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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Of Death and Life


Six years ago today my grandmother passed from this life into eternity.  Having been very close to her, this day always passes with a twinge of sadness.  Yet today also happened to be an excruciatingly busy day, and I had hardly a moment to think of the anniversary or utter more than a couple of brief prayers until the business of the day was concluded.  By the end of the day I was both physically and emotionally drained, but I scurried back to my rectory, uncovered a couple of recently discovered antique vestments and went over to the church, locking the doors behind me.  

Silence.  Stillness.  Peace.  

I lit a couple of candles and prepared the altar to celebrate a private Requiem Mass according to the usus antiquior, as is my custom for the anniversaries of my loved ones' deaths.  The church was still, and every click of my heels on the marble floor echoed through the cavernous, vaulted space.  Though I have celebrated Masses privately in my parish church many times, there is something about the tone of a Requiem Mass that makes the solitude of the act far more pronounced.  My voice echoed in such a way that it made it clear that I alone was present (physically) to mourn and offer sacrifice.  Perhaps it was appropriate.  

Six years ago, I was joyfully ministering to a work group in Webster Springs when I got the call from my father that I needed to come home immediately.  I explained the situation to the Deacon overseeing the group and made some hasty goodbyes.  I got in my car and drove the dark, abandoned mountain roads at speeds that were, in retrospect, unwise and unsafe.  But I didn't want to miss the opportunity to say goodbye.  A couple of wrong turns burned precious time, and I pulled into my grandmother's driveway shortly after 10:00 p.m.  My mother's cousin met me at the top of the stairs, and with a tear rolling down his cheek, hugged me and said simply, "She's gone."  I moved down the hallway to the bedroom to find the rest of my family--some crying, all looking grieved.  And I felt alone.  Alone, because I was the one member of the family who didn't get to say goodbye.  

I reflect on this occasionally, but never so much as when I offer a Requiem Mass for her.  Maybe it didn't matter that I wasn't there at her bedside when she left this world, because unlike the rest of my family I have the singular privilege of meeting her at the Altar of Sacrifice in eternity.  It's little consolation to one who misses the one person whom he spoke to almost every day of his life.  But at Mass this evening, in the stillness of the church, I was struck so profoundly as I turned toward the crucifix and most especially by the starkness of the words that issued from my mouth: "Requiescat in pace."  "May she rest in peace."  The words echoed briefly behind me, almost as if I had not been the one to say them, and the tone--though I didn't intend it--was one of grief...of petition...of resignation.  And I felt that sense of being alone, but not in the sense of abandonment, but more in the sense of being set apart.  

As I moved from the altar and began to extinguish the candles my mind immediately began to jump back to the thousand things that typically fill it on a daily basis, and I felt joy as I remembered that this weekend I have the privilege of celebrating not one but two baptisms.  Even in contemplating death, there is new life to be found.  And I contemplate that perhaps one day years from now, long after I have passed from this life,  there will a priest who will be offering Mass for the souls of the children that are about to become beneficiaries of the very salvation that compels me to pray for my grandmother, who received the grace of baptism almost a century before these children will have.

I am not completely immune to the sadness of death, despite that Faith tells me so clearly that with death "life is changed, not ended."  So many view death as an end, an absolute cessation of activity.  If that works for them, so be it.  But I can't be satisfied with that because what unites my grandmother to these perfect strangers that will be baptized this weekend is not me--it's the life they will share through the death of Baptism, a life that unites all believers from generation to generation.  And that gives me hope.

Monday, July 11, 2016

What Do I See?

This morning I took a walk out my front door and over to the parish office, and I noticed something odd...what I presumed to be a piece of garbage on the top step leading to the main entrance of my church.  My first thought was one of frustration that someone would leave their rubbish behind, most especially in so disrespectful a fashion.  On closer inspection, the piece of paper was deliberately left there, held in place with a small rock.  I was perplexed for a variety of reasons.

First of all, who walks about town with notebook paper and a red marker?  Was my church the only site of such a message left behind?  Which direction was the anonymous author facing whilst sitting on the steps of my church?  Then I immediately began to hope that he was looking away from my church...not because of the object of his sight being called "Babylon"--we Catholics have been called far worse.  But because I worried that I had left a light on all night!

