ATCHISON, Kan. — Many 21st-century households are inundated by the noise of handheld and flat-screen technologies. Add family dynamics to that, and silence becomes a rare commodity.
Such is the experience of the Swaffords. With four children under the age of 10, Sarah and Andrew Swafford rarely have down time in their Atchison, Kansas, home near the campus of Benedictine College, where Andrew is an associate professor of theology.
Yet silence is something that the couple hasn’t stopped striving for.
Sarah, an author and popular Catholic speaker, confesses that she often has a deep craving for some quiet time.
“I have my days when I go around the house turning everything off,” she said. “Silence is definitely a cultivated virtue — something we have to model for our children.”
As the Catholic faithful embark on their Lenten journey, silence at home and in prayer is certainly an essential virtue to strive toward. As Pope Benedict XVI stated, “Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence.”
In Willington, Connecticut, Catholic author, blogger and mother of six Cari Donaldson is also striving to welcome silence into her domestic church.
Interior vs. Exterior Silence
Donaldson noted that our culture is a noisy one. It is a world of external noise that seems impossible to dampen. Last year during Lent, Donaldson took up the call of silence and blogged about her struggles of embracing it.
“Even if we shut off our phones and turn off our radios and ‘ship’ all our friends, family and co-workers to another location, there is still so much ambient sound in this modern life,” she shared with the Register, “it is quite simply beyond our control.”
However, she said that we can control interior silence. “This [interior silence] is something we can all cultivate this Lent. We can place ourselves in front of the Father to focus on his Word, to focus on Christ as long as we can, and then carry that silence forward into the noisy world.”
She added, “Just as interior peace can exist within the chaotic external events, so can interior peace exist in the middle of rush-hour traffic with kids screaming in the back seat.”
Silence of the Saints
The Catholic Church is no stranger to holy men and women who exemplify lives of exterior and interior silence and whose wisdom can lead to that “rush-hour peace.”
For instance, amid the din of noise in the slums outside her convent walls, St. Teresa of Calcutta told her sisters that silence had to be the foundation for their loving service to the poorest of the poor.
She stated, “The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.”
She added, “I always begin my prayer in silence, for it is in the silence of the heart that God speaks. God is the friend of silence — we need to listen to God because it’s not what we say but what he says to us and through us that matters.”
St. John of the Cross would agree when he said, “It is best to learn to silence the faculties and to cause them to be still, so that God may speak.”
The great Carmelite mystic of the 16th century added, “What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God, with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.”
In her diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, St. Faustina Kowalska wrote, “A talkative soul lacks both the essential virtues and intimacy with God. A deeper interior life, one of gentle peace and of that silence where the Lord dwells, is quite out of the question.
“A soul that has never tasted the sweetness of inner silence is a restless spirit which disturbs the silence of others.”
“Be ready for distractions,” explained Jesuit Father James Kubicki as it relates to bringing silence into one’s life and in particular into personal prayer.
Father Kubicki, national director of the Apostleship of Prayer, said exterior silence is the first place to start this Lent.
“Finding a quiet, comfortable place with few exterior distractions is the first step in cultivating silence in prayer,” he said. “It also helps to have a focus for our attention, like the Blessed Sacrament in an adoration chapel or a holy picture or icon in our homes … perhaps repeating a short prayer synchronized to the breath. It could be something as simple as, ‘Jesus, I trust in you,’ or ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.’”
As for a distracted, racing mind, he shared, “It’s always good to pick up a spiritual book that takes your attention off yourself and puts it on the Lord.” He told the Register that St. Teresa of Avila did just that — she handled her wandering mind by never beginning her prayer without a good spiritual book next to her.
“When her mind started wandering, she would pick it up to read, and it always helped her focus her attention back on God,” explained Father Kubicki.
As for those who are just trying to bring a little silence into their homes this Lent, the Swaffords recommend limiting “screen time,” turning off smartphones, tablets and computers.
“Especially during Lent we strive to fill that [screen] time with more reading, reading out loud as a family, board games, walks and prayer time,” Sarah said. “When you put down the screens, you find yourselves talking more, sharing life, and noticing the beauty around you.”
“Like all good sacrifices during Lent, when Easter comes, you see those virtues you’ve grown in,” she added.
“Just a little silence can go a long way on the road to joy and peace, internally and externally, with your loved ones around you.”
Eddie O’Neill writes
from Rolla, Missouri.