Ministry of Silence

[I wrote this whimsical reflection Sunday evening, so I thought I’d post it]

As places of study, searching and refuge, public libraries can play the part of holy sanctuaries. – Chad Comello

A few months ago, I read an article about the decline of silence in western civilization over the last century and its deleterious effect on mental, social and cultural health. I wish I’d saved the article. In any event, the author said something in there that struck me as particularly powerful, to the effect: the only institutional sanctuaries of silence that remain in the West are churches and libraries. Though I would argue, in many cases, it’s libraries more often than not that are the surer bet.

In a culture so dis-eased with noise as ours, the Church has a solemn duty to unearth and offer the world the buried treasure of sacred silence and stillness, guarding it ferociously and distributing it generously as a divine gift. Silence is the Church’s protective ‘womb,’ offering to its inhabitants healing and peace.

I was discussing this idea recently in a faith formation series I am leading at a parish, and some pointed out the gift Eucharistic Adoration chapels offer in providing such a sacred space for prayer in Christ’s silence. Yes! However, much more needs to be done. Like protecting the beginning and ending of every celebration of the Holy Mass from chatter. To fully participate in the “sacred mysteries,” there has to be recollection in silence. And then after the celebration, silence allows worshipers to offer thanks and conserve all one has received in the liturgy, ready to walk back out into the world laden with Kingdom Leaven.

The Church is also a steward entrusted with a rich and ancient tradition of mindfulness, meditation, recollection and contemplation — the ‘centering’ methods of prayer. People in our fragmented and addicted world are hungry for these. The Church should make readily accessible these resources, equipping the Faithful to mine the treasures hidden deep in silence.

Teaching prayer and providing sacred spaces to pray should be one of our greatest priorities. God has filled our culture with so many seekers, searching for inner peace and meaning in life. They gravitate toward yoga, or other methods of mindfulness. But how much do we offer in our ecclesial institutions? We are to help seekers learn to ‘practice the Presence of God’ in silence and learn deep listening, as well as to detox from sensory saturation, becoming more attentive to God who lives within, or they will never find Him.

Parish field hospitals protecting God’s People from threats to their mental and spiritual health. Parish, from the Greek word paroikos “a sojourner” — we seek such weary sojourners. He who is Rest itself awaits you.

The words of St. Isaac of Nineveh come to mind:

Many are avidly seeking,
but they alone find who remain in silence.
Those who delight in a multitude of words,
even though they say admirable things,
are empty within.
If you love truth,
be a lover of silence.
Silence like the sunlight
will illuminate you in God
and will deliver you from
the shadows of ignorance.
Silence will unite your soul to God.

I often use a local public library for study, precisely because it’s so incredibly quiet. Such a refuge. And their secret? Here’s a story.

There is an older woman who works there who is, shall we say, quite eccentric. A character! I just love her, and affectionately refer to her as ‘the crazy lady.’ If anyone dares makes any noise, plays music or some such, this woman literally appears out of nowhere in a wild tirade, hushing and shushing them. She’s wickedly fierce.

Once, I was the transgressor. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and I was listening to a YouTube video, but in a section of the library where I made sure no one else was in sight. Well, I’m telling you! She rushed out of an aisle of bookshelves nearby and descended on me in an arm-flailing holy rage. Scared the living crap out of me! But as soon as she left — oddly enough — I felt protected and revered. I felt like she was the guardian of my right to silence, and I was filled with gratitude for her.

Okay, so maybe this is what we need in our age of chronic logorrhea: crazy eccentric Guardians of sacred silence! These holy fools would be tasked with rushing about, injecting the fear of God into all (of us) who dare break the code of silence imposed on every designated sanctuary.

Maybe Pope Francis would consider instituting the Ministry! Yes. And he, who last year said the Church must “cultivate spaces for silence in which another Word can emerge: that of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us,” would be the Pope who would:)

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