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Catholic Spiritual Direction

The Devil’s War on Silence

October 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Silence, Spiritual Warfare

There are key strategies of indirect attack that the enemy of our souls uses to significantly disrupt our spiritual progress. One is the corruption of human sexuality. As the analogy of holy spousal love is one of the most effective in understanding divine intimacy, the enemy desires to corrupt human sexuality in order to further obscure what it means to understand the possibilities of union with God.

Similarly, there is another indirect attack that wreaks havoc on the soul’s ability grow in intimacy with God — noise. In our culture, noise is everywhere. Day after day, our peace is invaded by television screens at gas pumps screaming ads and programming at us, music in stores, and thousands of television, internet and radio encounters that pump this poison into our souls.

Recently, I spent some time with a relative who appears to be spiritually dead. Her daily routine looks something like this: Rise, turn on the TV and get ready. Leave the TV on until daily activities take her from home — time to get in the car and turn on the radio to listen to music or talk radio or to make phone calls. Once back home, turn on the TV again until it is time to go to sleep (or sleep with it on). When I asked if she ever allowed for silence (as she reports that she prays often and is “spiritual”), she guffawed as if I were suggesting she enjoy a bowl of dry oatmeal.

I wish this were different with some of my Catholic friends (who I am sure I will be in trouble with once they read this). I am thinking of one, in particular, who is faithful and who does have a desire to know the Lord. However, she can’t seem to make the time (or exercise the will) to incorporate silence into her life in order to listen, hear and learn the voice of God. She will complain from time to time that she never seems to hear from God, but any suggestion of the need to cultivate silence is met with an irritated glance.

Sometimes we are simply afraid to stop and listen. Coming out of a disastrous youth myself, I had a great deal of emotional pain to deal with. My own thought life was out of control, and once any emotional event invaded my life, those thoughts often ran a torturous course throughout the coming hours, days and nights. Many people suffer these same challenges, such that silence becomes a threat. It becomes a place where we are confronted with those things that God desires to heal — a healing we often resist. For me, the enemy tormented me through the sins of others, then I compounded these sins with my own, and then the master musician of deception proposed a solution that I took hook, line and sinker — noise, distraction, and lots of it. With no silence in my life, I couldn’t hear God’s voice calling and leading me out of the pain. Cycle complete.

Here’s an insightful rant from C.S. Lewis, through the character of the senior demon in his masterpiece, The Screwtape Letters:

Those who understand the realities of how God works and speaks to us know that silence is critical for the health of our souls and to develop any degree of intimacy with God. We must cultivate times of silence daily if we are to learn to hear his voice. If the Lord seems a mere distant reality to you, maybe it’s because the enemy has sucked you into his plan of noisy distraction. He is working overtime to ensure that God’s voice never makes it past the noise you have allowed into your life: the noise of busy-ness, the noise of entertainment, the noise of news, the noise of music (even Christian music), and even the noise of a prayer life limited to vocal prayer (yup).

So maybe it is time to choose to face the silence, even if it means a bit of spiritual surgery. I have never met anyone who has taken this challenge and has regretted it.

We must be still to know that God is, and to find the healing and fulfillment that can only come through a living relationship with him. Ironically, it is when we are surrounded by silence that we can hear the most.

PS: The best audio version of Screwtape Letters ever produced can be found here. You can also find great C.S. Lewis resources at EWTN’s Religious Catalogue.

 

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the founder of Catholic Spiritual Direction, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and author of the award winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • BHG

    Nope. Not the best audio of Screwtape ever. John Cleese did a better job. ;-)

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      I enjoyed John’s version but there is no way that anyone matches the evil brought out by Serkis.

      • MaryofSharon

        Plus we can’t neglect to notice who scripted and directed the Radio Theatre production, RC Spiritual Direction’s own Paul McCusker. And yes, Screwtape could not have been cast better!

  • BHG

    I realize this is a silly thread but what the heck….I agree, Serkis is more overtly and dramatically evil–but the devil tempts us by seeming so very reasonable…hence my preference for Cleese who sounds at once more ordinary and yet not really so. Thanks for wonderful posts–they start my morning nearly every day.

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Your analysis is good. Cleese does present a more subtle evil. So, lets agree that everyone should listen to both! And… you are welcome!

