How to Develop the Spirit of Silence So That the Soul May Grow in the Virtues of Humility, Charity, and Piety

Servus Mariae

“Servus Mariae Nunquam Peribit”

“Servus Mariae” translates as “the servant of Mary” or “the slave of Mary.” This title reflects the spirituality of the Con­gregation of Mary Immaculate Queen. That spirit is one of Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, as taught by St. Louis Marie de Montfort. The column title also reflects the motto of CMRI: Servus Mariae nunquam peribit (“The servant of Mary will never perish”).

by Rev. Fr. Dominic Radecki, CMRI

(Fall, 2016)

Using the Gift of Speech as God Intended

Speech is defined as “the power of express­ing and communicating thoughts by speaking,” while silence is defined as “the absence of sound or noise; stillness, quiet” (New Scholastic Dictionary of American English).

Since speech is a gift from God, it is a good thing unless we abuse its purpose. Nowadays, charity and moderation in speech are rare virtues. Even in Christ’s time, St. James noted this when he said, “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man” (James 3:2).

Since we live in such a self-centered age, loquaciousness seems to be the norm, even with regard to texting, which sadly, has displaced face to face conversation. It is a general rule that those who are the most talkative, regardless of which mode of com­munication they use, are usually the ones who talk only of themselves and of things that happen to them. They are in their own little world and too often are the conductors of a one-way conversation.

Adam Naming the Animals–Detail from the 12th century Aberdeen Bestiary

In order to use the gift of speech accord­ing to God’s intention, we must always think before we speak. The virtue of silence does not consist in never speaking; rather it is the avoidance of idle talk and chattiness. It is speaking only when there is a good reason to speak for the purpose of charity, politeness or duty.

Solomon said: “There is a time to keep silence and a time to speak” (Eccl. 3:7). St. John Chrysostom echoes this when he gives the following rule: “Speak only when it is more useful to speak than to be silent.” St. Gregory of Nyssa adds, “By silence we learn the art of speaking well” (St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, The School of Christian Perfection, p. 200).

We might add to this the fact that if you speak little, then others are more apt to listen to what you have to say than to those who incessantly rattle on and on. Some talk so incessantly that there remains no break in their conversation during which the listener can bow out charitably without being rude.

Solitude is the place where man finds God. In solitude virtue is easily preserved; in association with the world it is easily lost.

—St. Eucherius

How beneficial is Silence for the Spiritual Life?

We live in such a noise-filled environ­ment that it is rare to have any time in which we are not bombarded by noise. This is even obvi­ous when one calls a business or service and, when left on hold, is subject to loud recorded music (most often undesir­able). Even in gro­cery stores there is music blasting over the speakers. In traf­fic, more than a few cars vibrate as the so-called “music” coming from their speakers spews out to the ears of those in cars around them. It is as if people need to be constantly in a noise tunnel so that they do not have to think of spiritual things or of the condition of their soul. They do not want to be left in silence because then they are left with only their thoughts and the whisperings of grace.

This is why true spiritual progress and mental peace are impossible without the spirit of silence, and to some extent, a period of solitude. Even for those who are trying to develop a spiritual lifestyle, we are constantly distracted by the cares, activities, occupa­tions and responsibilities of the world, let alone by its countless pleasures and riches. All tend to divert our minds from heavenly things and cause us to become preoccupied with material values. We are caught up in a flurry of noise and activity.

Interior of the Convent of San Francisco, Mexico City, with a painting of the tilma. (ProtoplasmaKid, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Just as a busy day leaves the body tired or exhausted and in need of replenishing sleep, even more so the soul needs to enter into a haven of spiritual rest in order to be replen­ished and rejuvenated and, if necessary, redirected to the proper path of Heaven. Silence and, if possible, solitude do for the soul, what sleep does for the body. They promote recollection and holy desires and open our ears to the whisperings of God. They renew our spiritual efforts.