And I began to reflect on the question posed to me, the Priest of this Temple.  "What kind of world do we now live in?"  It's such a loaded question, the answer to which is difficult to give without some context.  Was the author still reeling from the much-publicized shootings in Louisiana and Texas?  Was this a victim of the devastating floods here in our own Mountain State?  What was it that so weighs on the soul of this individual that the need arose to leave a note?

In my few short weeks as the new parish priest in Weston, WV, I have encountered some exceptional people, some of whom are very spiritually gifted and from whom I expect to learn a great deal.  
Seeing the lights of Babylon from the steps of the Temple is an excellent image, as it reminds me that no matter how safe we may feel, no matter how comfortable we may be in our faith, or how righteous we see ourselves, the lights of Babylon burn brightly in our world--the lights of a civilization that stands opposed to right religion, that seeks our demise, that demands nothing less than full compliance with its hedonistic, godless view of life.  And we who stand at the gates of the Temple, guarding that which has been entrusted to us by God Almighty, must be vigilant and ever ready to defend the Temple from the forces of evil.  The lights of the army encamped against us burn bright in the darkness but are quickly dimmed by the radiance of the Morning Star, the Sun of Justice that never sets.

What kind of world do we live in?  A world besieged, beleaguered, broken, and debased.  But also a world redeemed. A world illumined by the light of Faith and the gleam of hope that enobles the hearts of men, drawing them from a place of fear and cowardice, and perching them on the pinnacle of Temple to cry out in a voice that speaks of Justice, of Peace, of the Reign of our Sovereign King and Lord, the Lion of Juda who extinguishes the lights of Babylon and drives into oblivion the armies of the Enemy!

Maybe this isn't the answer my unnamed scribe seeks.  Tonight I shall sit on the steps of the Temple and see what may be seen.  May my plea to God be ever the same as the words of Bartimaeus to Our Lord when asked what he should like Him to do: "Domine, it videam."  Lord, that I might see.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Rebirth At Last?

After years of hiatus, during which time I completed my tenure as the parish priest in Ravenswood, WV, served as Priest-Secretary to the Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, temporarily administered the parishes of Pocahontas County, WV, and have taken up a new position at the Parish of St. Patrick in Weston, WV, I feel compelled to make yet another attempt at keeping a blog of the various ruminations and thoughts that come to me--if and when they do.   As always, I make no promises.  But if my writings here are able to reach even a small portion of the Faithful in the Mountain State and beyond, then May God use me according to His will. Stay tuned...

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Rebirth (or sorts)...

After more than a year's hiatus (for various reasons, including my transfer to a new parish and being bogged down with all that such a move entails), I have been toying with the idea of resurrecting this blog.  Before anyone starts popping champagne corks, I'm not yet committing to anything.  We all know that my previous attempts at blogging have been short-lived and (at times) inflammatory.  So, we're gonna take it slowly and see where it goes.  As the days, weeks, and months go by, I hope to build up to where there's some good, substantive material here addressing a wide variety of issues.

In the meantime, I encourage everyone to check out the Facebook page of the Sacra Liturgia Conference held in Rome last week.  Many of my dearest friends were in attendance, and I regret not having been able to go.  Thankfully, Facebook allows us to live vicariously through others, in their posts and photos.  Great things happened in Rome last week, and I eagerly await the publication of the talks that were given!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Two Thought-Provoking Articles Every Catholic Should Read

I submit for my readers' consideration two articles which are both hard-hitting and thought-provoking.  Links to them will also be found on my Twitter account.  I will not, however, link directly to them on Facebook, as I have found that Facebook tends to become an immoderate forum for sniping and unreasoned judgment....and I just don't have the time to deal with some of my FB "friends" who may be hostile to the premises of these articles.  

The first is entitled "Church, Sex, and Society," by Jim Mahoney:

Money-quote: 
In the course of 200 years, the Revolution learned that murder makes martyrs.  Today, the Revolution mounts its final assault.  It no longer needs to shoot priests on the altar or march them to the scaffold.  It can simply force the congregation to pay for its own destruction.