  • Robert Kraus

    I was just thinking of this morning when doing my walk. I had my headphones going and listening to music, and part of me was wondering if I shouldn’t just be silent and go over my thoughts with God a little…a timely post! :)

  • Claire A

    Wonderful Dan, as usual. Something that jumped out: “He is working overtime to ensure that God’s voice never makes it past the noise”. He does this not only in our daily lives but at Mass too. It seems to me that with all the constant shuffling, coughing, crying babies, rustling papers and whispering etc of people who are distracted or or bored at Mass, the devils greatest aim is achieved by preventing you hearing the Gospel, sermon, the bidding prayers, the final blessing etc.

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Dear Claire – you are right. Even more, he desires to rob us of cultivating and maintaining a disposition of belief and embrace of our Lord in the sacrament of his precious presence. The enemy will, if we let him, point out everyone else’s sin or impropriety in mass so that we are unable to focus on our Lord.

      • LizEst

        One of my constant battles! But, the Lord is faithful and helps us there, as well, if we but turn to Him in our weakness. Have mercy on me, O Lord, a sinner!

      • Claire A

        So true. I often end up feeling so guilty at Mass because I’m focusing on being distracted! Have to ask the Lord to love others through me if I’m not capable at that moment of doing it myself :)

    • Rosemaid

      There was a pastor who once commented that crying babies were a great distraction to him and ought to be left at home until they could be quiet. It must be very difficult for our priests who must preach to have babies crying and all the other distractions you noted. That being said crying babies mean the church is alive & growing. Baptizing our infants is suppose to welcome them into the family. How many of us would ban children from Thanksgiving Dinner at friends or families because they were noisy? I’ve certainly been distracted at Mass by all the things you’ve listed but I offer a prayer asking that “I” might not be distracted. My parish is not a quiet monastery, it is my messy, noisy, sinful Church family for which I am so grateful. Blessings on you all. < (Jesus in my heart!)

      • RobinJeanne

        The thing with the “crying babies’ has nothing to do will children being unwelcome. It’s about the lack of respect parents have for others. I’m from a large family and have seen large families where the children are taught how to behave at Mass. If the child is crying then take them out until they settle down. If I just started talking to my husband in a normal voice while Mass was going on … it would be totally un acceptable, people would not just be thinking :take it outside” but I would probably be escorted out…. same thing, it’s just disrespectful. Even a person who can’t stop coughing, as in out of control, will usually step out till it calms down, why? because their not welcomed? no, because they respect others.

        Bottom line, lets start thinking of others and do what we can so that they can focus better on worshiping the Lord

        • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

          Dear RobinJeanne – I agree. Even so, I have a great deal of sympathy for those parents who are working hard and do care but just struggle. For them, we should pray and have mercy. Our being selfless is to avoid demanding that they be selfless when it is only marginally possible.

          • RobinJeanne

            You’re right. Maybe that’s how they were raised and so they don’t know any better. I will pray for those parents

          • LizEst

            It’s not the crying babies that bother my pastor. This is something natural and sometimes he even blends them into his homily in a warm and welcoming way. It’s the cell phones that don’t get turned off that are über disturbing! If you ever want to get “the look” from him, just leave your phone with the ring tone on. If you have to have them on for possible or probable emergencies, then put them on vibrate so they don’t disturb the Mass and others’ prayers.

          • Jeanette

            I think cell phones are best left in the car before we go into Mass. A few times, I have had my cell phone off but because of jostling inside my purse it caused it to come on again. One time, a friend in the Choir with me had her cell phone go off with the tune, “Girls just want to have fun” during Mass! It was funny but certainly not appropriate. From then on, she has left her cell phone in the car!

          • LizEst

            Too funny! Did you all get new choir members after that?!! Ha! But seriously, there are legitimate needs for having a phone with you at Mass. Nurses and doctors, EMTs, first responders, etc who are on call need it. Sometimes they can only go to Mass when they are on call. I needed it when my mother was on hospice in my home, even with my hubby spelling me while I went to Mass. I put it in my pocket on vibrate since I don’t carry a purse; so, having it get jostled and come on was a non-issue.

          • Jeanette

            Yes, those reasons definitely are legitimate to have the cell phone on vibrate during Mass but for most of us, I think we even forget we have it with us for one reason or another…that’s how those noisy incidents happen!

            And no, we didn’t replace the choir member, but she did get some kindly razing about it, especially concerning her choice of song! I don’t think she will ever forget it!

          • LizEst

            Actually, I was wondering if additional new members were added to the choir because of it, not a replacement of the embarrassed individual. But, no matter, you are right. She is never going to live that down…especially with the choice of song. God does have an exquisite sense of humor and perfect timing. What a funny way to teach us humility!

          • Jeanette

            I never twigged to what you meant re all new choir members! Haha! But our Choir is mostly women and we DO have fun! I really like your comment about God teaching her humility through this and, of course, it happened during a perfectly silent point in the Mass.

