By BISHOP JOEL M. KONZEN, S.M. | Published September 16, 2021 | En Español
You have no doubt noticed that silence is in short supply these days. The options for adding sounds to our lives increase day by day. And rather than repel them, we grasp at them—podcasts, video streaming services, music outlets that have a million songs, movies on any device we can imagine, alerts that sound day and night to let us know there is something that is begging for our attention.
All of these opportunities to hear more have made it difficult to remember that there was and is a place for silence in our lives. Take a drive through any stretch of the United States, and it is rare that you will see children playing together. This is not only because of safety concerns but especially because children are tied to indoor entertainment forms that occupy them for hours on end.
We adults are not much different. We have a variety of devices at home, in our cars, and—uninvited—even while we’re pumping gas. Let’s face it, you have to work fairly hard to find and hang onto a shred of silence in the lives most of us lead.
If we go back to the time of Jesus, we have examples of him spending long periods in prayer. This was probably time spent in meditation or contemplative prayer, not unlike what we are invited to do in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, adoration is one contemporary place where silence is preserved and promoted. Jesus connected with God the Father and felt the Father’s presence deeply, allowing him then to call the Apostles into ministry on one occasion and, at Gethsemane, to accept the sacrificial death that he was to undergo for the sake of fallen humanity. He was able to experience the Father’s love even as his heart was full of anxiety and urgency. This requires both time and silence.
I am trying to be more mindful of the need that we all have for silence. At the Holy Mass, no matter how many hymns at and after communion there are—and sometimes there is singing and playing long after the distribution is complete—I want to have a period of silence when we can offer a proper thanksgiving and prepare for the concluding blessing. We celebrants can also offer a small amount of silence during the penitential rite and in the course of the Universal Prayer (Prayers of the Faithful). The point here is that the Mass does not need to be sound upon sound from the opening Sign of the Cross to the dismissal.
For extended silence, there is nothing quite like finding the time to make a retreat. I recognize that not everyone can carve out a weekend or a week in order to go to a quiet place where silence reigns and one can pray unimpeded. That is why availing oneself of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament can be a one-hour retreat. Finding a quiet spot to pray outdoors also can satisfy the soul’s need to locate that time and place allowing for intimate connection with the Almighty. And, of course, a random visit to your local church is often an occasion to revel in the lush gift of silent moments in the presence of Our Lord.
Not every desirable commodity costs dollars. This one, silence, costs some effort in carving it out and then making good use of it. But, even if scarce, it is free, as is the opportunity to bind ourselves to God in the confines of our one-on-one encounter that is a complement to our communal worship. We go to God in a great variety of ways, but we can reach him especially well in the stark absence of distractions that silence offers.