In the New Year, a little silence, please

Last year, I spent a raucous New Year’s Eve in San Francisco, celebrating with some of my oldest and dearest friends against the backdrop of one of the most exciting cities in the world.

This year, I rang in the New Year alone. On my sofa. In my jammies. In prayer.

It was wonderful.

For some reason I felt very drawn to spending this holiday with the Lord, in silence. “Silence” was in fact the theme of my little New Year’s party. Not only was my house completely silent, but I spent a good part of the evening reading Cardinal Robert Sarah’s new book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.

It’s a wonderful book. I am only perhaps 1/3 of the way through it, but I already highly recommend it. It stirred in this extrovert a longing for silence, and a hunch that God may be calling me to more of it in 2018.

The good Cardinal wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter. He begins thus:

“There is one great question: how can man really be the image of God? He must enter into silence . . . [w]e encounter God only in the eternal silence in which he abides.”

As the meditations continue, Cardinal Sarah makes it clear that this silence is not absence, but “it is the manifestation of a presence, the most intense of all presences.” It is in quieting our hearts, in shutting out all of the noise that competes for our attention and our affections, that we encounter God, that we hear His voice.

And so, how do we do this? Where do we go to find His Presence?

Cardinal Sarah says that His Presence is found in particular in the Blessed Sacrament, “where the Presence of all presences awaits us, Jesus in the Eucharist.” He goes on to say that we find that Presence in “ . . . the houses of God that are our churches, if the priests and the faithful take care to respect their sacred character, so that they do not become museums, theaters, or concert halls, but remain places reserved for prayer and God alone.”

This hit close to home for me.

I crave silence in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. I think part of this is because I have a harder time than most achieving silence in my heart. I am easily distractible. Case in point: I spent a good part of a daily Mass last week wondering if Orange Pledge is safe for use on leather.

When it comes to recollection, I need all the help I can get.

In a silent church, in silent adoration before the Word Made Flesh, I can often feel His presence. St. John Paul II said that “Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love.” That becomes real to me in those quiet moments, where the Tabernacle light reminds me that He is indeed present.

Finding that silent church, however, can be easier said than done.

We seem to have lost any sense of the church being a sacred place. Rather, the sanctuary has become just another place — for conversation, for texting, even for eating lunch. (Yes, eating lunch. I was praying recently in a small chapel when I heard the rustling of a fast food bag a few pews back. It smelled good. But not the place for it.)

So often, before or even long after Mass, we see mostly empty churches with a handful of people focusing on the tabernacle in silent prayer, while one or two conversations about politics or last week’s cold snap echo throughout the sanctuary, destroying any hope of recollection. Or people attempt to pray silently, while one or two people take it upon themselves to recite their own personal prayers aloud, again shattering the silence and making personal prayer impossible for anyone else in the space.

Of course, finding a place for recollection is easier at a parish with a dedicated adoration chapel — which I hope we all agree should always be places of silent prayer. But not all parishes are so blessed. And as Catholics, we believe that our sanctuaries — not just our adoration chapels — are sacred spaces. They house the the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. He is there, in his physical body. That is why there is a candle perpetually lit next to the Tabernacle — to remind us that this place is different. It is holy ground. A place where — outside of the Mass or organized public prayer events — anyone can come to encounter the God of the universe, in silence.

I’d like to challenge you to do what I’m doing in 2018. To seek God in silence — in the silence of your heart, and in the silence of the Tabernacle.

And to allow others a space to do the same.

COMING UP: Celebrate and support the sacred gift of life

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Editor’s Note: This column is adapted from Archbishop Aquila’s remarks to the 2018 Celebrate Life March, which took place on January 13th in front of the Colorado State Capitol building.

As we gather today to celebrate life, we must remember three things: 1) life is a gift, 2) life is sacred, and 3) rebuilding a culture of life requires joy.

We are here today to celebrate our joy over the gift of life. Every minute and every day we live presents us with an abundance of gifts that seem mundane and are often overlooked: our health, the gift of creation, or something as simple as having food on our plates. Above all, we should give thanks for the gift of life!