          • LizEst

            Oh no! During a perfectly silent point in the Mass? Even more humiliating!

            Hey, thanks for using the word “twigged.” I never heard that before and had to look it up. I appreciate the lesson! God bless you Jeanette! Glad you have fun! Just think of the fun of God’s everlasting Kingdom!

          • Jeanette

            I guess “twigged” shows my age as it’s an old saying. Looking forward to the fun of God’s everlasting Kingdom for sure! God bless you Liz. I’ve enjoyed our back and forth…

          • LizEst

            I’ve enjoyed it too. And, for your information, when I looked up twigged, it said it was a British expression and did not mention anything about age!

          • Jeanette

            Twigged…I didn’t know it was a British expression…that’s part of my ancestry!

          • Declan Kennedy

            What a lovely discussion between Jeanette and LizEst. I wish all internet comments discussions could be carried on in such a spirit instead of the usual abuse you read on so many forums. A great example to us all. Many thanks, and also to Dan for another inspiring post.

          • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

            Jeatte, just do what I do…..leave the cell phone at home…..you can call back all the missed callers later!!!!

          • Jeanette

            Hi Mary. Actually, I only carry a cell phone for emergency use especially for the car in case of breakdown. I never have it on. I don’t want to be a slave to a cell phone. But, then again, I’m retired and I like my privacy.

          • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

            Ghee!!!! how lucky am I, Jeanette……the longest distance I drive daily is to my neighbouhood Parish ( 1 km.) for my “Daily Dates” with Jesus and on Sunday when I drive 5 kms. to my Official Parish Downtown for the Holy Mass!!!!! And another 2 kms. every Tuesday to attend the Eucharistic Apostle of Divine Mercy Cenacle. And I am cheeky enough to believe Jesus would not allow my old limo to break down while I am on the road…….He has protected it these 16 years!!!!! I have never even had even a puncture on the road. I wake up in the morning and find a flat tyre!!!! Say Thank You to Jesus with me, Jeanette.

          • Jeanette

            I’ve never actually had to use my cell phone because of a car breakdown…so yes, I say thank You to Jesus with you too! God bless you Mary.

          • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

            Maybe we need a post entitled, “The Devil’s War Against Silence in Mass”

          • LizEst

            Great idea, Dan! This covers all kind of things, from cell phones to the omitting of sacred silence that is supposed to follow the readings and Communion once everyone has received.

            It could be a series “The Devil’s War Against/For…” Fill in the blanks, there is so much that could be done here eg:

            The Devil’s War Against Charity and Forebearance… in the Church parking lot, in hogging the end of the pew without legitimate reason and making everyone climb over you for a seat instead of graciously moving to the middle of the pew, in not putting the kneeler down for people in front of you so that those with foot problems are in pain when they kneel, in not giving up your seat (unless you have health issues) for the elderly or a mother with children, etc, at a very crowded Christmas or Easter Mass, in refusing to assist, without legitimate excuse, when asked, in not giving up the worship aid at a funeral or wedding when there are not enough to go around, etc.

            Then, there is The Devil’s War Against Obedience at Mass (not even considering presiders who don’t follow the rubrics)…in changing the people’s responses to put in different words, in not following the prescribed posture, in not contributing to the needs of the Church (one of the precepts of the Church), in not saying Amen after receiving the Body of Christ, or using your own response, in taking pictures during the liturgy when it has been expressly forbidden, in receiving Communion when in a state of mortal sin, etc.

            And, don’t forget The Devil’s War Against Chastity and Purity at Mass…in dressing in revealing clothing or clothing that carries an obscene message, etc,…in checking out another worshipper who is provocatively dressed, in bringing up memories of risqué behavior on the part of the deceased in the words of remembrance at the funeral Mass, in using four letter words and foul language in the words of remembrance at the funeral Mass, etc.

          • $1650412

            I have to say I see it this way, and am convicted by this exhortation too, Liz!

          • LizEst

            I’m convicted, too, Jo…just not going to say on which! Ha! It all calls for continual conversion of heart.

          • wyllow

            I agree so much! The last time I went to confession, the line was quite long, we waited about 45 minutes. The woman in front of me had her cell phone on and if it rang once, it rang twenty times. I could not believe the audacity.

          • LizEst

            Hmmm…a confessable item?

