Tag Archives: silence

Silent Retreat: Prayer

Spending 2.5 days in silence was certainly a new and enriching experience for me and my spiritual life. I wrote and read so much, it’s difficult to summarize all my thoughts succinctly.

What I would say though, is that there is true wisdom in Jesus’s advice to be still, find a quiet place, and pray. Time was tremendously slowed and I felt like I was Adam in the Garden of Eden (before the Fall) during the retreat.

The place was beautiful and the moment I stepped foot inside, I experienced peace and serenity. The retreat center sported a huge garden with birds, rabbits and flowers. A 15 minutes walk outside would take me to the Chiang Mai lake and waterfalls.

I felt like it was Heaven on Earth. In my experience, all Christians should find time to turn contemplative instead of consistently remaining active, especially in stressful Singapore. All should at least once in their life, be still and retreat to a lonely place.

It is easy to find God in Silence, and even easier to pray unceasingly. By silencing ourselves, we are forced to listen, to read, to reflect, to contemplate. Moreover, the beautiful nature there helped sharpen my focus. I’ll share a few scriptural verses that best describes my entire experience, in order:

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while. (Mk 6:31)

But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray. (Lk 5:16)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body. (Prov 3:5,8)

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you would wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Mt 6:25-26)

Bless the Lord, O my Soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty. (Ps 104:1).

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; the patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit. (Eccl 7:8)

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Originally posted on Instagram.

A Quiet Place

By guest writer Br Nicholas Lye.

In a world where we tend to avoid too much silence in our lives, the latest thriller A Quiet Place seems to suggest that silence can actually save us.

[Minimal spoilers]

Unlike your typical horror film whose aim is to simply scare the living daylights out of you, this film intends to send a message through a world where monsters have invaded the planet and kill any living thing that makes a sound. As scary as the monsters might look, what may be scarier is the deeper truth and reality that the loud noises of our society have already been killing us softly and slowly.

In the movie that contains little dialogue for the most part of it, you hear the deafening sounds of guilt, hurt, jealousy, unworthiness, fear resounding in the characters, which resonate with our own realities. Yet it appears that the silent actions of each character, whether by sign language, body language, gestures of love or great acts of sacrifice, actually speak louder and eventually overcome the damaging noise in their hearts. It seems to suggest how little we actually pay attention to our silent actions that can actually go a long way to heal and unite.

Another takeaway from the film is the importance of silence not just in prayer but in waiting. Our common complaint in prayer is that God remains silent to our request. Yet as in the film, timing is essential, whether to escape from the monster, or to discover a way to defeat them. Had they chosen to take the easy way out and scream in impatience, death would have come in one quick swoop. Silent waiting, on the other hand, keeps them alive.

When God remains silent, He could simply be putting a finger to His lips and telling us to wait for the right moment, and to be still and know that He’s got it covered. Having it our way sooner could just bring terrible consequences.

So go catch the film if you can and you might just learn how a little more silence in your life can actually save you from the monsters lurking in the corner of your hearts.

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Br Nicholas Lye is a seminarian in Singapore.
Originally posted on Instagram.

Also see: Sonny Bunch, The Washington Post — “‘A Quiet Place’ isn’t just pro-life. It makes us understand what being pro-life truly means.

The Silence of Mary vs Endō’s “Silence”

In the Martin Scorsese film Silence, based on the book by Shūsaku Endō, the Jesuit protagonists face a terrible choice: to renounce their faith and trample on the image of Christ, or to let their flock of Japanese faithful suffer torture and death.

In saving their flock in the temporal realm, did they not risk losing them for eternity? Did they not betray those who had already been tortured and killed? The pagan Japanese have traditionally understood dying for honor, as in the practice of seppuku. The real-life Japanese martyrs understood dying for God and the eternal salvation of others. Christian martyrs have always held it a privilege to die for the Faith, participating in the redemptive death of Christ.

The Nagasaki Martyrs
Choir of La Recoleta, Cuzco, Peru

The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. After Christ’s example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.
St. Paul Miki

Crucifixion with Intercessors (The Crucifixion with Sts Paul and Francis)
Luini Bernardino, c. 1530.

Let us turn to the example of Mary, our Mother.

