Keeping Silence Is a Very Important Means to Being a Man of Prayer and Learning How To Meditate

by admin on October 30, 2011

SILENCE is not only helpful for learning to speak with men, but equally helpful and very necessary for learn­ing how to speak and converse with God and be men of prayer. So says St. Jerome; and on this account he says it was that those Fathers made so much account of silence. “For this it was that those holy Fathers of the Desert, taught by the Holy Ghost, kept holy silence with extreme care, as being the source of holy contemplation.” St. Diadochus, treating of silence, says that it is the mother of holy and lofty thoughts, and a great and excellent thing accord­ingly. If, then, you wish to be a spiritual man and a man of prayer, if you wish to deal and converse with God, keep silence. If you wish always to have good thoughts and hear the inspirations of God, keep silence and recollection. As some men are deaf through an impediment they have in the organ of hearing, while others do not hear on account of the great noise, so also the noise and racket of the words and things and affairs of the world hinders men and makes them deaf to hearing the inspirations of God, and taking account of what befits us. God looks for soli­tude in order to deal with a soul. I will lead her into soli­tude, says the Prophet Osee, and there I will speak to her heart; there shall be consolations and heavenly favors; there I will give her milk at my breasts (Osee ii. 14), to signify the favors and bounties that God does to the soul when it recollects itself in this manner. St. Bernard says: “God is a spirit, not a body; and therefore He seeks a spir­itual, not a bodily, solitude.” And St. Gregory: “Little good comes of solitude of the body, if solitude of the heart is wanting.” What the Lord looks for is that there in your heart you should make a resting place and a cell to converse with God, and for His Divine Majesty to delight to deal and converse with you. Then you may say with the prophet: I have fled far away, and stayed in solitude (Psalm liv. 8). To this end it is not necessary that you should turn hermit, or fly from dealing and conversing with your neighbor.

Further, if you wish to be always devout, well disposed, and ready to get on well with your meditation, keep silence. St. Diadochus says very well that as, when the door of the bathroom is opened many times, the heat quickly goes out that way; so when one talks much, all the heat of devotion goes out by the mouth; the heart is thereupon poured out and the soul left destitute of good thoughts. It is a sight to see how quickly all the sap of devotion disappears when the mouth is opened to talk without restraint; our heart is lost to us through the mouth. Moreover, if you wish to have much free time and to save and gain many long inter­vals for prayer, keep silence, and you will see that you have time in abundance to commune with God and with your­self. Oh, how well that holy man [A Kempis] said: “If you would keep away from idle conversations and going about to no purpose, hearing news and stories of other peo­ple, you would find time ready to hand to think of good things.” But if you are a lover of talking and pouring yourself out by the senses, do not be surprised that you are always short of time and never have enough for your ordinary exercises, as we read (Exod. v. 12) of the chil­dren of Israel that they were scattered through Egypt look­ing for straw, and so could not accomplish their ordinary tasks, and were chastised accordingly.

There is another main point to be observed, full of spir­itual instruction; it is that, as silence leads up to contem­plation, so also meditation and contemplation and converse with God lead to silence. Moses said to God: Lord, since thou hast begun to speak and converse with me, I am become a, stammerer and, indistinct in speech (Exod. iv. 10). And the Prophet Jeremy, in beginning to speak to God, says that he is turned into a child and knows not how to speak (Jerem. i. 6). St. Gregory observes here that spiritual men, who hold converse and commerce with God, become there­upon dumb for the things of this world, and talking and hearing talk of them offends them because they do not wish to speak or hear of anything else but of what they love and bear in their heart, and everything else cloys and annoys them. And here we have experience of it. If you do not believe me, see how, when the Lord has blessed you at meditation and you come out from it with devotion, you have no mind to talk to anybody, nor to raise your eyes in one direction or another, nor to hear news; but you feel as though they had put a padlock on your mouth and on all your other senses. What is the reason of that? The rea­son is that you were occupied and taken up with God; there­fore you had no mind to go seeking amusements and conso­lations from without. And, contrariwise, when one goes talking, pouring himself out here, and full of distractions, it is because there is no spirit, no devotion, no entertainment there within. So says that holy man [A Kempis]: “What is the reason why we so willingly talk and converse with oth­ers, seeing how seldom we come back to silence without some wound to our conscience?” The reason, he says, is “that by talking we seek comfort from another and relief for our heart wearied with various thoughts, and we enjoy thinking and talking of those things that we like or detest.” We cannot live without some entertain­ment and satisfaction; and not finding it within, in our heart with God, we seek it in exterior things.

That is the reason why here in religion we make so much account of these and the like exterior faults, though of themselves they appear small. It is because these exterior faults, such as breaking silence and losing time and the like, are a sign of the little growth in holiness and the little inte­rior virtue that there is within. One shows thereby that one has not entered into spiritual life nor begun to find satisfaction in God, since one does not know how to enter­tain oneself with God alone in one’s cell. When there is no lock to a chest, we thereby understand that there is nothing valuable inside. When a nut is very light and bounces, it is a sign that it has no kernel. This is the main point that we regard in these things, and the reason why we make so much account of them.

Excerpt from Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues by Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Joseph Rickaby (Loyola University Press, 1929). Reprinted with permission.

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