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THE CATHOLIC REVIEW: ‘Be Still, and Know that I am God’

Rediscovering the beauty of silence in the ‘dictatorship of noise’

By DEACON RICK BAUER
05/18/2017 | Comments

Our world, our lives, our families, our culture, and even our churches are drowning in a world of noise and distraction. Not simply the multiplication of words and media sources, our bigger loss is the presence of the grace of silence in our lives. Silence is too often a lost aspect of our spirituality, whose rediscovery can profoundly transform us.

Robert Cardinal Sarah from West Africa, who currently serves at the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (appointed by Pope Francis in 2014), has given us a unique opportunity to reset our lives and rediscover the renewal power of silence in our lives. In his new book took, titled “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise” (Ignatius Press), Cardinal Sarah teams with the French journalist Nicolas Diat to create this examination, renewing the collaboration they started in the celebrated book “God or Nothing.”

We begin with an overheard conversation, couched in reverent whispers, taking place in the hushed and hallowed halls of La Grande Chartreux, the noted Carthusian monastery in the French Alps. At once we are taken out of our noisy, busy, tech-distracting world and brought into a different and more genuine reality — where wisdom, vision and devotion spring not from downloads or TV shows, but from silence, where God’s voice can finally be heard. After a thorough exegesis of both scripture and the insights of saints from the ages, a solitary strong thread of the inestimable value of silence arises — from the adoration of the Eucharist, to reflective prayer, to meditation in poring over the Scriptures; from insights into the role of silence in the life of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and in countless other examples — we are brought to a quite-stunning realization that our lives are far too noisy for our souls to flourish.

This is not an easy book to read. I found myself re-reading and reflecting on Cardinal Sarah’s insights into the value of silence and being called up short as to how far my present life, filled with its technology, entertainment and media interruptions, needs to be re-prioritized. Cardinal Sarah’s gentle invitation to engage in the “asceticism of silence” is irresistible, as he guides us with such biblical references as “When words are many, sin is not absent” (Proverbs 10:19); “He who guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3); or, from the Master, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter” (Matthew 12:36); finally, from Sirach 28:25, we find this wise counsel: “Make balances and scales for your words, and make a door and a bolt for your mouth.”

“The Power of Silence” is not simply guiding us to measure our words more carefully, or minimize them to a greater degree (though it certainly serves that function well); we come to see God’s nature, his power, and his activity revealed in silence. Perhaps the most thoughtful and encouraging part of the book is Chapter 4, titled “God’s Silence in the Face of Evil Unleashed,” which turns out to be one of the more powerful explorations of the topic in recent memory. Not so much a theological treatise on the subject of theodicy (where is God in the midst of evil and human suffering?), Cardinal Sarah invites us to ponder the silence of Christ at his trial, the patient faithful silence of Mary at the cross of her son, the silence of Christ’s tomb after his death, and the silence of God the Father as he suffered with his son at Calvary. Far from having to “get over it” in sensing that God is far from us in our mourning or in the vastness and brutality of human wickedness, we see God’s presence in his silence, as he collaborates in our suffering in the like manner to the crucifixion of Jesus. For this section alone, the book is worth a careful and thoughtful reading. 

The book has also earned endorsements from several highly-influential Catholic commentators, including Bishop Robert Barron, George Weigel and Archbishop Charles Chaput.

“Cardinal Robert Sarah’s profound exploration of the silence in which we hear the still, quiet voice of God, and thus come to know the truth about ourselves, is a powerful challenge to the cacophony of our times and a summons to a more Gospel-centered way of life,” Weigel wrote.

I heartily recommend this book for those thoughtful disciples seeking to re-orient their lives. It will be worth the effort to drink in the wisdom found in this book; it’s not an easy, quick read — and that’s the whole point.

(For more information, to reply, or to suggest a book or resource that might be helpful for Catholic Christians, please write Deacon Rick at rbauer@diocs.org)


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