Have you ever remarked that practically every traditional representation of the Crucifixion always pictures Magdalene on her knees at the foot of the crucifix? But you have never yet seen an image of the Blessed Mother prostrate. John was there and he tells in his Gospel that she stood. He saw her stand. But why did she stand? She stood to be of service to us. She stood to be our minister, our Mother. If Mary could have prostrated herself at that moment as Magdalene did, if she could have only wept, her sorrow would have had an outlet. The sorrow that cries is never the sorrow that breaks the heart. It is the heart that can find no outlet in the fountain of tears which cracks; it is the heart that cannot have an emotional break-down that breaks. And all that sorrow was part of our purchase price paid by our Co-Redemptrix, Mary the Mother of God!
– Venerable Abp. Fulton J. Sheen, Calvary and the Mass: The Sanctus

She knew, better than anyone else will ever know it, that the greatest of all griefs is to be unable to mitigate the suffering of one whom we love. But she was willing to suffer that, because that was what He asked of her.
– Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

Unlike Peter, who remonstrated with Jesus after He said He had to suffer and die, Mary quietly accepted this sword which pierced her heart. She watched in silence as her beloved Son, bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, was mocked, cursed, defiled, falsely accused, scourged, spat upon, and crucified, with a crown of thorns jammed cruelly onto His poor head. All through the torture of the One she loved best, she never said a word against God. She trusted in His plan of salvation, though it tore her heart to shreds.

That suffering silence was the silence of a strong and virtuous woman who trusted completely in the foolishness of God, which is far above the wisdom of men. Unlike the priests in Silence, Our Lady held fast to the Word of God, the pearl of great price, the Way which leads through death to everlasting Life. Let us imitate her when we see our loved ones suffering, and stay close to Christ.

…the secular establishment always prefers Christians who are vacillating, unsure, divided, and altogether eager to privatize their religion. And it is all too willing to dismiss passionately religious people as dangerous, violent, and let’s face it, not that bright.
– Bishop Robert Barron, “Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ and the Seaside Martyrs

…our world doesn’t know what to make of the Resurrection or indeed of miracles and the supernatural. And so a veil of deep silence falls over them. This, in fact, is the deepest silence in the film: that the Resurrection is not even alluded to. And so, ‘Silence’ is left with a naturalistic tale wherein the most noble goal is to alleviate and reduce suffering. This is unsurprising since the very notion of redemptive suffering makes no sense and is a scandal without the theological virtues.
– Fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., “Initial thoughts concerning Scorsese’s ‘Silence’

From that time Jesus began to shew to his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again. And Peter taking him, began to rebuke him, saying: Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee. Who turning, said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto Me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men. Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall find it.
Matthew 16:21-25

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. Our liturgies must facilitate this attitude of authentic listening: Verbo crescente, verba deficiunt. (“When the word of God increases, the words of men fail.” – Augustine).
– Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini n. 66

As a convert, in watching The Passion I was most profoundly affected by a new understanding of Mary, as The Mother of Sorrows.  It  recently occurred to me that her Son was only 40 days old – a tiny little Baby – when she was told that through Him “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2: 35). And yet, did she hold back? Did she choose to protect herself from pain that was sure to come? No. She never held back her love in an effort to protect herself. She opened wide the doors of Hope. She rested in the joy that this life is not the end. She prepared her soul for the glory of eternal life. And she surrendered her will to the Will of her Heavenly Father, with calm, quiet, peace.
– Vicki Burbach, “Love, Loss and the Liberty of Letting Go

…martyrdom is a gift from God that is born of profound charity. It is a specific and glorious sharing in the life of Christ… Martyrdom is the crown of a life lived with ardent love for God and the people of God.
– Bro. Edmund McCullough O.P., “Life and Martyrdom

Also see: Taylor Marshall, “The Seven Sorrows of Mary are the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit”;
Joshua Bowman, “The Last Words of 30 Saints”.

Image: Signum-Crucis (1, 2)

Can talkative people make it to Heaven?

The title of my post might sound a bit weird but this thought comes to me whenever I finish an enriching conversation with somebody. My definition of enriching means that the conversation contained no gossip, was intellectually stimulating and humanly deep, and done in an atmosphere of mutual listening and sympathy. It need not always be explicitly about God, though God and religion are very often (at least for me!) one of the most interesting topics to talk about.

Will heaven be like that? I sometimes wonder. Or is my talkativeness (and I can be very talkative, just ask Grace my wife!) simply a symptom of my deeper restlessness for deep and abiding communication with God?

