We are now at the very difficult aspect of prayer (and especially today) – silence. In this chapter, we will see how necessary it is to be silent. It is giving God our undivided attention.
The gift of self attracts in return the mercy of God, humility increases the soul’s capacity for grace; silence protects the efficacy of God’s action in the soul.
In the First Mansions, St. Teresa stressed the necessity of recollection if we would discover the presence of God in the soul and the treasures He has hidden there. Now in this second phase of the soul’s progress, the need for silence becomes imperative.
This will be broken into two sections. The first will explain the necessity and the forms of silence; the second will study the relations between silence and solitude.
In contemplation, divine wisdom not only enlightens the intellect; it acts on the whole soul. And so it demands of it a complete orientation of its being towards God, a recollection and tranquility of what is deepest within, in order to receive the action of Love’s transforming rays.
St. John of the Cross writes, “The heavenly Father has uttered only one word: it is His Son, He says it eternally and in an eternal silence. It is in the silence of the soul that it makes itself heard.” St. John of the Cross adds: “God works His divine operations in silence. Silence is a law of the highest divine operations: the eternal generation of the Word, and the production in time of grace, which is a participation of the Word…. It is in silence that the divine Word, which in us is grace, makes Himself heard and is received.”
“But Thou, O my God, art always the selfsame, while the world is ceaselessly changing.” Psalm 101:18
For the spiritual person who has known the touch of God, silence and God seem to be identified. And so, to find God again, where would he go, if not to the most silent depth of his soul, into those regions that are so hidden that nothing can any longer disturb them.
St. John of the Cross says that the “deepest center” of the soul, where the joy of the Holy Ghost “gently and lovingly awakens” the limit to which the soul can attain, is God within it. (Living Flame, Peers, III, P 251)
Jesus Christ, as our example, felt a constant need of taking refuge in silence which permitted Him to give Himself up exclusively to the rapture of the Word and the sweet floods of divine unction, poured out on Him silently. The retreat for nearly thirty years at Nazareth, the sojourn in the desert for forty days before beginning the public life as if to store up reserves of silence, the frequent return into solitude in the calm of the night in order to renew them.
In imitation of Jesus, St. Teresa wanted to recover the primitive ideal of Carmel and the perfect observance of her Rule. Carmel had its origin in the desert and always retains it in order to live and to bloom. St. Teresa was of the race of those hermits who dwelt on the holy mountain, and for whom St. Albert, patriarch of Jerusalem, codified the monastic customs into a Rule which insists at length on silence.
St. Teresa’s convents were to be paradise of divine intimacy where Christ would come to rest a while in silence with His own. She always maintained a care to instill silence.
Today, we live in a fervor of movement and activity. The evil is not simply in the organization of modern life, in the haste that it imposes on what we do, or the rapidity and facility that it affords our changing of place. There is a more profound evil in the feverish nervousness of temperaments. People no longer know how to wait and be silent. We must remember that NO MATTER WHAT CHANGES TIME MAY BRING, GOD REMAINS THE SAME.
2. Forms of Silence
a. Silence of the Tongue
To be silent means not to talk. This indicates the importance of the mortification of the tongue for the practice of silence.
St. James says: “In many things we all offend. If anyone does not offend in word, he is a perfect man, able also to lead round by a bridle the whole body. For if we put bits into horses’ mouths that they may obey us, we control their whole body also. Behold, even the ships, great as they are, and driven by boisterous winds, are steered by a small rudder wherever the touch of the steersman pleases. So the tongue also is a little member, but it boasts mightily. Behold, how small a fire – how great a forest it kindles! And the tongue is a fire… Every kind of beast and bird, and of serpents and the rest, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind; but the tongue no man can tame…with it we bless God the Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made after the likeness of God.” James 3:2-9
These exchanges through the word are at the basis of social life, of all education, of progress in every domain, including the developments of the faith. Faith comes through hearing, remarks the apostle St. Paul, and how could one believe if there were no preaching? But excess is injurious. Mortification of the tongue must keep a right measure in these exchanges. When the harm is done by conversations, the soul is sometimes warned by an uneasiness.
And so talkativeness – that tendency to exteriorize all the treasures of the soul by expressing them – is extremely harmful to the spiritual life. Its movement is in reverse direction from that of the soul which becomes increasingly interior in order to be nearer to God. The soul becomes impoverished and hinders fruitful work and recollection in ourselves and in others. A superficial and vain talker is a dangerous person. One wastes and squanders grace. Pride and spiritual gluttony may set in.
Silence is both a fruit of sanctity and a requirement for it. Silence is so important that monastic Rules have fixed the precise ways to practice it, adapted to each Religious Order.