The second is entitled "Why Fight Same-Sex Marriage" by Douglas Farrow:

Money-quote:
By excising sexual difference, with its generative power, it deprives itself of any direct connection to nature. The unit it creates rests on human choice, as does that created by marriage. But whether monogamous, polygamous, or polyamorous, it is a closed unit that reduces to human choice, rather than engaging choice with nature; and its lack of a generative dimension means that it cannot be construed as a fundamental building block.

As I have warned, these two articles are for people who think and reason, and who are not driven by secularist or political ideology.

Comments will be moderated, and abusive attacks will not be published.  Above all, I ask that everyone who reads these pieces commit to reading them in their entirety, and to reacting in all charity.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Divine Mercy Indulgence: GET IT STRAIGHT!


This Sunday after Easter is traditionally called “Low Sunday” or Quasimodo Sunday.  In some circles, it has becomes (almost universally) “Divine Mercy Sunday.”  Now, this is not a blog post on the Divine Mercy Chaplet, its devotion, St. Faustina Kowalska, no a commentary on Bl. Pope John Paul II’s declaration of Low Sunday to be called “Divine Mercy Sunday.”  In point of fact, this Sunday is now properly called Divine Mercy Sunday, as Bl. John Paul II initiated this on April 30, 2000, in his homily at the canonization of St. Faustina.  So, that’s just fine.  Although, it is noteworthy to point out that the third edition of Roman Missal, having been promulgated prior to that homily, and translated much, much, MUCH later, does not seem to mandate this (it says “Second Sunday of Easter [or of Divine Mercy]”)—a curious fact which I would hardly call an oversight so much as a relaxing of JP2’s proclamation, so as to permit the Church to celebrate the feast of Divine Mercy as an option. 

Whatever the case, something came across my desk that really infuriated me.  I don’t know where it came from, but apparently it’s being marketed as the granting of a Plenary Indulgence.  Here’s the text of the flyer:

“Imagine your soul being, today, as pure as the day you were Baptized!
A Special Promise of Mercy:
Our Lord promised to grant complete forgiveness of sins and punishment on the Feast of Mercy as recorded in the Diary of St. Faustina:
I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My mercy (Diary 1109).
 My great delight is to unite Myself with souls...when I come to a human heart in Holy Communion, My hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul.  But souls do not even pay any attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things.  Oh, how sad I am that souls do not recognize Love!  They treat Me as a dead object (Diary 1385, 1288).
 Divine Mercy Sunday was instituted by Blessed John Paul II in the year 2000 at the canonization of Sister Faustina on April 30, 2000.  It is celebrated on the Sunday after Easter.”

To borrow a rhetorical style from Fr. Z, “But, Father!  But Father!  If Jesus said it, isn’t that good enough?!” 

The short answer is a resounding “No!”  Here’s the thing.  The Church has canonized Sr. Faustina Kowalska.  As far as we are concerned, she is said to be most certainly in heaven, by virtue of the merits of her holy life and two posthumous miracles attributed to her intercession.  But the contents of her Diary—even if it was held in great esteem by a Pope—are not considered to be infallible, nor (to my knowledge) have they been declared to be authentic.  If they have, it still doesn’t change the argument made here:

Public revelation is what we have in Scripture and Tradition. It was completed, finished, when the last Apostle died and the New Testament was finished. So there is no more until Christ returns at the end. In this area the Church has His promise of providential protection in teaching.
 
Even though there is no new public revelation, the Church can progress in deepened understanding of the original deposit of faith--thus the Immaculate Conception, for example, was not mentioned in the first centuries, was even denied by many in Middle Ages, but could be defined in 1854. This progress is the result of the growing light of the Holy Spirit. At the Last Supper Jesus promised Him to lead the Church into all truth.
 
Private Revelation is all else. The word private is poor, but usual. Even Fatima, addressed to the world, is private. But there is a great difference. The Church does not have the providential protection in matters of private revelation. Ordinarily the decision of the local Bishop is final on authenticity of a revelation. Yet we would not have to believe any decision on private revelation--though we must obey a command, if a Bishop gives such, not to go to the place of a an alleged revelation. In obeying, we do not lose any graces. Christ saved the world by obedience--cf. Rom. 5:19. St. Margaret Mary says He told her: "Not only do I desire that you should do what your Superior commands, but also that you
should do nothing of all that I order without their consent. I love obedience, and without it no one can please me."
 