To be sure, the Christian tradition places a lot of emphasis on silence and with good reason. We are reminded constantly to slow down amidst the busyness of our lives, to still our hearts and quiet the noisiness in our souls. After all, the prophet Elijah did not discover God’s voice in the earthquake or fire (noisy events to put it mildly) but only in a gentle breeze. (1 Kings 19:12-14). And when we reflect on the times we have mis-communicated with someone, we know that it is very often because our minds are so preoccupied and cluttered that we have heard but failed to listen to the other. And we proceed to give advice and to talk even before we have truly listened.

Does that mean the talkative people are to repent in sackcloth and ashes? Well I think that they should repent of being talkative without listening and try to cultivate a capacity for silence. Yet being talkative in itself, when properly understood, is not a bad thing at all. In fact, the ability to communicate is really a participation in the eternal speech of God. Jesus is the WORD of God, as we are reminded in John’s Gospel. And when the Word became flesh, hosts of Angels were singing hosannas to frightened shepherds.

Pretty chatty if you ask me.

The Trinity, Andrei Rublev (c. 1410)
The Trinity, Andrei Rublev (c. 1410)

Indeed, redeemed in Christ, we are able to speak to each other as heirs to the Kingdom, adopted children of the Father. Our sharing is characterized not by boasting but by mutual concern for each other. Conversation becomes enriching as it is free of jealousy, one-upmanship and pride. One genuinely wants to listen to the other, as the other is a brother in Christ, of infinite interest.

We know however that this is not possible on earth. To begin with, we are unable to have conversations with everybody we respect for extended lengths of time as time is finite (though with Facebook, the possibilities are extended!). So we are usually limited to conversations with close friends. And an enriching conversation in which there is mutual vulnerability and friendship seems to me a participation in the eternal conversation of the Trinity in which we are also invited. (Indeed, that’s Fr. Robert Barron’s definition of prayer.)

When I was studying theology, the joke which went around was that when talkative theology students (the kind who can spend literally hours talking about the processions of the Trinity for instance) pass on to the life to come, there would be two doors awaiting them. One would be labeled “God”. The other would be labeled “seminar about God”.  Guess which one the theology student would choose?

I began to panic as I realized that I might choose the second door. I remembered St. Augustine’s passage that the restless heart can only rest in God and know that I must be careful not to mistake theology for God Himself. Nevertheless, will that mean that I won’t be able to talk about theology in heaven if and when (God willing) I get there?

Then I read St. Gregory of Nyssa. His idea of the afterlife is a bit different from Augustine’s, as he holds that there will be no rest in heaven as we will be constantly stretched onwards and upwards towards God. “No limit can be set to our progress towards God; first of all, because no limitation can be put on upon the Beautiful, and secondly because the increase in our desire for the Beautiful cannot be stopped by any sense of satisfaction,” as Gregory puts it in one pungent sentence.

If I understood Gregory correctly, I would have an eternity to talk about theology and an eternity to communicate deeply with the Blessed Trinity and all the saints in heaven. That would include not only the hall-of-famers like Our Blessed Mother, Sts. Peter and Paul, but also our loved ones and others whom we hope have also placed God or following their conscience their top priority.

In the book of Revelation, heaven is portrayed as a wedding feast where guests will be at table, and served by the Lamb Himself. (Revelations 19:7-9)

I presume there would be lots of talking at a wedding feast.

And I do hope that you and I will accept the invitation.

Certainty

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
– Will Rogers

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.
G. K. Chesterton

In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Silence actor Andrew Garfield said, “Certainty about anything is the most terrifying thing to me.”

Colbert responded, “If you knew there was an afterlife, would that be comforting, or terrifying?”

“How would I ever know?” Garfield retorted. “I think it’s healthy – you think about Thomas Merton, the great Trappist monk, and philosopher really, his doubt was his greatest ally, and he was always constantly doubting, and I think a life of faith is not a life of certainty. I think a life of faith is a life of doubt, and I think it is so healthy to doubt, it is so healthy to doubt oneself, it is so healthy to doubt any assumption we make about how to live, and I think what I mean when I say certainty scares me – certainty starts wars on behalf of ideology; certainty – the ‘I know, you don’t’, that’s the scariest thing to me.”

Really, Garfield? Au contraire, I hold that doubt is scarier (and less reasonable) than certainty. Christian certainty comes with humility, the humility of submission to the Truth which is greater than you. The humility of placing yourself completely at the disposal of that great mystery which is God, certain that He will be constant throughout the vicissitudes of life.

