If our “interior cell phone” is always busy because we are “having a conversation” with other creatures, how can God “call us”?

I find that more and more of my day, when I am at home, is spent in silence.  I have stopped checking the news.  I don’t often listen to music.  Sometimes I listen to audiobooks through Audible or my older generation Kindle.  But, most of the time, it is silent.

Good advice from Robert Card. Sarah in his book, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise:

We arrive at the knowledge of God by way of causality, analogy, eminence, but also negation: once we affirm the divine attributes, which are known by natural reason (this is the kataphatic way), we must deny the mode of limited realization thereof that we know here below (this is the apophatic way). Silence is an essential part of the apophatic way of gaining access to God, which was so highly prized by the Fathers of the Church, especially the Greeks; this makes them demand silence of arguments when faced with the mystery of God. I am thinking here of Clement of Alexandria, Gregory Nazianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa.

It is nonetheless true that silence is above all the positive attitude of someone who prepares to welcome God by listening. Yes, God acts in the silence. Hence this very important remark by the great Saint John of the Cross in his Maxims on Love: “The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence must It be heard by the soul.” The Book of Wisdom had already noted in this regard the manner in which God intervened to deliver the chosen people from captivity in Egypt: that unforgettable act took place during the night: “For while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne” (Wis 18:14). Later, this verse would be understood by Christian liturgical tradition as a prefiguration of the silent Incarnation of the Eternal Word in the crib in Bethlehem.

And so we have to be silent: this is of course an activity and not a form of idleness. If our “interior cell phone” is always busy because we are “having a conversation” with other creatures, how can the Creator reach us, how can he “call us”? We must therefore purify our mind of its curiosities, the will of its plans, in order to be totally open to the graces of light and strength that God wants to give us profusely: “Father, not my will, but yours be done.” Ignatian “indifference” is therefore a form of silence, too.


This is the translation of  Le Force du Silence.

In this, the Cardinal gets at something I’ve been talking about for years bow.  The apophatic dimension of participation in, especially, the older, traditional form of Holy Mass.

I think that people today are getting so used to noise and distraction, that they become very uncomfortable indeed in silences.  Couple that with the myriad distractions we have now… is it any wonder that our liturgical worship is – far and wide – the way that it is?  Is it any wonder why some people fight so hard against quite, still traditions and traditional worship?

Advent is coming.  Consider the role of silence in your advent preparations before Advent begins.

By the way, what did Card. Sarah mean by “ignatian indfference”?

The concept of indifference comes from the Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

He wrote in #23

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

That means that we should be dispassionate about what happens to us as long as it is for the glory of God.

We have strong attachments of people, place and things and those attachments can mislead us away from salvation, especially because of our passions and appetites which are difficult to master in our fallen state. Salvation and God’s will must be the highest good in our lives. Rather than be indifferent to God and very partial about created things, Ignatius said we must school ourselves to be indifferent to created things and partial about God. If created things hinder us, they must go, even to the point of not being overly concerned about whether or not we are healthy or ill, having a possession or not having it, and so forth. This doesn’t mean that we are to be cold, aloof and without joy, as if we were Vulcans. It means preferring nothing to God and being interested in things only insofar as they help us to heaven and not hinder.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Julia_Augusta says:

    I finished “The Power of Silence” a few weeks ago (thanks to your recommendation). It is a remarkable book. It took several weeks to finish, not because it’s boring, but because every paragraph is profound and makes one think – in silence. You don’t realise how noisy and chaotic your daily environment is until you go away on a silent retreat or go hiking in a remote area for a week without a cell phone or Internet access. When you return to “civilisation”, you feel the assault of noise: people talking constantly and loudly; flat-screen TVs blasting everywhere; loud thumping music; the roar of motorised traffic and your own thoughts careening wildly inside your head driving all kinds of emotions. You feel that you’ve been thrown inside a tumble dryer. I can imagine the monks at La Grande Chartreuse going to Paris and being driven crazy after 5 minutes.

    I have lived without TV since 2008. TV is just filled with rubbish – banal shows, poorly written dramas, and ads everywhere. If I want to see a particular film, I just watch it on my computer using Amazon Video or some other on-demand service. If I want to watch the Tour de France, I also log onto a streaming service. People should seriously consider NOT having TV.

    Now I’m going to read Cardinal Sarah’s other book, “God or Nothing.”

  2. Cafea Fruor says:

    People are also getting so used to noise and distraction that they don’t seem to care that some people might want quiet. I’ve just this weekend had another neighbor move into the apartment below me who appears to be a rather noisy, stompy person and who has an even noisier dog. How is one supposed to pray when churches are frequently locked, but home is too darned noisy to hear oneself think, let alone have a conversation with the Lord?

    It’s SO. Darned. Frustrating.

    @Julia_Augusta: I once spent several months with the Carthusians, and let me tell you, the trip home and back to my town and my job was enough to make me weep. They really have a precious gift in their silent life. They don’t even have musical instruments, and at first I thought that was a little much, but then you get used to it, and you start to realize the beauty of the natural noises around you, like the birds chirping, bees buzzing, and all the things we can rarely really listen to because of the seeminly constant mechanical noise, media, and useless chatter that goes on around us.

    If only I had the funds to move out of apartment living!

  3. Unwilling says:

    A moving post, Father.

    As the above comments, I also thought of the Carthusians. And that amazing film Into Great Silence originally Die große Stille. Unlike almost any other movie, you get up after three hours feeling “cleaner”.

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