The most the Church can do on a private revelation is: 1) say it does not clash with public revelation. If it did, that part of it would be out. 2) Say it seems to deserve human acceptance--that is in contrast to something accepted on the divine virtue of faith, which comes into play only in the area of public revelation.  (Taken from EWTN)
 
So, what’s the point of all this?  My point is that there is a great deal of misinformation going around about the nature of Divine Mercy Sunday.  Despite what flyers and popular piety and devotion, and even pastors of souls, are saying, THERE IS NO PLENARY INDULGENCE GRANTED FOR ATTENDING MASS ON DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY.  Period.  End of Discussion.  That’s all she wrote.

Now, how do we know this?  Because the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum (the handbook of Indulgences), last promulgated in 2004, states very clearly the following:

First of all, “Participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Sacraments is not, according to tradition, enriched with indulgences; for, in and of themselves, they hold a very high (praecelsam) efficacy as far as sanctification and purification goes” (Praenotanda, 3).

Second, that same Enchiridion Indulgentiarum lists in its index all of the specific liturgical days and feasts on which some form of indulgence is granted.  These days include participation in the Solemn Easter Vigil, the Solemnity of Pentecost, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Week for Christian Unity, et al.  But it does not concede any form of indulgence for the Second Sunday of Easter, aka Low Sunday, aka Dominica in Albis, aka Divine Mercy Sunday.  And if it has not been granted by the Church, then there exists no guarantee of the conferral of the promised grace.

So, I hate to be the party pooper here.  But this "indulgence for attending Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday" does not exist! 

Now, before people go all apesnot over this entry, a few things:  I am not discouraging devotion to the Divine Mercy of Our Lord, nor to St. Faustina and her writings.  I am not saying you don’t have to come to Mass this Sunday, since you’re not “getting something extra.”  Truth be told, I love the Divine Mercy Chaplet—I think it’s a wonderful devotion.  But no nun—not matter how holy or influential, or how authentic we may believe her visions of Christ to be—has the authority to grant the full remission of all temporal punishment due to the effects of sin!  Sorry...no can do!

All this having been said, THERE IS THIS:
“a plenary indulgence, granted under the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the intentions of Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, take part in the prayers and devotions held in honour of Divine Mercy, or who, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!");
 A partial indulgence, granted to the faithful who, at least with a contrite heart, pray to the merciful Lord Jesus a legitimately approved invocation.”  (Granted June 29, 2002)

So, before I get people freaking out all over the place, let’s get our facts straight about the Divine Mercy devotion, Divine Mercy Sunday, and everything else that seems to have been thrown into the mix.

To everyone out there, have a very blessed Second Sunday of Easter (or Of Divine Mercy)!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Blessings at Communion: A Continued Debate

In response to a developing thread on my Facebook page, I submit the following, which is featured on the website of St. Paul's Catholic Church in Pensacola, FL.


Congregation for Divine Worship -
On Giving Blessings During the Communion Rite
 What about giving blessings to people who come forward in the Communion line but who are not receiving Communion? Should a priest, deacon or an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion give the person a blessing instead?
 What if a person who is not receiving Communion presents himself with arms crossed over the chest, during the regular administration of Communion?
 Two men wrote to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) asking about this practice. Their query asked if there are "particular guidelines or restrictions" concerning the practice of a minister or extraordinary minister giving the person a blessing.
 The response from the CDW was in the form of a letter (Protocol No. 930/08/L), dated November 22, 2008, signed by Father Anthony Ward, SM, Under-secretary of the Congregation.
 The letter said that "this matter is presently under the attentive study of the Congregation", so "for the present, this dicastery wishes to limit itself to the following observations":