Two of my friends are terrifying drivers. However, one is more terrifying than the other. The latter drives too fast – he has accumulated countless speeding fines. One evening, in exiting a carpark, he had three near-misses with two cars and a bus. But I still feel safer as his passenger than with the former friend, who drives too slowly. She is a very hesitant driver, prone to stopping in the middle of oncoming traffic while making a turn. “GO!!!” I once yelled, not wanting to meet an untimely demise. My speeding friend is at least pretty certain about his directions and in control of his car, although not altogether observant of road rules.

It is certainly healthy to examine our assumptions about how to live, but one must come to a conclusion and stick to it. How would your boss like it if you were uncertain about turning up for work? Or how would your spouse like it if you were uncertain about your commitment to one another? It was the Benedictine vow of stability that enabled monastery towns to flourish, developing agricultural technology, education, and ultimately the civilization of Western Europe. When you plant a seed, it is not advisable to keep re-potting it. It needs a definite place to grow. Without certainty, we remain immature, vacillating between competing rules of life. This ultimately results in a fragmented, incoherent mess.

“Certainty starts wars on behalf of ideology” – that is such a cop-out statement. Just because some people have been very certain about erroneous ideas doesn’t mean you should remain uncertain about excellent ideas. Some people are brought up badly, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t even try to inculcate some standards of behavior in your own children. If someone is dead certain about taking the wrong path, should you therefore be deadly uncertain about taking any path?

It is not arrogance to claim certainty when you have good reasons. Would you like your surgeon to be uncertain about where to place his scalpel? Or your dentist to be in two minds about which tooth to pull?

Should we be like Adam and Eve, or Cain, who doubted God’s loving providence?

A life of faith is not a life of doubt. There will be tough times, yes; there will be times of doubt and darkness, yes – but a life of faith transcends the times of doubt, because it is a life of faithfulness and radical trust in the One Who loves us so much that He died for us. Christ’s death and resurrection – that’s a Certainty. Let us imitate Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and say with complete sincerity: “Lord, not my will, but Your will be done.” For we know that is the Way of everlasting life.

All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
– Matthew 5:37

I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.
– Philippians 4:13

If, then, you are looking for the way by which you should go, take Christ, because He Himself is the way.
St. Thomas Aquinas

Etymology: faith (n.)
mid-13c., faith, feith, fei, fai “faithfulness to a trust or promise; loyalty to a person; honesty, truthfulness,” from Anglo-French and Old French feid, foi “faith, belief, trust, confidence; pledge” (11c.), from Latin fides “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence, belief,” from root of fidere “to trust,” from PIE root *bheidh– “to trust”.

Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.
Pope Benedict XVI

Images: “Fork in the road“/PD-US; CatholicGag; Signum-Crucis

Taking Upon Us the Mystery of Things

When Job cries out against God in his suffering, God questions Job, “Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook, or snare his tongue with a line which you lower?”  Job answers, “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you, therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”  His arrogance brings him shame, and he places his hope in mercy.

Orual realizes at the end of Till We Have Faces, “The complaint was the answer.”  She finds only silence after all her raging.  Job and Orual feel small in the presence of the Almighty.  Will the potter say to the clay, “Why have you made me?”  Will the man who is dust question, “Why did you breathe life into me?”  Will the woman formed from the rib say to the creator, “Why did you knit me?”

Job and Orual realize a truth they have always known when they recant their defiance.  They come to themselves.  T. S. Eliot prophesies that “the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time” (Little Gidding).  In God we discover our true selves, the end who is our beginning.  Saint Augustine cries, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in him.”  Blaise Pascal echoes, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?”  We long for a homecoming to heaven, a return to the place we have never seen.

The longing for heaven cannot be spoken just as the reproaches on Job’s and Orual’s tongues fail.  Wonder leads to silence.  All beauty mixes itself with sadness:  death and birth, funeral and marriage, loss and gain.  Francois Mauriac muses, “All I know is that beauty troubles the senses, for all that it concerns the spirit, that it breeds in one a sort of despairing happiness, leads to a contemplation that never wholly finds its object but is worth a world of kisses” (The Woman of the Pharisees).  Beauty deserves more than we can give it, and our helplessness finds voice only in love.

As beauty presents a mystery to be sought but not grasped, so suffering presents a mystery to be endured but not understood.  Lear gives Cordelia this vision:  “So we’ll live, / And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh / At gilded butterflies . . . And take upon ‘s the mystery of things, / As if we were God’s spies” (King Lear).   We know that God works although we do not see how.  We must take upon ourselves the glory of kings:  to search out God’s riddles.

