December 3, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Make time to be still in order to hear God

On Oct. 23, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis. It was a wonderful evening, and the turnout was great.

We are blessed to have a place where folks can go to spend special time with God. The spiritual center offers a variety of programs for people of all ages who have a need to get away for some solitude, perhaps some healing.

Father Keith Hosey from the Diocese of Lafayette, and a longtime retreat director, was the featured speaker. I was pleased that he chose to stress the need for personal prayer and the importance of a place of silence in our lives.

He made the point that perhaps today we need silence more than ever. In the midst of the noise of our times, we crave some solitude and silence. Perhaps we don’t even realize it.

I was reminded of a work by the late theologian Msgr. Romano Guardini. It is titled Meditations Before Mass. The original 1955 English edition has since been republished by Sophia Institute Press.

Msgr. Guardini begins the book with a chapter titled “Stillness.” The chapter begins: “When Holy Mass is properly celebrated, there are moments in which the voices of both priest and faithful become silent.”

Later, he writes: “Hence the beginning of divine service is the creation of stillness. Stillness is intimately related to speech and the word.”

He asserts: “The importance of silence for the sacred celebration cannot be overstressed—silence which prepares for it as well as that silence which establishes itself again and again during the ceremony. Silence opens the inner fount from which the word rises. Silence and speech are interdependent. Together they form a nameless unit which supports our spiritual life.

“Like the sacraments, God’s word is spiritual-corporal; like them, it is meant to nourish the spirit in flesh-and-blood man, to work in him as power. … The word of God is meant to be heard, and hearing requires silence. … To have ears to hear requires grace, for God’s word can be heard only by him whose ears God has opened. … But it also requires something that we ourselves desire and are capable of being inwardly present. … All this is possible only when we are inwardly still” (cf. pp. 13-20).

I was further reminded of words spoken by the late Pope John Paul II at the beginning of his pontificate: “For me, prayer is the first priority. Prayer is the basic prerequisite to service of the Church and the world. … Every believer should always think of prayer as an essential and indispensable component of one’s vocation. It is the ‘opus divinum’ which precedes and overshadows every work. We well know that faithfulness to prayer, or its neglect, is a test of the vitality of religious life, apostolate and Christian fidelity” (Address, Oct. 7, 1979).

I will never forget the first time that I read the Holy Father’s stark reminder to us clergy and religious. “A constant danger with priests, even zealous priests, is that they become so immersed in the work of the Lord that they neglect the Lord of work” (Address in Maynooth, Oct. 1, 1979).

Earlier in 1979, Pope John Paul said, “We must find time, we must make time, to be with the Lord in prayer. Prayer is indispensable for you, today as yesterday” (Address in Guadalupe, Jan. 27, 1979).

Pope John Paul makes the striking point that the first priority of priests, religious and lay faithful alike is prayer, including personal prayer. And he points out the hazard for all of us in becoming too busy to pray, too busy to nurture our friendship with God.

It was the point that Father Hosey made about the distraction of our busy world. The Holy Father says that even zealous priests can neglect this relationship. And if we do, if religious and laity do, our relationship with God begins to wane.

Msgr. Guardini explains for us the utter importance of silence if we are to live our call to holiness, which is our fundamental vocation no matter what our state in life might be. Silence, stillness, is necessary because God speaks in silence.

He communicates with us in the silence of our hearts as well as in church. Our challenge is to make time to be still in order to hear him.

Someone placed a small framed message on my desk at home. I am not sure who did it, but it appeared. It says simply: “Be still and know that I AM.” It is a fine daily reminder.

I chose to offer this reflection on prayer, silence and stillness because I think it is timely for Advent.

Somehow, silence and stillness especially seem like Advent and Christmas themes. †

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