Of course we must confide in our confessors and spiritual guides, we need to tell of one’s inner dispositions and of graces received; it is ordinarily the only means of submitting them to direction and receiving light and help concerning them. Writing them down in a notebook helps to define them; sometimes it discloses their riches and makes it possible to draw upon them in less luminous hours.
b. Mortification of Natural Activity
Natural activity can, like talkativeness, disturb the silence in which God speaks to the soul. Natural activity dissipates the soul, destroys recollection, multiplies obstacles to the return to prayer, and invades prayer itself, making it very difficult if not impossible. We must always allow for a notable part of the day to be reserved for silent prayer.
But we can take it to the other extreme in not thinking that activity will draw us closer to God. Charity which is a participation in the life of God is, like God, contemplative and active. In the evening of life we shall be judged on love, our charity done toward neighbor for the glory of God, says St. John of the Cross.
St. Thomas considers the mixed life in which contemplation overflows in fruitful works, as the most perfect form of life and hence superior, considered in itself, to the purely contemplative life. Therefore, it is a matter of prudence in how we conduct our day with silence and work.
Father Marie Eugene states: If the priest does not preach, does not consecrate, does not work, souls die of starvation. Where he is absent, faith disappears. Let a parish remain twenty years without a priest, said the Cure of Ars, and its people will be adoring beasts. One the other hand, where the priest is active, zealous and holy, the Christian life develops and sanctity appears.
St. Therese of the Child Jesus used to recommend turning to works of charity when it was getting too dark in the soul.
The work that is the will of God permits us to commune with God through our will and charity as efficaciously as prayer itself permits us to grasp God through the intellect and faith. These two communings through faith and through charity complete one another and harmonize to create sanctity. We must remember that it is always harmful if it becomes feverish and done in haste. We must do all work with a calm disposition or it will agitate the soul and disturb and upset everything. Experienced direction can indicate to each one according to his temperament and grace, how he is to respond by a wise mixture of passive silence, exterior activity, and intellectual work.
St. Teresa writes: “We must needs be careful, in doing good works, even those of obedience and charity, not to fail to have frequent inward recourse to our God. And, believe me, it is not length of time spent in prayer that brings a soul benefit: when we spend our time in good works, it is a great help to us and a better and quicker preparation for the enkindling of our love than many hours of meditation. Everything must come from the hand of God. May He be blessed forever and ever.” (Foundations, Peers, III, p. 26)
3. Interior Silence
It is in the deep center of the soul, in its most spiritual depth that God dwells and carries on the mysterious operations of His union with us. Interior silence is the most important. Exterior silence has value only in the measure that it helps the interior.
Interior silence is more difficult to understand and can easily be afflicted with psychological problems.
There are two phases of Interior Silence –
The first phase includes the first three Mansions, God intervenes only with general help; the soul keeps the initiative in prayer and directs the activity of the faculties. In this phase the will can exercise direct control over the imagination and the understanding – but it may not be constant. St. Teresa says, “And when we begin to pray we shall realize that the bees are coming to the hive and entering it to make the honey.” (Way of Perfection, Ch. 28, p. 116)
The second phase begins at the fourth Mansions, God intervenes with that particular help which progressively establishes the predominance of the divine activity over the activity of the powers of the soul. Complete rapture or suspension of all the faculties is produced only in the graces of mystical union of the fifth Mansions and in the ecstasy of the sixth and lasts a very short time. On the other hand, the captivation of the will may be prolonged considerably in a sweet prayer of quiet or of passive recollection which also affects the senses.
It appears then, that contemplative graces, producing different and sometimes contrary effects in the lower and higher faculties, divide them rather than unite them, establishing zones of profound peace and zones of disordered commotion.
St. Teresa speaks of these different zones and how one cannot expect a constant tranquility and the more purified souls experience interior restlessness more painfully.
How to react to this interior restlessness – One must laugh at oneself and realize what a miserable creature it is and to not fight the superior forces. If the devil is the culprit – we are to be sure to ignore him. The more attention – the worse it will get. Just go forward confidently and faithfully to God. Most importantly - seek the aid of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She wants our perfection. She will aid us always. We can turn to Her and say a Hail Mary, gaze on the tabernacle, return our thoughts to our reading or open to a Scripture verse. This will also help us in our physical mortifications. We fail often and when we do – turn back to God. Go to Our Lady and beg Her for help. She will never refuse you. It is by humiliation and patience more than by perfection of the art of prayer that the soul will succeed in finding God and obtaining His Love that purifies, heals and brings tranquility.
Our Lady, Spouse of the Holy Ghost - pray for us!
Blessed Fr. Marie-Eugene