By Fr. Anthony Aneke
This is an excerpt from the book “THE POWER OF SILENCE” by Robert Cardinal Sarah with Nicolas Diat. Robert Sarah is a Guinean prelate of the Catholic Church. A cardinal since 20 November 2010, he was appointed the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Pope Francis on 23 November 2014.
He previously served as the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples under Pope John Paul II, and the president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum under Pope Benedict XVI.
READ THIS AND REALIZE HOW WE HAVE ALL LOST THE ART OF SILENCE AND HOW MUCH WE NEED IT NOW.
There is one great question: how can man really be in the image of God? He must enter into silence. When he drapes himself in silence, as God himself dwells in a great silence, man is close to heaven, or rather, he allows to manifest himself in him.
We encounter God only in the eternal silence in which he abides. Have you ever heard the voice of God as you hear mine?
God’s voice is silent. Indeed, man, too, must seek to become silence. In speaking about Adam in paradise, Saint Augustine wrote: He lived in the joy of God, and by virtue of this good, he himself is good. By living with the silent God, and in him, we ourselves become silent. In his book I Want to see God, Father Marie-Eugene de l’Enfant Jesus writes;
God speaks in silence, and silence alone seems able to express Him. For the spiritual person who has known the touch of God, silence and God seem to be identified. And so, to find God again, where would he go, if not to the depths of his soul, into those regions that are so hidden that nothing can any longer disturb them?
When he reached there, he preserves with jealous care, the silence that gives him God. He defends it against any agitation, even that of his own powers.
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. The Church can affirm that mankind is the daughter of a silent God; for men are the sons of 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? Man likes to travel, create, make great discoveries. But he remains outside of himself, far from God, who is silently in his soul. I want to recall how important it is to cultivate silence in order to be truly with God. Saint Paul, drawing on the Book of Deuteronomy, explains that we will not encounter God by crossing the seas, because he is in our heart:
Do not say in your heart, “who will ascend into heaven?’(that is to bring Christ down) or “who will descend into the abyss?” (that is to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does (the law) say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach): if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom 10: 6-9; Deut 30: 12-14, 16)
Through sacred scripture, when it is listened to and meditated upon in silence, divine graces are poured out on man. It is in faith, and not by traveling in distant lands or by crossing seas and continents, that we can find and contemplate God. Actually, it is through long hours of poring over sacred scripture, after resisting all the attacks of the prince of this world, that we will reach God.
Don Augustine Guillerand is on the right tract: what men possess in themselves, they find nowhere else. Unless silence dwells in man, and unless solitude is a state in which he allows himself to be shaped, the creatures is deprived of God. There is no place on earth where God is more present than in human heart. This heart truly is God’s abode, the temple of silence.
No prophet ever encountered God without withdrawing into solitude and silence. Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist encountered God in the great silence of the desert. Today too, monks seek God in solitude and silence. I am speaking, not just about a geographical solitude or movement, but about an interior state. It is not enough to be quiet, either. It is necessary to become silence. For, even before the dessert, the solitude, and the silence, God is already in man. The true desert within us, in our soul.
Strengthened with this knowledge, we can understand how silence is indispensable if we are to find God. The father waits for his children in their own hearts.
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 someone who wants to find silence, solitude is the mountain that he must climb. If the 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 power that seeks 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 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.
The word is not just a sound; it is a person and a presence. God is the eternal Word, the Logos. This is what Saint John of the Cross declares in his Spiritual Maxims when he writes: “The father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul.” The book of Wisdom already pointed out this same interpretation in regard to the way in which God intervened to deliver his chosen people from their captivity in Egypt. This unforgettable act took place during the night: “while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was half gone, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne” (Wis 18:14-15). Later on, this verse would be understood by the Christian Liturgical tradition as a prefiguration of the silent Incarnation of the Word in the crib in Bethlehem. The contemporary French hymn for the feast of the presentation of the Lord in the temple also sings about this coming: “who among us can understand what begins here noiselessly, the offering of the grain as the first-fruit?” St John Chrysostom, in his Homilies on the Gospel of St Matthew, does not hesitate to add: “Therefore (the fact) that He was of us, and our substance, and of the Virgins womb, is manifest from these things, and from other beside; but how, is not also manifest. Do not either thou then enquire: but receive what is revealed, and he not curious about what is kept secret.” Let us accept in in silence and faith.
God achieves everything, acts in all circumstances, and brings about all our interior transformation. But he does it when we wait for Him in recollection and silence.
