“In the solitude and silence of the wilderness…for their labor in the contest, God gives His athletes the reward they desire: a peace that the world does not know and joy in the Holy Ghost.”— St. Bruno
When we think about silence, we often imagine “the absence of talking or noise.” Do we consider that other elements in our life are departures from silence not only in our ears, but in our minds and bodies? In a certain sense, in today’s world, we are “addicted” to sensory stimulation. The world sees silence as a painful vacuum of emptiness that must be filled—silence doesn’t make money or get us ahead! Therefore, it must be rejected as worthless and a waste of time. When we have a moment of free time, do we instinctively pull out our phones or in some other way, fill the silence? Our bodies seek luxury and comfort. Our eyes seek the latest updates on social media, news, sports, or celebrity gossip. We expose ourselves to a plethora of information that can rob us of our peace. Our eyes and ears are addicted to looking outwards at the world ever-seeking to satisfy our curiosity with music and other forms of entertainment. Can we call this silence?
When we do have a moment of silence, on a retreat for example or a walk through nature, our mind is more easily uplifted to the things of God or into self-reflection. Surely, upon introspection, we want to see order and thus live peacefully. Sometimes, rather, we find that we do not match up to our ideal—the ideal we have for ourselves in life and how we measure up to the spiritual ideal of God. Sometimes this gaze upon ourselves is displeasing enough for us to want to reject moments of true silence and fill them with sensory distractions. The world tells us that silence is boring, uncomfortable, and can even cause us to suffer. Therefore, we should distract ourselves so that we do not suffer the silence. We are tempted to believe that these avoidance tactics will make us happy and fulfill us.
The devil does not want us to make spiritual progress. He, being the father of lies, can use our surroundings to persuade us to avoid silence. He knows that a moment of silence and uplifting reflection brings us into the present moment. It is in this moment that we can practice virtue, love God through the accomplishment of our daily duty, and only truly suffer—since suffering in the past or in the future are memories or worries about suffering. God is in an eternal present. When we are able to call to mind the present moment, we can seize that opportunity for union with God by the loving accomplishment of our daily duty. Is this not how we become saints? Noise and stimulation beckon us to please our mind and body with distractions that take us out of the reality and truth of the present moment. “Oh how good a conscience would that man preserve, who would never seek after transitory joy, nor ever busy himself with the world.” (Imitation of Christ, Bk. 1 Ch. 20) The enemy does not want us to see the infinite value in something so small.
For Catholics who are doing their best to live well and raise their children under the standard of Christ, the enemy will be the most insidious. Perhaps it will start with the buying of yet another screen, but will the watching time for husband, wife, and children slowly increase? What about the things we are supposed to be doing with that precious gift of time? What is gained by these distractions as compared with the losses? Let us consider some of the consequences. In the world today, suffering is the greatest evil. It’s true that suffering is unpleasant so it is, in a way, a natural reaction to try to avoid suffering and remove it from those we love, especially our children…but God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die for us. Of course we do not seek suffering for its own sake, but the notion that suffering is inevitable on our earthly pilgrimage and is a means of sanctification has been muffled by our society, and the world provides ample means for us to reject it or to at least numb it with noise in its various forms.
This noise that we create in our lives leads us to exactly the opposite of what we seek—unhappiness. We aren’t happy when we avoid reality because by seeking short-term gratification through stimuli, we believe the lie that we are content, but it will only last a moment. Our immortal soul is made for the infinite, for God. No matter how much we try to distract our mind and fill ourselves with noise, we won’t be able to fill our yearning for the infinite good and we are left dissatisfied.
We only have the present moment to sanctify and this moment is found in reality, in silence. Our addiction to noise and stimulation is a constant invitation to step into a virtual reality where we are not able to focus on what is important because we don’t possess the silence to see clearly. The past is behind us and we do not have the grace for the future yet. We have the grace for now. Right now is reality. We have the grace to do exactly what we are supposed to be doing in this moment. We have the grace to do it well and with much love. No matter how simple our task is, if we accept the grace to do it, to do it as well as we can and with love, we will acquire virtue and become saints. This becomes a great struggle when we are in the habit of rejecting silence. These habits can become addictions over time and by indulging in our addictions, whatever they may be, we throw away a precious and fleeting opportunity for union with God, which is available to us every moment of every day.
If we have a sense of entitlement to noise stimuli in its various forms outside of the dark realm of silence, it is more difficult for us to be grateful. If we are seeking out some kind of amusement (because we “deserve it”), we are not choosing to be satisfied with what we have in the present. If we feel the urge to avoid silence, we sometimes choose thereby to avoid our responsibilities to perhaps peek at what “the beautiful people” have and we don’t...or at someone else’s life that we would prefer to our own. Did I notice reality or did I always choose to be somewhere else today? Did I truly look into the eyes of those with whom I was speaking? Did I feel the wind in my face as I walked to and from my car? Did I hear my children laugh and seek their company? Did I have enough silence to help me live my life as I am meant to? A certain amount of conscious silence can bring us back to reality and help us be grateful for the gift of our life with both its blessings and its trials.
Silence is where we find God, where we can love Him and those around us because it enables us to live in reality. Silence is not empty, but rather full of light and truth and enables us to be grateful. We cannot pretend to be ignorant of the example of the saints and Christ Himself, who sought out silence and consciously rejected avenues of distraction, however small, in their lives. Noise is not a true need and we miss nothing when we don’t give into its superficiality. Silence is only seen as a suffering for those who embrace the world. We are not created for this world and each voluntary noise “fix,” in whatever form, tethers us to this transient life and perpetuates a cycle of short term gratification. Next time we reach for our phone, want to turn on the television or radio, we can slowly break these “addictions” to distract ourselves. Little by little we can start to notice the details of life around us: the people and the precious passage of time. Silence enables us to truly live our lives in our humble place in the world, to see ourselves for who we are, and to live in the present moment in union with God and His will for us daily.