1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.
 2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18).
 3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands — which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here — by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.
 4. The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio n. 84, "forbids any pastor, for whatever reason to pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry". To be feared is that any form of blessing in substitution for communion would give the impression that the divorced and remarried have been returned, in some sense, to the status of Catholics in good standing.
 5. In a similar way, for others who are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in accord with the norm of law, the Church's discipline has already made clear that they should not approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those envisaged in can. 915 (i.e., those under the penalty of excommunication or interdict, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin).
 The Congregation's clarification that extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (always laity), cannot give sacramental blessings within Mass is very helpful; and could be especially useful to pastors in parishes where inappropriate blessings during Communion have become common.
 Although the CDW letter did not mention young children, we often see little children who have not yet received first Holy Communion accompanying their parents in the Communion line, with their arms crossed over their chests — both as a signal to the minister that they are not receiving Communion, and as an expression of the child's reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.
 This reverent gesture of a young child is laudable and appropriate. But sometimes a minister (or extraordinary minister) interprets the child's gesture as an implicit request for a special blessing as a sort of "substitute" for Communion. While the intention of blessing the child may be good, it should be made clear to all that the priest's blessing at the conclusion of Mass includes everyone, and that there should not be separate blessings for any person during the Communion rite.
 Yes, Jesus says let the children come to me. So if you bring children up in the communion line that is fine, teach the respect for Christ’s presence in the Eucharist not to expect a blessing from the priest. It is not about the people in line (it is not about you) or about the priest, the deacon, or the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. It is all about the presence of Christ and only about the presence of God, in Jesus Christ, His Son. The Communion line is about the presence of Christ, respect for the presence of Christ, and the reception of Christ.
 So, is this sort of punishment that children should not be blessed in the Holy Communion line?  No!  It is not!   What we are emphasizing is why anyone is in the Communion line.  We are approaching Christ to receive Christ.   If we are not of age, or are in RCIA, we should approach with reverence and teach your children that as they stand before the body and bold of Christ, they are in the Holy presence of God Almighty’s Son Himself!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Some thoughts on Passiontide

For those of you paying attention, yesterday was the Fifth Sunday of Lent, commonly called Passion Sunday (not to be confused with Palm Sunday, on which the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is first proclaimed).  Having noticed an outbreak of liturgical minimalism and spiritual mediocrity in my part of the world with regard to some of the most beautiful and ancient traditions that the Roman Rite has to offer vis a vis Passiontide, I submit to you some reflections from that indomitable liturgical scholar, Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB.

During the preceding four weeks, we have noticed how the malice of Jesus' enemies has been gradually increasing.  His very presence irritates them; and it is evident that any little circumstance will suffice to bring the deep and long-nurtured hatred to a head.  The kind and gentle manners of Jesus are drawing to Him all hearts that are simple and upright; at the same time, the humble life He leads, and the stern purity of His doctrines, are perpetual sources of vexation and anger, both to the proud Jew that looks forward to the Messiah being a mighty conqueror, and to the pharisee, who corrupts the Law of God, that he may make it the instrument of his own base passions.  Still, Jesus goes on working miracles; His discourses are more than ever energetic; His prophecies foretell the fall of Jerusalem, and such a destruction of its famous temple, that not a stone is to be left on a stone.  
The doctors of the Law should, at least, reflect upon what they hear; they should examine these wonderful works, which render such strong testimony in favor of the Son of David; and they should consult those divine prophecies which, up to the present time, have been so literally fulfilled in His person.  Alas! they themselves are about to carry them out to the very last iota.  There is not a single outrage or suffering foretold by David and Isaiah, as having to be put upon the Messiah, which these blind men are not scheming to verify.  [And the same lamentable conduct that characterizes the Synagogue of the day] is but too often witnessed nowadays in those sinners, who, by habitual resistance to the light, end by finding their happiness in sin.  
Neither should it surprise us, that we we find in people of our own generation a resemblance to the murderers of our Jesus: the history of His Passion will reveal to us many sad secrets of the human heart and its perverse inclinations; for what happened in Jerusalem, happens also in every sinner's heart.  His heart, according to St. Paul, is a Calvary, where Jesus is crucified.  There is the same ingratitude, the same blindness, the same wild madness, with this difference: that the sinner who is enlightened by faith, knows Him whom he crucifies...
Everything around us urges us to mourn  The images of the saints, the very crucifix on our altar, are veiled from our sight.  The Church is oppressed with grief.  During the first four weeks of Lent, she compassionated her Jesus fasting in the desert; His coming sufferings and crucifixion and death are what now fill her with anguish...It is to express this deep humiliation that the Church veils the cross...Let us go back, in thought, to the sad day of the first sin, when Adam and Eve hid themselves because a guilty conscience told them they were naked...Our first parents sought to hide themselves from the sight of God.  But it will not be thus forever.
This Sunday is called Passion Sunday because the Church begins, on this day, to make the sufferings of our Redeemer her chief thought. 
We owe it to ourselves during this blessed Passiontide to seek to be drawn into the great salvific mystery of Christ's suffering and death by meditating day and night on how it was not the scribes and pharisees who crucified Our Lord, but our own sins--past, present, and future.  How great a mystery it is to contemplate how our sins--the very sins that scourged Him, that crowned Him with thorns, that placed a cross on His shoulders, that mocked and beat Him, that drove nails into His hands and feet, that pierced His heart with a lance--should be overcome by the very agony that they inflicted...that the great death that they brought about would ultimately be their very nullification!  