In silence, not in the turmoil and noise, God enters into the innermost depths of our being. Fr. Marie-Eugene De l’Enfant-Jesus was right when he wrote in I want to see God: “This divine love surprises us. It goes so much against our experience of the natural laws of the world. Here below, any profound transformation, any great external change produces a certain agitation and noise. The great river, for example, reaches the ocean only by the sounding onward rush of its water.” If we observe the great works, the most powerful acts, the most extra ordinary and striking interior transformations that God carries out in man, we are forced to admit that He works in silence. Baptism brings about a marvelous creation in the soul of the infant or the adult who receives this sacrament in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The newly baptized person is immersed in the name of the trinity; he is inserted into the Triune God. A new life is given to him enabling him to perform the Godly act of the children of God. We heard the word of the priest: “I baptize you…”; we saw the water flow on that infant forehead. Yet we perceived nothing of this immersion into the inner life of the Trinity, grace, and creation which requires nothing less than the personal, almighty action of God. God has uttered his Word in the soul in silence. In that same silent darkness, the subsequent development of grace generally comes.
In June 2012, in a luminous lectiodivina at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. Benedict XVI explained the reality and the deep meaning of baptism:
We have already heard that the Lord’s last word to his disciples on this earth were: “Go therefore and make disciple of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Cf. Matt. 28:19). Make disciple and baptize them…. Why is it necessary to be baptized?…. a first door opens if we read these words of the Lord carefully. The choice of the word “In the name of the father” in the Greek text is very important: The Lord says “Eis” and not “En”, that is, not “in the name” of the Trinity – as when we say that a vice-prefect speaks “on behalf” of the prefect, an ambassador speaks “on behalf” of the Governments: no. it says: “eis to onoma”, that is, an immersion into the name of the trinity, a being inserted in the name of the trinity (that is, a silent, invisible but real and life-giving) interpenetration of being in God and of our being, a being immersed in God the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; just as it is in marriage, for example. Two people become one flesh, and they become a new being and unique reality with a new and unique name…. consequently, being baptized means being united to God; in a unique, new existence, we belong to God, we are immersed in God Himself.
It is the same with priestly ordination. In silence, through the sacrament of Holy Orders, a man becomes not only an alter Christus, another Christ, but much more he is ipse Christus, Christ Himself. At that moment nothing appears external, but in the silence, in the depths of his being, there is a true and real identification with Christ. Saint Ambrose, in his treaties on the Mysteries, exhorts, saying: “You saw there the Deacon, you saw the priests, you saw the Chief priest (Ie., the Bishop). Consider not the bodily forms but the grace of the mysteries.” Externally, as priests, we remain sinners, but in reality, we are as though “transubstantiated” and configured to Christ Himself. In the act of transubstantiation, the priest takes the role of Christ.
The Transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the most extra ordinary, the most momentous transformation, occurs in the utmost sacred silence. We hear the priest pronounce the words of the consecration, but the miracle of transubstantiation comes about imperceptibly, like all the greatest work of God. Silence is the law of the divine plans.
God’s being has always been present in us in an absolute silence. And the human beings’ own silence allows him to enter into a relationship with the Word that is at the bottom of His heart. Thus, in the desert, we do not speak. We listen in silence; man enters into a silence that is God.
How can we define silence in its simplest meaning, in order words, the silence of everyday life? According to the Petit Robert (a French dictionary), silence is “the attitude of someone who refrains from speaking”. It refers to “the absence of noise or agitation, the state of a place where no sound can be heard” can silence be defined in no other way than by negation? Is the absence of speech, noise, or sound always silence? Similarly, it is not paradoxical to try to “speak” about silence in everyday life.
Silence is not an absence. On the contrary, it is the manifestation of a presence, the most intense of all presences. In modern society, silence has come into disrepute; this is the syptom of a serious, worrisome illness. The real questions of life are posed in silence. Our blood flows through our veins without making any noise, and we can hear our heart beat only in silence.
On July 4th, 2010, in a Homily for the 8th Centenary of the birth of Pope Celestine V, Benedict XVI gravely insisted on the fact that (we live in a society in which it seems that every space, every moment must be ‘filled’ with projects, activities and noise; there is often no time even to listen and to converse. Dear brothers and sisters, let us not fear to create silence within and outside ourselves, if we wish to be able not only to become aware of God’s voice but also to make out the voice of the person beside us, the voice of others.” Benedict XVI and John Paul II often conferred a positive dimension on silence. Indeed, although it is associated with solitude and the desert, silence is by no means self-absorption or muteness, just as true speech is not garrulousness but, rather, a condition for being present to God, to neighbor, and to oneself.
What is the correct understanding of exterior silence? “ God is a friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence, see the stars, the moon and the sun, how there move in silence” Saint Teresa of Calcutta said poetically (In her book: A Gift for God).