The Sound of Silence

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Matthew 6:6

Growing up in the late sixties as a child, I would listen to music with my father on our stereo, which were relatively new, and at the time was in an oblong hardwood cabinet that looked a bit like a credenza.  Even though my father was born in the 1920s, and loved the music of his generation, he also took a liking to some of music of the 1960s, including Simon and Garfunkel.  One of their most popular songs, The Sound of Silence, served as critique for the lack of communication between people, communities, and nations in an age of increasing strife and civil unrest: “… People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening, People writing songs that voices never share, And no one dared, Disturb the sound of silence.”

While silence can be a sign of a lack of communication, it can also serve it.  A certain amount of silence is needed for us to hear another’s voice.  Recently, I was at a reception, and there was so much music and background noise from other conversations, that I could not hear the person speaking with me.

When it comes to prayer, silence serves the conversation.

On Ash Wednesday, the Gospel reading recounted Jesus’ outline of the “big 3” practices that help us to repent and progress in the spiritual life as Christian disciples.  The foremost of these practices is prayer.

Jesus does not give us a lot of instruction.  Like much of His teaching, He is concise and simple.  And while He does not mention silence directly, it is clearly implied: “… when you pray, go into your inner room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret …” (Mt 6:6).  This can be interpreted in two ways.  First, it can be interpreted literally.  Retreat from the activity of the day into a peaceful, quiet physical place where you can turn to God without distraction.

It can also be understood figuratively, as in going into the “room” of one’s heart.  It is at the level of the heart that we meet God, but in order to get to that place we must retreat from living on the surface, with all its trivialities, noise, and distractions.  We need the sound of silence.

Silence seems to have become a lot more difficult to find.  Much of the reason is found in our new technology, which like most technology, comes with both blessings and curses.  I am often surprised at the end of a week when I look at my usage report for my cell phone and how much time I have spent on it.  The same challenge is before most of us, which is why Pope Francis suggested that we give up time on our devices for Lent.

A friend of mine, commenting on a trend in our culture, rhetorically asked me last week, “How did we get to be so fragile?”  Perhaps there are a variety of reasons, but among them is that we are not being attentive to matters of the soul.  We are driven to live life on the shallow surface, and without attention, matters of depth and importance to our happiness and resilience do not develop. We can often forget the most important relationship which sustains and strengthens us—our friendship with the Father.  We must attend to the soul.  Which is why Jesus tells us to pray … with the sound of silence.

+Bishop James Johnston, Jr.
Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph
Catholic Key, March 6, 2020 issue

Pope Francis’ March Prayer Intention: We pray that the Church in China may persevere in its faithfulness to the Gospel and grow in unity.

Bishop Johnston’s March Prayer Intention: For persecuted Christians around the world.

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