A new book will be released in April by Cardinal Robert Sarah, who is the head of the office in the Vatican which oversees the Church’s liturgy. The title of the book is “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.” I was asked to preview the book in advance of its publication. It is a must read — watch for it.
Without giving away much of its content, Cardinal Sarah’s book is a reflection on how we need more silence in our lives in order for us to encounter the living God. In the “hell of noise” which plagues our world today, we shut out the voice of God in our lives. We encounter God in the silence, where there is room for adoration and reverence for the one who created us and desires a relationship with us.
I am writing this reflection as we begin this Lenten season in the Church as an appeal for all of us to enter more deeply into silence where we can truly encounter the Holy Trinity. Lent can be a time for us to slow down, reflect on our lives and our relationship with God, and bring greater perspective to the meaning and purpose of our very existence.
I have often said that we are living in a time when we are constantly bombarded by noise and distraction. This is particularly true for the younger generation, which I sometimes refer to as the “plugged in” generation. We are far too often plugged in to our headphones with music, watching television, playing video games, talking or texting on our phones, posting to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or simply wasting time on the computer or our tablet. (I sincerely hope that many of you have no idea what some of these are!)
In the midst of our busy, active and noisy lives, where is the space for God? How is God going to reach us, or how are we going to reach out to Him if we give him no time for quiet conversation and reflection?
All of us desire a closer relationship with God. In fact, in my nearly 27 years as a priest, I have heard so many people say they wish they were closer to God or that God somehow seems distant to them. But how can we come to know him if we spend no time for him?
Even when we gather for worship, our Masses are sometimes filled to the brim with sound — words and music. Where is the time during Mass for quiet reflection? At the penitential rite, after the invitation to prayer, after each reading, after the homily, during part of the offertory, after Communion? We seem to feel the need to “cover” every action and moment with words or music. We need time to let God speak to us in silence.
So my challenge for us this Lent (myself included) is to allow for more silence and prayer in our lives. After all, spending more time in prayer is one of the three pillars of our Lenten observance, along with works of penance and works of charity.
I think we are sometimes uncomfortable with silence because then we are alone, faced with all our worries, fears and anxieties. We would rather “anesthetize” these with noise and distraction. But it is there in the silence that God speaks to us, calming our fears and giving us the assurance of his love and presence. He so desires this for us. Let’s not shut him out.
So turn off the TV. Unplug from the music. Lay off the video games. Step away from the computer. Set the smartphone or tablet down. Instead, spend more time in silent prayer talking to God about your life. Pick up the Bible or other good spiritual reading and meditate on what you have read. You won’t be sorry, and when Easter comes, maybe you won’t be so attached to these distractions from what really matters.
I wish you all a fruitful and blessed season of Lent, a season of grace if you will let it be so!
The writer is archbishop of the Archdiocese of Portland.