    • Aimliz

      When I first read your comment, the one thing that stood out for me and stung, was the comment about babies. I have two little ones, and at my parish the cry room puts you in a place where you can’t see the alter, at all. I feel as if I have been put in time out. Like all of us I really need that time at mass. My children need to learn and understand how to behave as well. If they cry, yes I take them out of church until they quiet down, but to list them as a distraction is the devils work right there. Our society is so negative about the existence of children. Sometimes I feel hated at mass, even when my kids are quiet.

      • Rosemaid

        I sure agree with you. There was a young women in my parish who faithfully brought her 3 preschool children to Mass every Sunday by herself since her husband was unable to help due to work. We have no cry room only the vestibule with the burning candles and other things young ones can “get into”. She would try to choose a pew where there was someone at the end to help her corral the mites. Who needed Mass more? Should she have stayed home for the next what 5 years or so? Perhaps we ought to take a lesson from other Christian denominations and provide child care for the under 5 yr. olds. My friend’s now 4 boys are all grown up now and are the nicest young men who still practice their faith. So Elbam hang in there. Your little ones will be grown in no time.

        I’ll say an extra prayer for you. >

  • Michael Brooks

    Silence is Golden!

    • LizEst

      Michael – I suspect your treasure is great in heaven. God bless you!

  • http://www.marythedefender.wordpress.com MariaGo

    It’s my mid-schoolyear break and been marathoning cartoons all day. Maybe I should stop for now. Thanks!

    • LizEst

      Yeah, that would be a grace-filled idea!!!

  • Karen

    People who have constant noise can’t possibly be engaging in serious prayer. That requires silence. I’ve learned to love the silence and my favorite place is in front of the tabernacle not praying anything, just listening.

    One of the “devil’s achievements” that I’ve seen lately are hot tubs or garden tubs with T.V.’s. A place where you should be relaxing in the silence and allowing God an opportunity to speak to you. So sad!

  • Jeanette

    “I will come to you in the silence, I will lift you from all your fear. You will hear my voice, I claim you as my choice, be still and know I am here. Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow me. I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.”

    These lines are from one of my favourite hymns which came to me while I was thinking about this post. It’s called: “You Are Mine” so I thought I would share it with you. God bless!

    • http://www.marythedefender.wordpress.com MariaGo

      I love that song! This reminds of another beautiful song. “God of Silence” by Fr. Manoling Francisco SJ. I know I might have posted this before. But its a beautiful song, hope others will love it too!
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KigSUG5-kUg

      • Jeanette

        Very pretty song Mary! Thanks for sharing.

  • Ronald Tesch

    I’m half way through the Screwtape Letters. This is a must read book for all. I read two or three letters before bed and typically recognize several situations in them that mirror my own life. Thanks Dan for posting this.

    • LizEst

      Ronald – Did you know that our Book Club read these this past summer? If you would like to read some of the commentary and write ups for each week go here to start: http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/2013/06/11/csd-book-club-announcing-our-next-book-the-screwtape-letters Then, for the remainder of the weeks, put “Screwtape Letters” in the search field at the top right hand column of the page, and they will come up, along with other posts that have referenced this work. God bless you, Ronald…and thanks for your commentary.

      • Ronald Tesch

        I’m sorry I missed this. The book is a page turner

  • Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

    Such an excellent post on the need for silence and listening for and to God, Dan. As I am sure you know, Mother Teresa spoke about this need quite a bit. Thank you for sharing this essential lesson on the spiritual warfare which is involved in the distraction from holy silence. I plan to share this far and wide.

  • Annie

    I for years now have made it a habit that no tv goes on in the house before 7:30 that’s it. I love the peaceful quiet I have . I talk with god silently sometimes out loud but mostly within but this priest is right you do hear so much more with silence. Even in the car all is off it’s once in a blue moon it will be on . Try changing things around , you will adapt to it quickly and you will be so grateful that you did. God bless !

  • Hannah K.

    Due to some priestly advice, I’ve been attempting to have 10 to 15 minutes of mental prayer (and silence) a day. There is a problem though; although the physical noise is at a minimal, the noise in my head is still on. And, being a deep and active thinker, it’s hard for me to turn off that noise. Do you have any suggestions for this? What can I do?

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Dear Hannah, you might be comforted to know that St. Teresa of Avila struggled with the same challenge. From her writings she seems to have had both physical (tinitis) and normal challenges. You are note alone! One thing I do is to get up very very early, when my mind is less active, and the first thing I do is mental prayer. Though I am able to enter into a state of recollection at other times during the day, this has taken a long time to develop. The beginning place for those who succeed is almost always down this path of daily, early morning prayer. Another aspect is the use of a psalm, specific prayer, or other promptings of the heart that we can use to draw our attention to God when our minds are raging. It is probably a good time for a post on this topic.

