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.