It's not too late for us all to make of this Passiontide an intense spiritual exercise by which we become more acutely aware of our sins, and by which we seek to hide ourselves from the gaze of Almighty God, that, in being truly repentant and seeking forgiveness, we might be called to that Heavenly Banquet wherein we may look upon the face of God and bask in the rays of His ineffable glory at Christ's Resurrection, and in the life to come!

(Cynical re-cap: Stop being pansies.  Veil your images.  Repent.  Acknowledge your sins.  Confess them. Gain Eternal Life.)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thoughts on Silence - MUST READ!

Some thoughts on silence...  (h/t to Casa Santa Lidia)
*******
Pastoral Letter of Bishop Hugh, O.S.B.
Diocese of Aberdeen, Scotland
To be read and distributed at all Masses on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Plague of Noise
We live in a noisy world. Our towns and cities are full of noise. There is noise in the skies and on the roads. There is noise in our homes, and even in our churches. And most of all there is noise in our minds and hearts.
Create Silence
The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once wrote: 'The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and I were asked for my advice, I should reply: "Create silence! Bring people to silence!" The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. And even if it were trumpeted forth with all the panoply of noise so that it could be heard in the midst of all the other noise, then it would no longer be the Word of God. Therefore, create silence!'
'Create silence!' There's a challenge here. Surely speaking is a good and healthy thing? Yes indeed. Surely there are bad kinds of silence? Yes again. But still Kierkegaard is on to something.
Without Silence No Meeting With God
There is a simple truth at stake. There can be no real relationship with God, there can be no real meeting with God, without silence. Silence prepares for that meeting and silence follows it. An early Christian wrote, 'To someone who has experienced Christ himself, silence is more precious than anything else.' For us God has the first word, and our silence opens our hearts to hear him. Only then will our own words really be words, echoes of God's, and not just more litter on the rubbish dump of noise.
The Silence of Our Lady, Saint Joseph, and John the Baptist
'How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.' So the carol goes. For all the noise, rush and rowdiness of contemporary Christmasses, we all know there is a link between Advent and silence, Christmas and silence. Our cribs are silent places. Who can imagine Mary as a noisy person? In the Gospels, St Joseph never says a word; he simply obeys the words brought him by angels. And when John the Baptist later comes out with words of fire, it is after years of silence in the desert. Add to this the silence of our long northern nights, and the silence that follows the snow. Isn't all this asking us to still ourselves?
When Deep Silence Covered All Things
A passage from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom describes the night of Israel's Exodus from Egypt as a night full of silence. It is used by the liturgy of the night of Jesus' birth:
'When a deep silence covered all things and night was in the middle of its course, your all-powerful Word, O Lord, leapt from heaven's royal throne' (Wis 18:14-15).
'Holy night, silent night!' So we sing. The outward silence of Christmas night invites us to make silence within us. Then the Word can leap into us as well, as a wise man wrote: 'If deep silence has a hold on what is inside us, then into us too the all-powerful Word will slip quietly from the Father's throne.'
The Silence of the Word
This is the Word who proceeds from the silence of the Father. He became an infant, and 'infant' means literally 'one who doesn't speak.' The child Jesus would have cried - for air and drink and food - but he didn't speak. 'Let him who has ears to hear, hear what this loving and mysterious silence of the eternal Word says to us.' We need to listen to this quietness of Jesus, and allow it to make its home in our minds and hearts.

