Simple Catholic Snapshots
- The barrage is relentless
- Slowly and imperceptibly we are dying
- We must find a way out
- We must become the silence
There’s an old story about how best to cook a frog. The parable points out that if you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, the frog will instantly react and jump out of the pot, thus saving his life. If, on the other hand, you place the frog into a pot of warmish water, the frog is happy enough and stays put. The parable continues that if you then start to slowly raise the temperature of the water, even to boiling, the frog will not notice and eventually will meet his demise.
So goes the story of a frog, so goes the story of our souls…
Simple Catholic Truth
Sometimes, the most valuable treasure is a simple reminder. Not necessarily an epiphany or grand revelation, just a moment to recall and reflect on the obvious. Such is the case for “The Power of Silence” a book I recently finished, written by Robert Cardinal Sarah. Cardinal Sarah uses a series of 365 short (daily) commentaries to point out that a great challenge to our modern day faith is to confront as he calls it, the “dictatorship of noise.” As he eloquently points out, given the pace and technology of our modern existence, even our liturgy and prayer lives have been compromised.
I wasn’t so much surprised to hear this message, since the often frenzied nature of life is self-evident. For me the real benefit of this book was the subsequent personal reflection that occurred and call for corrective action. In this post I’ll share some of those reflections (supported by excerpts from his book) that seemed particularly prophetic and spoke to me.
Into the Pot of Water
13: “… we live in a society in which it seems that every space, every moment must be “filled” with project, activities and noise; there is often no time even to listen or to converse….”
Boy did this one hit home. For years I carried a printed paper planner around to keep track of appointments. Actually this was a good way to use time efficiently and not forget commitments. However, even then, I noticed that when I observed a space in my day – a spare hour here or there – I felt almost obligated to fill it. Obligated to do something! Can’t waste time I convinced myself! So fill those times I did. Luckily, I was smart enough to fill those spaces with activities that enhanced my life… (haha)
60: “…Today we content ourselves with performing rituals that have no effect on our everyday lives because they are lived without recollection, without interiority, and without truth.: …”
How much of my life has been spent on performing habitual rituals? And to what end? We all have them, those things that give us temporary pleasure or release or seem the right thing to do. Of course, life is a great gift to be used in many ways to be happy and experience joyful things. The nature hikes, the concerts, the good wine and meals, the sporting events – all gifts for our enjoyment and growth. But what if, some of those things have become just routine? What if, they are now taken for granted or worse yet, just used to fill in the planner? What if I’m doing things just for the sake of doing? It’s time to reexamine how my days are filled.
Water Temperature Rising
26: ” … the modern world transforms the person who listens into an inferior human being. With fatal arrogance, modernity exalts the man who is drunk with images and noisy slogans, while killing the interior man.”
Am I the inferior man who is listening? How much do I listen? Am I dying?
74: “Our world no longer hears God because it is constantly speaking at a devastating speed and volume, in order to say nothing. Modern civilization does not know how to be quiet.”
TV, radio, cell phones, emails, social media, computers, music. It is everywhere. It is SOOO loud.
I once thought I was immune but something happened a couple of years ago that was a real eye-opener. When driving I usually listen to talk radio – current events, religion, politics – the standard stuff mixed with the necessary castor oil of commercials. I did this all the time and thought nothing of it. Then I had the occasion to spend about 7 weeks essentially off the media grid. I spent those 7 weeks mostly alone in solitude without radio or TV. When I returned and started driving again, I started listening to the radio just like before. Much to my surprise I was unable to listen for more than a few seconds. The talking sessions were at such a level of tension, at such a pace and frenzy that I couldn’t stand to listen. It literally felt like a smothering wave crashing over me. And the commercials, with even louder volume and intensity were like someone screaming right into my ears. I had to turn off the radio to survive.
But I couldn’t stand to sit in a quiet car. Sadly, over the next few weeks I got re-acclimated to the blaring and was able to resume my once beloved habit of driving and listening to the radio. In retrospect, a lesson so clear and valuable, yet quickly ignored.
Escaping the Boiling Pot
58: [We must seek out] “external situations that should promote interior silence.”
We must first remove ourselves from the onslaught of the distraction. We must first find a quiet place in order to become silence. This means a quiet place but it also means a humble attitude. Make the time. Set aside a few minutes here and there. Start your time by just being silent. Divorce yourself from the bombardment of the external world.
52: “… By differentiating between exterior silence and interior silence, we see that although exterior silence promotes interior silence, [this interior] silence of speech, gesture, or activity finds its full meaning in the search for God.”
My story of being off-grid gives testament to the fact that simply finding a (exterior) quiet place is not enough. I certainly did that for 7 weeks, but I wasn’t ready to change. Interior silence was unknown. I was too busy talking to listen.
143: “In order to listen, it is necessary to keep quiet. … [not simply being] physically silent… but rather an interior silence…a heart overflowing with humble love… The silence of listening is…a gift of self to the other…”
So in order to be more loving with God, I needed more quiet time. Not just any time, but real quality internally quiet time. Talk less and just listen to Him… with my heart. I think they call this contemplative prayer, but I have to admit I’m not very good at it. I try but soon find myself talking again – a wandering mind fighting distractions of ‘squirrel’ moments and my better ideas. But like most things, it takes practice to improve and practice I will.
5: …”It is necessary to become silence.”
To escape the boiling pot we must find a quiet place but discover our quiet self. Adoration is a great place for me in this regard. Middle of the night, once a week, when the world is dark and sleeping, just me and God – face to face. The silence is deafening… you can hear a pin drop… and sometimes you can even hear the voice of God. And when He speaks, I am changed.
The words from this book are a stinging indictment on our lives. It’s not easy to be quiet and listen and change but change we must because the temperature of the water is rising. I invite you to hit the pause button and go find a quiet place. Humbly invite God inside, reflect on Cardinal Sarah’s wisdom and embrace the Power of Silence.