We truly are in the midst of the summer here in southern Florida. All of the winter visitors have gone home and many of our own residents have left for a vacation. Compared to the seasonal time of the year, there is a certain silence that falls upon southern Florida as the roads are less congested, schools are closed, restaurants and stores are less crowded and the heat of Florida's summer days keeps many indoors. The silence of summer gives us the time for some rest as well as for prayer which is based on silence.
We very much need time for silence. The world in which we live is filled with so many distractions due to instant media and communications. Through our cell phones, laptops and iPads, we are in constant contact with others as well as with all that is going on within the world. We know things as soon as they happen and many times it is difficult to know what the reality is since the communication of events takes place through the perception and persuasions of others. We also communicate what we think is reality with our own particular understanding. We certainly need silence in our world today to help us to understand better what is really going on and to know ourselves better as well. Noise does not make for reality and many times makes it difficult to hear God.
Jesus continually reminds us of the importance of silence and of getting away by ourselves to pray in order that we might come into God's presence as well as to understand ourselves better. In the Gospels, we often find the Lord going off by Himself to pray in silence and inviting His disciples to do the same. Most times Jesus is interrupted by the crowds that come to Him to whom He always gives His attention. However, what He gives them comes about through the time He spent in silence with His Father. His example is much in keeping with His words to us, "When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret" (Mt 6:6). It is very difficult to live in a world where silence is not present to the extent that the noisiness of the world distorts its reality. We need silence to know God, ourselves and reality.
The encounter of Jesus with Martha and Mary (cf. Lk 10:38 – 42) is a very key one to understanding the importance of silence in our lives. As Jesus goes to visit Martha and Mary, Martha is rightly concerned about being a good hostess to the Lord. She is so caught up in the noise of her busyness that she is disturbed by Mary who seems not to be doing anything but sitting in silence and listening to the Lord. As Martha complains to Jesus about her sister’s apparent laziness and asks Him to remind Mary to assist her, Jesus remarks, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her" (Lk 10:41 – 42). In this dramatic encounter, Jesus reminds Martha that listening to Him in silence is the most important thing. His words are ones that remind us that while we can be caught up in many things in our lives, there is need of only one thing - listening to Christ and encountering Him in silence.
So many of the words of Jesus in the Gospels emphasize this need of only one thing. The noise of our lives can cause us to make unfair judgments about others which causes annoyance as in the case of Martha with Mary. This is why he urges us, "Remove the wooden beam from your own eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye (Mt 7:5). Only silence can enable us to do this. Jesus emphasizes the importance of silence and rest in our lives when He enjoins us, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves" (Mt 11:28 – 30).
How often our Holy Father, Pope Francis, wisely reminds us that we must go to the peripheries of the world where we will encounter the forgotten, the poor, those without hope and those who need encouragement. He truly is the Pope of the periphery and well represents Christ who came to the periphery by becoming one of us and going to His death on the Cross in order that we might have life. One of the most important peripheries we need to go to is silence itself. In this periphery of silence we enter into prayer. It is only here that we find the true meaning of life and are able to reach out to the forgotten, the poor and those without hope. Without prayer, life is filled with noise that is not only distracting but destructive.
It is through prayer that we come to the periphery of ourselves and there find God. So many times we are frightened to enter into ourselves because we do not like what we encounter. However, it is only by knowing ourselves as we are that we truly come to know reality and come to know God. Jesus tells us very clearly that evil comes from within ourselves and it is that evil which manifests itself in the world - "The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile. For from the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, thefts, false witness, blasphemy" (Mt 15:18 - 19). Only by cleansing the evil within the human heart will we cleanse the evil within the world. How easy it is to see the reality of Jesus's words in the world today where there is so much evil coming from the hearts of pride, indifference and selfishness.
The most important thing of coming to the periphery of the innermost depths of ourselves is fully emphasized by the Lord in reminding us that He has come to make a home inside of us so that His Father can dwell in us as well. It is only by going deep within ourselves that we come into the relationship with Jesus so that we can make our home inside of Him. He tells us "Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit" (Jn 15:4 – 5). By not going into the periphery of ourselves to encounter the Lord, we truly set up a division within ourselves. In this context, the words of the Lord are most fitting, "A house divided against itself will not be able to stand" (Mk 3:25). Many times we can be divided within ourselves by not coming in silence to our inmost depths and therefore, without realizing it, causing division within ourselves which leads to a lack of peace.
Pope Francis reminds us of the importance of silence within our lives. On his desk in his bedroom is a statue of St. Joseph sound asleep. The Pope has great devotion to this image of the silent Joseph especially since God speaks to Joseph while he is asleep. The Pope many times puts handwritten prayers and petitions under the head of the sleeping Joseph as he himself goes to bed and asks St. Joseph to place these needs before God. St. John Paul II gave great witness to the importance of silence as he would so much enjoy going into the mountains to be by himself and to encounter the presence of God in that silence. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI continues to give us a wonderful example of silence in his living a monastic life during his retirement.
As we have a little more time during the summer to be silent, let us realize the importance of entering into ourselves so that we can encounter the Lord who truly has become one of us in our human nature. Let us not be afraid to go to the periphery of ourselves so that we can also know ourselves better and in so doing be more authentic in our dealings with the Lord and with others. Jesus reminds us that there is need of only one thing and that is listening to Him in silence. Our noisy world today, with so many distractions, is not the best place to hear what the Lord truly has to say and to encounter Him and His merciful love.
A silent and fruitful summer to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
July 14, 2017