'Create silence!' How much we need this! The world needs places, oases, sanctuaries, of silence.
Silence in Church
And here comes a difficult question: what has happened to silence in our churches? Many people ask this. When the late Canon Duncan Stone, as a young priest in the 1940s, visited a parish in the Highlands, he was struck to often find thirty or forty people kneeling there in silent prayer. Now often there is talking up to the very beginning of Mass, and it starts again immediately afterwards. But what is a church for, and why do we go there? We go to meet the Lord and the Lord comes to meet us.
'The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him!' said the prophet Habakkuk. Surely the silent sacramental presence of the Lord in the tabernacle should lead us to silence? We need to focus ourselves and put aside distractions before the Mass begins. We want to prepare to hear the word of the Lord in the readings and homily. Surely we need a quiet mind to connect to the great Eucharistic Prayer? And when we receive Holy Communion, surely we want to listen to what the Lord God has to say, 'the voice that speaks of peace'? Being together in this way can make us one - the Body of Christ - quite as effectively as words.
Two People Talking
A wise elderly priest of the diocese said recently, 'Two people talking stop forty people praying.'
Norms for Silence in Church
'Create silence!' I don't want to be misunderstood. We all understand about babies. Nor are we meant to come and go from church as cold isolated individuals, uninterested in one another. We want our parishes to be warm and welcoming places. We want to meet and greet and speak with one another. There are arrangements to be made, items of news to be shared, messages to be passed. A good word is above the best gift, says the Bible. But it is a question of where and when. Better in the porch than at the back of the church. Better after the Mass in a hall or a room. There is a time and place for speaking and a time and place for silence. In the church itself, so far as possible, silence should prevail. It should be the norm before and after Mass, and at other times as well. When there is a real need to say something, let it be done as quietly as can be. At the very least, such silence is a courtesy towards those who want to pray. It signals our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. It respects the longing of the Holy Spirit to prepare us to celebrate the sacred mysteries. And then the Mass, with its words and music and movement and its own moments of silence, will become more real. It will unite us at a deeper level, and those who visit our churches will sense the Holy One amongst us.
The Devil Loves Noise; Christ Loves Silence
'Create silence!' It is an imperative. May the Word coming forth from silence find our silence waiting for him like a crib! 'The devil', said St Ambrose, 'loves noise; Christ looks for silence.'
Yours sincerely in Him,
+ Hugh, O. S. B.
Bishop of Aberdeen
7 December 2011.

Mid-Lent Exhortation

The following exhortation comes from the Fourth Sunday of Lent in the Mozarabic Rite.

Looking forward, dearly beloved brethren, to the hope of the Passion and Resurrection of the Son of God, as also to the manifestation of the glory of our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: resume your strength and courage.  Be not daunted by the labor you have to go through, but remember the solemnity of the holy Pasch, for which you are so ardently longing.  One half of holy Lent is over: you have gone through the difficulties of the past, why should you not be courageous about the future fast?  Jesus, who deigned to suffer fatigue for our sake, will give strength to them that are fatigued.  He that granted us to begin the past, will enable us to complete the future.  Children!  He will be with us to assist us, who wishes us to hope for the glory of his Passion.  Amen!
We mustn't forget that Lent is not over.  No, our journey has only begun.  And that spiritual good that we undergo during Lent by engaging in solemn prayer, fasting, and alsmgiving, is not merely to occupy our hearts and minds for these forty days.  No!  Lent should be but a catalyst for true, lifelong conversion.  What a pity it is to see so many Christians cast aside their lives of dissipation and sin for a mere forty days, only to spend the next 325 squandering the very salvation in which we hope to attain through the Paschal Feasts for which we are preparing ourselves!

How sad it is that so many of us are willing to give up so little in order to identify more closely with Him who gave so much for our sake!