respect to one dimension. Silence. Seen in an advertisement of a woman returning from her tiring work to a home with husband and kids dog having a wonderful melee. She closes the door, reenters the quiet of her limousine falls back with eyes closed in apparent blissful silence.
The message is clear. Silence for one as Pascal informs us is remaining quietly in our room. We really need that silence to come to terms with ourselves. Whether we are what our better instincts tell us. Then there’s humility when we remain less talkative and more silent when with others. Silence as such can be a necessary feature of love for others. We humans need silence to realize our humanness. Even as Jared Staudt says silence necessary to save us, that is, when we find ourselves coming closer to God. In silence we can hear his gentle whisper, as did fiery Elijah on the mountain.
In Crisis Magazine today “The FBI tags the TLM community as the home of “violent extremists”. I am NOT making this up.
On the occasions when I do go to the TLM in 55 mile away Lewiston Maine, I always make a special effort to get there at least 45 minutes before the Mass begins. I sit up close to the front 1) so I can sit and be quiet for a while, 2) so I can hear the choir better during the Mass, and so I can turn and look at the crowd when the Mass starts, because, although I don’t hear people arriving because they are so QUIET, the Basilica is always around half full, although I couldn’t hear them arriving.
Try that at a Novus Ordo Mass – it can’t be done.
“The art of sacred silence” – a nice phrase, and methinks that it is one of the aspects of the TLM that scares the people who are trying to abolish it the most, and that means all the way to Rome.
The fact that the FBI calls TLM followers “violent extremists” is absurd at best, and that someone would be so ignorant as to make such a statement is really sad.
My parish is located in a busy section of Manhattan, a few blocks from Macy’s and other stores. Thus, the area is full of shoppers and tourists, and noise. But the moment I enter my church and I see the familiar red vigil lamp standing guard over the exposed Blessed Sacrament, I am in another world. Nothing matters, except that Presence, waiting for me, wanting to spend time with me as I do with Him.
@Terence McManus – During one of the Sundays after I “converted” to TLM. I sat, like you, near the front. There were people around me but it was so quiet that I wondered where everybody was. During the entrance procession, I turned around and to my complete surprise, the church was packed. Yes, we “violent extremists” know how to behave.
“Silence may save your Soul,” Yes, but only if it allows the voice of God to dominate our conscience. Meditating by oneself, upon oneself, for oneself, especially if associated with a regimen to increase personal awareness, does not save our soul. The Holy Spirit prefers to enter a humble conscience and if it finds fertile ground it can turn any of us into extremely vibrant evangelists. This is the story of great saints who gave their whole existence over to the work of God – Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa and many others who were full of energy, with loud voices.