by Stacie Hiserman
Oh, to embrace the silence, the stillness of the little manger at Bethlehem in our own hearts.
How often can we admit that the peace of silence fills our very beings, as it did for the Holy Family one night in a lowly stable in Bethlehem?
Turned out by their fellow man and affronted by the piercing cold…yet they carried on in peaceful acceptance of God’s will. What a wonderful scene for reflection!
It is difficult to maintain peace amid the suffering and calamity we endure in this world. It is a grueling effort to silence the noisy thoughts in our minds and hearts when the world seems to be on a turbulent merry-go-round, always grasping for our attention; always attempting to distract us from what is truly important.
Sadly, many search in vain for interior peace in the wrong places. The latest smartphone, the biggest TV, the fastest car, the shiniest diamond will not grant us interior peace no matter how much marketers tell us they will and no matter how much we spend (or save) on them.
We must page through scripture and look to that December night for the model example and source of silence, peace, joy, and hope:
Contemplate the Virgin Mother, Our Lady, humbly bending with maternal love over the cradle of her newborn Son, in adoration of the Son of God. She feels there is little she can do to physically comfort His tiny body, except to wrap Him in swaddling clothes and hold the Infant God-Man to her breast. For her, this is joy. This adoration, this all-encompassing love…is enough.
We see that Mary is quiet throughout scripture, except in order to draw us to her Son.
Envision the vigilant foster father St. Joseph, who silently keeps watch as lowly shepherds come from the nearby fields to join him in adoration of the Holy Infant, the long-awaited Messiah. The sacrificial devotion of this divinely designated protector brings him joy…it is enough.
Not a word of St. Joseph’s is recorded in scripture. Yet his communication with God is profound and certain through his actions. Instead, he listens. His silence is an ardent witness to his complete and utter attention on the Lord.
Notice that the only “noise” in the Gospel accounts of the Nativity is the resplendent adoration of the host of angels, who deliver to the poor shepherds the most joyous news of all eternity:
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.’”
Clearly, the entirety of Heaven is exuberant at the execution of God’s plan for the salvation of His beloved human race. Imagine the joy! Were we to hear the angels’ voices, we would likely collapse in awe of the beauty. We would promptly silence our hearts’ distractions in order to join in the glorious praise and joy of the angels that night. We would not prefer to be “plugged in” through our devices. We would not be distracted by social media, enwrapped in our smartphones or escaping into entertainment. We would be present!
What if I told you the angels kept a sort of silence during their magnificent herald?
You see, the silence of the heart is distinct from the silence of the tongue. We do not need to, nor should we, quiet our voices and cease our speech at all times in order to cultivate interior peace. But we should certainly make time during our day to reflect. Interior, contemplative silence is like unfolding a mystery right before our eyes. We come away with an enriched knowledge, which leads to the deeper connections that we so desperately seek.
Our spiritual lives thrive on silence. St. Teresa of Avila describes contemplative prayer as “a sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.” Once we have learned to do this, then even when we are no longer verbally silent, we can keep an interior silence.
In his book The Power of Silence, Robert Cardinal Sarah calls noise a “dictatorship” because of the claim it has over our lives. He notes:
“Silence is not an absence. On the contrary, it is the manifestation of a presence, the most intense of all presences. In modern society, silence has come into disrepute; this is the symptom of a serious, worrisome illness…”
Perhaps we can take something from Our Lady’s example at the Nativity, when she “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
Our Lady did not need to cultivate interior silence, as she already possessed it in full! But for us, this kind of silence must be cultivated. We pray for the grace to do so.
It requires sacrifice and intentionality, unlike the convenience of instant answers from the internet and the immediate availability of thousands of items for purchase at our fingertips (to be received in two days, no less!). With each new convenience, it seems new demands are made on our time and attention. When we make use of these things, we must not allow them to disrupt our interior peace. We must maintain silence of the heart. Sometimes, that means, we must walk away from them.
We can aim to begin afresh this Christmas, by taking time to meditate on and observe the Holy Birth not only during the Christmas Liturgy, but throughout the entire season of Christmas (Christmas Day until the Epiphany, January 6th,…or even until Candlemas, the 2nd of February!); by silencing our phones and other devices to give undivided attention to our Faith and our families; by keeping family Christmas traditions alive in our home, the domestic church.
As we learn to keep an interior silence in our hearts, despite our failures, we can sustain hope (the sister of peace) and reflect upon Cardinal Sarah’s keen observation of Our Lord’s life:
“Jesus comes to this earth during a peaceful and silent night, while mankind is sleeping…His birth is surrounded by solitude and silence…For thirty years, no one hears Him. Christ lives in Nazareth in great simplicity, buried in the silence and the humble workshop of Joseph the carpenter (Mt 13:55). It is certain that He already lives in prayer, penance, and interior recollection. This hidden life of Jesus is in the silent shadow of God.”
Only by first silencing the distractions in our hearts can Christ’s birth provoke the most exuberant joy and wonder in us!
A very merry and grace-filled Christmas to you and your loved ones from the Team at Catholic Action for Faith and Family!