Since silence is one of the principal means to attain the spirit of prayer, the interior life is impossible without it. If you tend to dispute this fact, try to remember a time when you were trying to pray in church or at home and there were distractions, noise and activities going on around you at the time: Was it easy? Isn’t this one of the reasons why the rule of silence needs to be followed in church?

Does Silence help in allowing God to act in our Souls?

Silence is not a negative thing in which we are merely limiting our action of speech. It is not something to be borne passively. It is active and produc­tive because it gives us time to converse with God, Who will deepen our under­standing of life and raise our thoughts to the spiritual level for which we were created. It keeps us mindful of God’s power, wisdom and love. It actually frees us from the shackles of earth and its pressing concerns and reinforces our awareness of the direction we need to follow in order to attain eternal glory. It makes it easier for us to contend with the crosses we meet in life and to see purpose and love behind them and to do lovingly whatever God wills or desires of us. It makes it easier to do apparently difficult or impossible things in our spiritual life. Just as we must leave time to take care of nec­essary material concerns, so too, we must leave time to take care of spiritual ones, which will have a far, far more lasting effect.

In speaking of the spirit of silence and rec­ollection Fr. Zimper writes: “True silence… is a period of time devoted to listening, commonly called recollection. It is the cor­rective of mental dissipation…Recollection is a habit of mental calmness which frees the mind from slavery to time and schedule and the many extraneous demands that ordinary life exacts… It is a time when the truths of religion [and life] have a chance to impress themselves upon the mind, when deep realities hidden by the rush of daily living seem to become visible and known… We are not silent merely because silence seals our mouths and so makes us unable to be uncharitable in speech. We are silent because silence is a valued teacher that shows us such things as the beauty and the desirability of obedience…” (Fear Not Little Flock, p. 39).

Conversation with God Must Be Our First Priority

It would be interesting to note how much time we daily dedicate to conversations with others, whether by phone, texting, email or in person. How often do we converse with others and come away with useless distractions, false ideas, unwanted desires or frustrations and disturbance of soul? How often do the conversations leave us in a worse spiritual state than before? Human conversation usually ties our thoughts to this earthly life and the narrow limits of our mortal existence. It can often lead to gossip and detraction.

This is not saying that there is never a good reason for conversation; on the con­trary, it can be helpful and positive—it does not have to be negative and detrimental. When we do feel the need to converse, we should not be loud or overbearing. A soft voice is more pleasing than a loud one. It should also be noted that people often believe speech to be necessary when they feel the need to give their opinion on some­thing, even though they are not asked for it. We need to be prudent in our speech in this regard. Above all, we must set our priorities accordingly; conversation with God has to be first, otherwise, all else will fail in one way or another.

It is interesting to note that in traditional Catholic religious houses there always seems to be a silence which prevails in their sacred precincts. This leaves a deep impres­sion upon outsiders, filling them with awe and edification. Seculars who come to such religious houses are so impressed with this silence that they feel as if they are breath­ing the atmosphere of Heaven. Silence is so important a feature of religious houses that St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis de Sales, and other saints remark that if silence were observed in a convent, you could rest assured that religious discipline was flourishing there. It was necessary to the maintenance of proper discipline and as a preparation for prayer and meditation.

In silence and quiet the devout soul goes forward.

The Imitation of Christ

This same is true for us. Silence preserves our peace of soul, fosters recollection and devotion and disposes the soul to a more intimate union with God. St. Eucherius said: “Solitude is the place where man finds God. In solitude virtue is easily preserved; in association with the world it is easily lost” (The School of Christian Perfection, op. cit. p. 191).

St. Alphonsus said: “In order to remain united to God, we must endeavor to reflect on God and the immeasurable goods He bestows on those who love Him. By con­stant dealings with the world, these spiritual truths are apt to become obscured in the maze of earthly thoughts and consider­ations, and piety vanishes from the heart.

“Worldly-minded people shun solitude and it is quite natural for them to do so; for it is in retirement that they are troubled with qualms of conscience. They seek the society and excitement of the world so that the voice of conscience may be drowned in the noise that reigns there. Those on the contrary, whose conscience is at rest, love recollection” (Ibid. p. 192).

