Listen for Jesus in Peaceful Silence
At first glance, one may think that speech is superior to silence and that we communicate with Jesus by speaking and singing.
Is not Heaven the eternal abode of contemplation and of love? And in Heaven, one sings without ceasing. Isaiah and St. John listened to the new canticle of glory: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts,” which the blessed never cease singing day or night. Why, then, is silence necessary upon earth in order to communicate with God?
The silence of which I speak is not the absolute lack of words and spiritual canticles. Assuredly, Jesus must have lived during the thirty years of His hidden life in an intimate and uninterrupted conversation with His heavenly Father. When His lips were silent, His Heart spoke in a manner more eloquent, more divine. Exterior silence is not silence with God but with creatures.
The contemplative life is an intimate affair; it is a loving conversation of man with God. But in order that God may speak to the soul and the soul speak with God, it is necessary that there be silence.
Neither God nor our heart will be silent, but the earth and created things must be hushed, because everything worldly hinders the intimate conversation of our soul with God.
This silence is not the silence of the desert nor of the tomb — a negative silence, the lack or suspension of life. It is like the apparel of a more interior life that one wears outside, because inside he is singing a love song. He does not speak with creatures, because he is speaking with God; he does not listen to the noise of earth, so that he may hear the harmonies of Heaven.
As an audience maintains silence to hear better the voice of an orator, as music lovers keep silence during a symphony to admire its artistic beauty, so the silence of contemplation is nothing other than the indispensable condition for hearing the voice of God and addressing to Him our heartfelt words.
Silence is not only the indispensable condition for the development of the interior life, but it is also a sign of the maturity of virtue. When the interior life reaches a certain degree of development, it is marked by silence.
In the beginning, we have some difficulty in speaking with God, but as our intimacy with God increases, our conversation with Him becomes easier, because His love provokes an inexhaustible source of loving words in our innermost soul. If this love continues growing until it reaches a certain degree, if our friendship with Jesus becomes more intimate and perfect, then words begin to fail us, because they seem impotent to express the sentiments of our heart. Little by little, words disappear, and our communication with God becomes the divine communication of silence.
Even in conversations among men, we find these different stages. When one person begins to communicate with another, if either or both lack confidence, conversation is difficult. Afterward, when both have become friends, the difficulty disappears, and the conversation can be prolonged for hours. But if this friendship develops into a deep affection, a moment will come in which words do not suffice. Then speech gives way to silence. The great emotions of the heart, like profound sentiments of the soul, are not expressed with words but with silence.
Silence has two functions in the contemplative life. At the beginning and at all times, it provides the environment for developing the spirit of contemplation. Silence quiets all creatures so that God may speak. It cuts the communication with outside affairs and puts us in intimate contact with God. It concentrates all our energy on our interior and makes our life a living prayer. Afterward, when contemplation has reached a notable degree of maturity, silence is not only its guardian but also its supreme expression and most intimate language.
The heart is silent when all its affections are concentrated on the love of God; it is silent when there are no discordant, scattered notes, when all its tones rise toward Him. And so for interior silence, one needs detachment. When there are affections that are not those of Jesus, there is a cacophony that hinders us in our contemplation and our love. In order to keep interior silence, therefore, we must chain our passions and rid the heart of earthly affections.
We should live in an atmosphere of silence so that the divine flower of contemplation may flourish therein. In dealing with our neighbor, we must exercise many times, like Jesus, the silence of prudence and charity. And, as victims, we ought to offer ourselves, in union with Jesus, to the heavenly Father for souls.
Thus, in the midst of these holy forms of silence, our life will pass, preparing us for the true, eternal life where we shall intone a new canticle, a heavenly canticle. But it seems to me that, even in Heaven, that canticle would be expressed in silence. Why? Because in Heaven all is silent except God; all is silent; only the word of love resounds.
Doubtless, here on earth, we hear the voice of God, and we pronounce the word of love, but the din of creatures disturbs us, and many times we must interrupt our song. Not so in Heaven. There all is hushed; no noise of creatures breaks the grand silence. There is but one note, one word, the one that comes forth from the Heart of God and from our own hearts: the word of love.
But do not the blessed in Heaven hear the clamor that rises from the earth? Certainly, but in Heaven those words have another meaning. St. Paul says that on the final day of time, Jesus will triumph over all His enemies and the last of God’s enemies to be destroyed will be death. Once His enemies have been defeated, our Lord will take all men and subject them to God in order that “God may be all in all.”
Inscrutable expression! What does it mean that God may be all in all things? We do not now comprehend the profound meaning of creation, or of history, or of the universe. We hear the noises of the earth in a superficial manner, and therefore they disturb us. But then, “God will be all in all,” and all the sounds that reach even to the skies will speak to us only of God.
Therefore, we can well say that there is not, nor will there ever be, a silence similar to the silence of eternity, to the silence of Heaven, because there every creature is silent and there is heard only one sound — God; only one word — the word of love.
This article is from a chapter in When God is Silent, which is available through Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post is from the cover of When God is Silent and is used with permission.