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Michael Healy

Silence, Recollection, and the Season of Hectic Activity

Dec. 21 at 1:12pm


Be still, and know that I am God.--Ps. 46:10

But Yahweh is in His holy temple, let the whole earth be silent before Him. –Hab. 2:2

The Lamb then broke the seventh seal, and there was silence in heaven. –Apoc. 8:1

Silence before the Lord Yahweh! –Zeph. 1:7

When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run the half of her swift course, down from the heavens from the royal throne, leaped your all-powerful Word. –Wis. 18:14-15

            We are often reminded during the holiday season to keep Christ in Christmas.  This, of course, is a noble aim.  However, it can never be achieved via billboards, advertisements, and public announcements, which themselves just contribute to the clutter and confusion of our daily lives.  Only if we individually build an altar in our hearts, as the saints recommend, can we bring our Lord into our lives, families, and relationships during these holy days.

            This requires that we periodically retreat from the busy-ness of the day into the world of prayer and adoration.  It is there that we find our true status, true selves, true happiness.  As Mother Teresa said: “The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.”  Love expressed in service, which is prominent in our lives during the Christmas season in relation to family, friends, the needy, etc., will cause frustration and burn-out if not grounded in prayer and silence.  Thus it is even more important during this time to maintain a daily prayer schedule—at least morning, noon, evening, night—plus the Mass, a periodic holy hour in front of the blessed sacrament, etc.  These are the sources and wellsprings for keeping Christ in Christmas.  The challenge we face is to remain in our depth and master the moment from the depth rather than let the passing impressions of the day dominate us or carry us away.  Again, to quote Mother Teresa: “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.”

            The problem with popular representations of keeping Christ in Christmas is that to get any attention they have “outshout” the competition: TV, radio, movies, ads, music videos, twitter, e-mail, facebook, I-pods, gameboys, shopping trips, etc., etc.  But to outshout all this is not the way to convey the astounding truth of the birth of the God-man to the virgin Mary in a stable in Bethlehem in order to offer himself as a whole burnt-offering for our reconciliation to the Father.  As Kierkegaard writes: “The present state of the world is diseased.  If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply: Create silence!  Bring men to silence.  The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today.  And even if it were blazoned forth with all the panoply of noise, then it would no longer be the Word of God.  Therefore, create silence.”

            One subtle danger is that we may become addicted to a fast-paced, frenetic lifestyle with the idea that it means we are living a “full life.”  From this perspective, taking time out for recollection, prayer, and silence appears boring, uninteresting, and a waste of time!  Then the “solution” seems to be to throw oneself even more intensely into activities and distractions—again, a special danger at a time like Christmas.  Yet in the end this is merely draining of our inner strength, our ability to cope, our reserves of peace. 

            In response to this danger—or temptation—we have to remind ourselves of where our true peace lies, where our true depth is grounded: with our Creator and Redeemer.  Again, Kierkegaard shows us the way with words we should take to heart during the great feast of Christ’s birth:  “What refreshment do we get from all the busy bustle in comparison with the delicious quickening of that lonely wellspring which exists in every man, that wellspring in which the Deity dwells in the profound stillness where everything is silent.”

            Have a blessed Christmas!


 

Katie van Schaijik

You remind me of a homily I heard on Sunday, in Bronxville, NY.  The priest talked about how in earlier weeks of Advent, we are hearing of John the Baptist and his "preparing the way of the Lord."  On the fourth Sunday of Advent, he said, the Church focusses on the deeper preparation of Mary, in silence.  

And he urged us all to find a space of silence every day during this last week before Christmas.

I also remember how much Jules loved the reading you handed out on silence in your Introduction to Philosophy class way back in the day.

That would make a great Reading Circle book one of these months.

#1 - Dec. 21 at 7:25pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

Thanks Michael for this beautiful reminder of the importance of silence. I should try harder to live up to it. I wonder, though, if your concrete proposal is realistic:

Thus it is even more important during this time to maintain a daily prayer schedule—at least morning, noon, evening, night—plus the Mass, a periodic holy hour in front of the blessed sacrament, etc.

Are the days in Steubenville longer than in West Chester? :-)

#2 - Dec. 23 at 8:58am | quote

Michael Healy

Katie,

The book you are reminded of is The World of SIlence by Max Picard.  It is now out of print.  You can get copies on Amazon for $180-195 and on up.  Or, through the FUS bookstore, we have the right to photostat it for a single-digit price with copyright provision.  It would indeed be a great one for discussion.

Jules,

I was thinking of JPII's respect, expressed in Crossing the Threshold of Hope for the Muslim practise of praying 5 times a day, which would be the Mass, plus prayers morning, noon, evening, and night.  Doesn't seem too demanding since the prayers would not have to be extensive--just a recall to our depth, which we do need regularly.  Remember that the Breviary asks us to pause every three hours (for three "strophes" or sections of the psalms to symbolize a prayer each hour) for prayer.  I know life can get hectic with work and family, but we need these retreats to our depth whether in Steubenville, West Chester, Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, or Bethlehem.

#3 - Dec. 23 at 11:59pm | quote

 

Katie van Schaijik

Happily, we have The World of Silence already on our shelves (though the title eluded me the other day.)  But it's great to know we have a way of obtaining it for members at a reasonable rate.

I was thinking of JPII's respect, expressed in Crossing the Threshold of Hope for the Muslim practise of praying 5 times a day... Remember that the Breviary asks us to pause every three hours (for three "strophes" or sections of the psalms to symbolize a prayer each hour) for prayer. 

Two quick points in reply to this: We can admire the Muslim practice without feeling obliged to follow it, can't we? John Paul didn't ask Catholics to take up the practice, did he? (I don't remember.) I am all in favor of more prayer, and, as you rightly put it, "a recall to our depth".  I love reading about medieval towns and villages ringing the church bells for the angelus.

But I'm with Jules in wondering whether you are asking for more than generally fits with a lay vocation in the world.

Still, it's a good challenge: turn to God; cultivate depth throughout the day.

#4 - Dec. 24 at 8:36am | quote

Michael Healy

Here is an interesting (I would say hauntingly beautiful) piece of music entitled 'Il Silenzia' (The Silence) with a 13 year old trumpet soloist.  Max Picard says at one point that "music is silence that in dreaming begins to sound."  Go to this link:  http://www.flixxy.com/trumpet-solo-melissa-venema.htm

#5 - Dec. 26 at 3:25pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

Thanks for the link, Michael. It sounds a lot like "Taps".

"Hauntingly beautiful" is the right description. For something on silence that is merely "interesting", check out this piece I discovered a while ago. 

#7 - Dec. 27 at 7:26am | quote

 

Katie van Schaijik

So beautiful!

She's playing at the Vrijhof in Maastricht, a charming Dutch city right near where Jules' mother was born.  At 2:38-39 you  catch a glimpse of the white-painted brick for which Maastricht is famous.  Jules and I have had coffee together often in that square.

#8 - Dec. 27 at 8:01am | quote

Michael Healy

Jules, your truly "silent" piece was impressive!  The orchestra plays along very well.  Katie and Jules, wonderful that 'Il Silenzio' was recorded in a place so close to home.  That's an added bonus that I didn't realize when I first linked it.

#9 - Dec. 29 at 2:31pm | quote

Michael Healy

Great link to Pope Benedict on Holy Family and prayer:

Pope offers Holy Family as a model for household prayer

This link has three further links on the topic.

#10 - Dec. 30 at 1:51pm | quote

 

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