One day Our Lord said to St. Teresa: “How gladly would I speak to many souls, but the world makes so much noise in their hearts that they cannot hear My voice. Would that they might retire a little from the world!” (Ibid. p. 194). If a glass is filled with mud, the rays of the sun cannot penetrate it. The light of God cannot enlighten a soul overly attached to the things of the world.

Can I use nature to come closer to God?

Perhaps a good example to better under­stand what has been mentioned is for you to recall a time when you were in the quiet twilight at the beach, when you saw a spectacular sunset or sunrise or when you experienced a peaceful and quiet time with nature. We have all experienced such moments of awed silence and beauty. It was easy for your mind to rise and be thrilled with the thought of the beauty and grandeur of God. Perhaps you whispered a quick prayer of gratitude or simply let your heart be filled with love for such an awesome and loving God. His power revealed itself in your contemplation of such a scene.

Thomas Moran, “Grand Canyon with Rainbow”. 1912. Oil on canvas. de Young Art Museum.

For a few moments you were removed from the concerns of the earth, as you looked toward the heavens. See what wonders silence and solitude can impart! Silence and solitude can be a part of your daily routine if you really desire it. Keep your occupation with the outside world only to the extent that charity or duties of your state in life require.

How to stop verbal aggression with Silence

Keep your speech limited to what charity or necessity may require and resist temp­tations to be irritable, moody, impatient, sarcastic, critical or mean-spirited. This should first be practiced in your own home and then with all others whom you may encounter. You will soon find that peace and calm will enter not only your soul, but the others with whom you have contact. If met with insult or nastiness, instead of escalating anger and sparking the uncharitable situa­tion with your scathing words, you have the power to disarm the situation. By controlling your desires to lash out, in effect you weaken your assailant who would otherwise have been strengthened by your uncontrolled rebuttal. Fighting back only makes things worse and can leave wounds of bitterness and regret which can last a lifetime.

Interestingly enough, it is a psychologi­cal fact that if a person uses uncharitable words toward you and you say nothing, it diffuses the situation and leaves them with nothing more to say. You do not play into the mind game in which they want you to engage. They obviously are trying to “push your buttons.” By refusing to let them see that this bothers you, you have ended the “game” leaving them a bit confused as to why they did not arouse your temper. Further, you have let no words of regret escape from your lips. Interior calm and control influ­ences exterior demeanor and conduct. The opposite is also true: interior fire and anger influences exterior demeanor and conduct.

Cooperate with the Graces God Sends, Keep Your Eyes on Christ

Daily, God sends many graces our way which will leave us a better person if we cooperate with them. However, if we abuse or reject them, they will leave us in a spiritually worse condition. Every day we have opportunities to practice humility, patience, charity, understanding, forgive­ness, improvement, etc. If dealing with oth­ers is a cross for you it would be beneficial to pray the Litany of Humility; every line strikes a blow to our rebellious lower nature.

If we have difficulty in doing this, let us use Christ as our model. He was humili­ated, despised, calumniated, ridiculed, rebuked and was the victim of a mock trial, yet remained as meek as a lamb going to slaughter. The people whom He healed and helped preferred Barabbas, a murderer, to Him, yet He begged His Heavenly Father to forgive them. He was God and forgave all, yet we, who are sinners take affront at the slightest abuses against us, whether real or imagined.

It is only by trial and patience that we can prove our virtue and love of God.

I will conclude with these words from The Imitation of Christ:

“What a man cannot amend in others he must bear with patience till God ordains otherwise. Think that perhaps it is better so, for thy trial and patience, without which our merits are little worth. Pray that God may help you and that you may bear them well” (Book I, Chapter 16).

“It is easier to be altogether silent than not to exceed in words. Whosoever aims at arriving at interior and spiritual things, must, with Jesus, go aside from the crowd. In silence and quiet the devout soul goes forward” (Book I, Chapter 20).

–Taken from the Reign of Mary Quarterly Magazine, Issue 162

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