      • Hannah K.

        Thank you for the advice. I’ll definitely try mental prayer in the morning. I did Lectio Divina for a while back during the summer, I might try that again as well as reading some psalms. I’ll be looking forward to that post :)

        • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

          Lectio Divina is a very powerful approach. The key is to be sensitive to the movements of the Holy Spirit and to allow the text to draw you to the Lord. It should be done gently and attentively. There is a good guide on our site here if you look it up.

  • Annie

    Jeanette,
    That is a beautiful song ! Thank you for bringing it to my attention. The words , so deep and beautiful!!!!

  • Annie

    One more thing I’ve forgotten to mention. Of course this is what happened to me but after I changed and reduced tv and any noise such as music in the car or wherever I realized how the noise then started to bother me. I’d be like ” it’s too noisy let’s move over to this bench or this table or lower the volume . Any noise took on a negative reaction. God works in mysterious ways . Once he has you he doesn’t want to lose you!!!

  • Tina J

    I am in a Dominican Laity formation group. On the feast of St. Dominic our group gathered together for Mass, dinner and fellowship. At the end of the evening, our spiritual director placed cards face down on the table. Each card contained a bequeath of St. Dominic’s Last Will and Testament. We were each asked to pick one card for contemplation and action for this year. I chose the following;
    “I bequeath to you the love of the virtue of silence. If you become fond of it,your spirit will benefit greatly. In so far as it depends on you, strive to preserve silence in this house of mine as faithfully as possible.”
    Since August 8th I have been striving to preserve silence in my house as well as in the spirit of St. Dominic. Thank you for this article, it is inspirational.

    • LizEst

      Wow! I love this exercise…and also the card you picked. What a blessing! Thank you for sharing that.

  • jle

    At very beginning of a lengthy silent retreat I once attended, the setting of expectations was given by one of the retreat leaders. All participants were told that, “Silence is a gift we give to one another”. How I wish and long for this silence before and after every Mass. Instead the insides of churches have become like social halls, leaving those of us who long to pray in silence with a challenge to pray in spite of the noise. What has happened to respect for the Blessed Sacrament, and for those who wish to pray in silence at church?

    • Roger Davidson

      Reminds me of that story in a homily I heard whereby 3 demons were in training on how to tempt the world. The first came to the master demon and it suggested that it would tempt mankind into believing there is no God. Then the second one, who also kinda failed, was advocating making the people on earth start believing that there is no sin. Finally, the third one, whom the Master Demon praised, came up to say that it would tempt humans to think that there is no hurry. Well, to a great extent this last scheme will work, if people just loose track of time via distractions and noise, hence loosing time in the end. How short a life is to learn that we do need to hurry, but not with temporal things but eternal ones.

  • Gladius

    I made deliveries and had to have the car radio going all the time. Then I started making Spiritual Communions every morning. After a week, I realized that I was no longer listening to the radio and never turned it on again.

  • Matthew Townsend

    I think the Noise! Screwtape video is highly unnecessary and doesn’t help this article at all.

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Shhhhh

      • LizEst

        : O LOL!

  • Joan

    My church has started to keep most of the lights off before Mass to create an atmosphere of silence & prayer, & it has been working. I love it this way.
    It used to be as jle described, “socializing time”.
    However, I still find myself, while in silence, distracted by thoughts & worries concerning some family members, & I find myself praying desperately for them, instead of being silent.

    Dan, how do you keep the mind quiet, waiting for communication from God?

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Dear Joan – Our parish does the same. It is a great idea. The key to a Christian understanding of silence is not that we are seeking to quiet our minds but we are seeking to direct our minds to God. So, I would recommend vocal prayer when you are struggling. If you want to avoid disturbing others, simply whisper the prayers. Then, as your focus improves, move to a more simple prayer of being present with God.

      • Joan

        Thank you so much Dan. Your suggestions sound really helpful, and I think will aid me a lot. I often have silent “conversations” with God when I’m alone. Would reading scripture silently qualify as well?

        • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

          Absolutely

          Sent from my iPad

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    Late as usual. But thanks, Dan. Yes noise drowns God’s Voice…..I particularly get upset by the booming, clanging instruments which are now the vogue in many Catholic Churches. (How I miss the melodious Organ of my youth!!!) Worst of all is when we are at the Benediction and the Disco-type young persons can’t stop screaming their loud Pentecostal Praise and Worship Songs. You can never have a moment to speak to Jesus in front of you will all that racket going on.