As people involved in protecting life at every stage, the challenge we face is not just one of providing resources to mothers and fathers in need or ensuring people battling a terminal illness have good palliative care. Our challenge is to also communicate to them that they are loved, that their unborn child or their own lives are gifts, no matter the circumstances.

Many of us fought in 2016 to prevent doctor-assisted suicide from becoming legal in Colorado, and one person who helped in that effort was a courageous man named J.J. Hanson. J.J. was a Marine veteran and father of two young children who was working for a real estate investment firm in Florida when he found out he had glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer. His doctors told him that it was a very aggressive cancer that meant he only had four months to live.

Despite his odds, J.J. resolved to fight. His motto was: “Every single day is a gift, and we can’t let that go.” What’s even more remarkable is the fact that J.J. dedicated his time and energy to fighting the legalization of assisted suicide around the country, all while undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments. There was hardly a speaking engagement or trip to testify before a legislature that J.J. turned down. His conviction that life was a gift propelled him to defend that gift however he could. As pro-life people, we need to have that same conviction.

Just about two weeks ago, on December 30th, J.J. was called home to the Father – three years beyond what doctors told him to expect. St. Anthony of Padua church in upstate New York, where his funeral was held, was filled with people who paid tribute to how J.J. inspired them to embrace every moment of life, no matter its difficulties as a gift, not something to be thrown away.

All of us are called to embrace life as J.J. did, and in doing so we will help recover the culture of life that is being neglected or forgotten as people cast God and truth aside.

I have said that life is a gift, and while that is true, it’s more than that. Life is also sacred. Life is sacred because it comes from God, the God who is love and who has loved us first. Our lives are also sacred because our beings are made in God’s image and likeness.

We are called to participate in the love of God and to see that every human being, from the moment of conception until natural death, is invited into relationship with God. We are called to ensure that life is set aside for God, that it is honored and recognized as sacred.

The struggle for so many today is that they do not even believe in a god; their only god is themselves. They truly do not believe in the God who is love. And because of this limited worldview, a person’s life can lose its value if their “quality of life” declines.

In the words of Pope Francis to participants in the 2013 Day for Life, “All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”

When Jesus speaks about the Judgement of the Nations in Matthew 25, he tells us that life is always sacred by saying that when we love the weak and vulnerable, we are loving him.

The more that we can love the sacred gift of life and celebrate it with joy, the more we will contribute to building a true culture of life in the U.S.

A wonderful example of concretely loving the sacred gift of life is a story I recently heard about a 15-year-old Colorado teenager named Missy, who showed up with her parents at an abortion clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Missy was a sophomore in high school and was in her second trimester of pregnancy. As they approached the clinic, some pro-life volunteers who were parked nearby in a mobile crisis pregnancy van saw them and invited them inside. The volunteers learned that Missy wanted to complete high school and that this desire was pushing her to consider an abortion. One of the volunteers told Missy about how she was faced with the same choice as a teen and chose to keep her child. “It wasn’t easy, but it was amazing,” she reassured Missy.

Missy also worried about the father of the child not being around, to which her dad responded by taking her hand and saying, “I’ll be that man in your child’s life.”

This kind of accompaniment and willingness to heroically support the gift of life is vitally important to forming a culture that welcomes the unborn, the elderly, the disabled and the dying as a gift.

Building a culture of life begins by first receiving the love of the Father, who loves each of us as his sons and daughters. He never abandons us, even though we might abandon him or reject his love.

A culture of life grows when we share his love with others, helping them to embrace life as a gift and a joy, rather than a burden.

Life is a gift, it is sacred and our celebration of the joy of life helps build a culture of life.

I encourage you to be those who are unafraid to give witness to life. Be not afraid to give witness to life. Even though people might ridicule you, yell at you, or reject you, know that Jesus experienced it all so that you might have life, and life abundantly.

May God bless you and help you celebrate life in 2018!