A while ago, I was working part-time doing odd jobs around an office. At that moment, I was tucked away in some back corner room by myself all week painting. Towards the end of my painting streak, one of the other staff discovered me after I tripped over a stack of scrap metal. She was quite amazed that I had been there the whole week so quietly; no music, or singing to myself, or much conversation. Just me, paint, and a pile of doors. Quite different from everybody else, who were either working with patients all day, listening to music, and chit-chatting to keep themselves entertained throughout the work day.
Maybe it’s because I’m such an introvert, that I don’t appreciate noise as much as others do, or a combination of both – but I was quite content with my just thoughts and a paintbrush. In fact, I was quite surprised that they were so surprised!
Someone once told me that this generation has become addicted to stimulation. While there is nothing wrong with being a friendly, talkative person, it seems we no longer know how to be content with ourselves when the time requires it. We no longer know how to appreciate silence. Look around at the people around you – look at yourself. We can’t ride in a car silently, we can’t run silently, we can’t shop silently, and if we ever find ourselves in a silent situation – we start searching for someone or something to entertain one of our five senses because we are bored.
Now – I’m not just talking about physical silence (the absence of sound/movement). I’m talking about a complete internal silence – a redirection of not only your voice; but your thoughts, your actions, and essentially your entire will to something… other than your own entertainment.
That’s an interesting thought…
Have you ever practiced being so silent that your entire focus was given to someone/something other than yourself? Naturally, as Catholics on the path to sanctity (hopefully!), there is nothing more beautiful, more profound, or more important than offering ourselves and our entire focus in silence to God. We feel like silence is so restricting because we can’t do what we want – but in reality, little acts of denying our will here and there is not restricting, but freeing. It’s a kind of mortification, if you will, because we are denying our will and conforming ourselves to Christ.
The Silent Saints
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
–Blessed Mother Teresa
“What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.”
–St John of the Cross
“A talkative soul lacks both the essential virtues and intimacy with God. A deeper interior life, one of gentle peace and of that silence where the Lord dwells, is quite out of the question. A soul that has never tasted the sweetness of inner silence is a restless spirit which disturbs the silence of others.”
–St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul
Silence, both external and internal, is something so important to the saints in order to come closer to God, that they labeled it as essential and necessary to spiritual growth. Extroverts struggle more with removing themselves from external stimulation (people/activity/conversation) and being by themselves. Introverts struggle more with quieting their internal stimulation (thinking/planning/dwelling) and giving their thoughts to someone else’s will. However, both are required achieve this internal emptiness so that Christ can fill it. There are many ways that we can all practice this:
- Silent Retreats
- SFdS calls retreats “one of the most certain means to spiritual advancement”
- Eucharistic Adoration
- Turning off the radio/background noise, just because we don’t need it.
- Spending a little extra time praying before Mass, in preparation, and after Mass, in thanksgiving, instead of rushing off to socialization.
- A Canon of the Institute once described meditating as the blissful “Ahhh” moment of just taking in a beautiful sunset. SFdS and St. Ignatius both offer beautiful and practical explanations on how to meditate.
- Going to your room, closing your door and praying at home.
- Really, anything else that puts your soul’s focus first on God instead of yourself!
For me, I was especially struck by St. Faustina’s quote “A soul that has never tasted the sweetness of inner silence is a restless spirit which disturbs the silence of others.” Every so often I feel like both ends of that barrel (the disturbed and the disturbee); but more often, I seem to the be the latter since my prayer life has become somewhat of a ruined landscape, ravaged by a fire of worldly stress in my life.
So – instead of running off to be a cloistered nun and taking a vow of silence, I settled for the lay person’s alternative. For Lent I gave up talking to and socializing with other people outside of my daily contact. I got the idea from reading Intro to the Devout Life – Saint Francis de Sales speaks of an interesting and appropriate manner for this ideal quite well.
“Seeking familiar conversations with others and avoiding them are two extremes and both are blameworthy in devout people living in the world… If you are not obliged to go out into society or entertain company at home, remain within yourself and entertain yourself within your own heart. However, if people visit you or if you are called out into society for some just reason, go as one sent by God.”
–St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life
Obviously, I do have a reason for seeking silence more than usual to repair and strengthen my crumbled ruins of a prayer life this Lent, but I certainly haven’t been unreachable. In the meantime, I will be working on offering my sweet silence of soul for Christ, “for the language He best hears, is silent love.”
St. Francis de Sales, ora pro nobis