As soon as we glimpse the beauty of tje world, we see that it must fade.  We revolt against the injustice of beauty perishing.  Man fades even as the flowers:  “When I behold the violet past prime / And sable curls all silvered o’er with white . . . Then of thy beauty do I question make / That thou among the wastes of time must go” (Shakespeare’s Sonnet 12).  How can something so lovely decay?  Or rather, how can it be preserved?  Hopkins provides the answer:  “Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maidengear, gallantry and gaiety and grace . . . deliver it, early now, long before death / Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God beauty’s self and beauty’s giver” (The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo).  This investment reaps eternal rewards where thieves do not break in and steal.  To give beauty up is to save it forever.

Silence and the Eucharist

The chapel was still and dark as we filed in, hushed, almost on tiptoe. The first sight we registered in our dim surroundings was the glow of the golden monstrance that framed Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It was my first silent retreat, held at a convent, with several other young ladies attending. We had just finished our silent meal (unfortunately made up of such indiscreet foods as raw carrots and celery) and were about to start a lengthy period of Eucharistic Adoration.

I knelt reverently in front of the Host before sliding into my pew. After everyone finished her initial settling-in, the silence around us grew thick and almost palpable, only occasionally disturbed with the sound of a covered cough or creak of a kneeler. Closing my eyes and bowing my head, I tried to project an image of someone thoroughly engrossed in prayer, an image in keeping with the circumstances.

But during the beginning of that period of prayer, I kept feeling annoyed and uncomfortable—the kneelers were hard, the stuffy chapel lacked air conditioning, my shoulder kept aching irritatingly. Most awkward to me was the utter and unfamiliar silence. This lack of outward distraction, so unlike what I was used to every day, only seemed to amplify my inward distraction. A few times I squirmed uneasily and almost felt like screaming with exasperation. Since it was so noiseless, why couldn’t I concentrate on the fact that my Lord and my God was here before me? Desperately gathering and dismissing, and re-gathering and re-dismissing, my scattered thoughts (everything from “she’s wearing an interesting top” to “I knew I would forget to mail that birthday card”), I struggled in frustration. I loved God—why couldn’t I “feel” it?

I was thinking this way and trying to concentrate on Our Lord for at least an hour. Silence continued to reign. I could almost hear the minutes, the seconds, heavily dropping away one by one.

However, the longer I knelt in that sacred place, the less distracted I became. The thoughts and noises left in my mind from the everyday world eventually slipped away and dissolved into the silence. My soul slowly became stilled in the tranquility, and as it quieted I became more aware of Christ before me. I raised my eyes and looked on Him, in the appearance of a white Host, bordered by the shining gold and jewels of the kingly monstrance. Right here before us was the center of the chapel, the convent, the world—this Light, piercing the darkness that seemed to spread across everything else we could see. My eyes could not leave His Face, His Beauty. Suddenly I realized that, previously, I had been thinking selfishly. It didn’t matter how I “felt” within or without the silence, because He was the only one who really mattered. This silence which I’d found so oppressive at first became a vehicle of God’s love. The prayers which I had been struggling to express unknotted themselves and wound together seamlessly to make a wordless canticle of praise. I melted in love before the Lord my God.

My first prolonged and completely silent adoration became a defining period in my life. I had never realized how, in such a way, God’s love could be found in the calmness. God is easier to hear in the silence, as we can focus on His direction rather than on the events of the world. Of course struggles and distractions remain, and it takes quite a while every time to become interiorly still and attentive. However, I have glimpsed the power of silence as an aid to prayer and understanding. While I know the great importance of beautiful music and spiritual reading, I am no longer afraid or scornful of simply kneeling in inarticulate praise and love.

In fact, as I knelt that quiet night in adoration, I found no need for words or activities of any kind. Jesus Christ was before me and His Love was around me. And in the silence, my soul was singing.

Entering into the Silence for Spiritual Boot Camp

Throughout Lent, we often focus on the things we are giving up or the extra things we are doing. Maybe we are fasting from chocolate, praying a weekly holy hour, or volunteering more at the soup kitchen.

Often our Lent becomes filled with things to do instead of drawing us closer to God. To have a truly fruitful Lent, we must intentionally set aside time for God. One way to do this is by going on a retreat or day of recollection.

A few years ago during Lent, my wife (girlfriend at the time) suggested that I go on a silent retreat run by the priests of Miles Christi based upon the main points of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It was the best thing I did that Lent.

The retreat gave me a chance to hear God’s voice in a deeper way. Amidst the business of life, we often have very little room for silence, which is where God speaks to us. Even when we turn off our devices, our minds are still going a hundred miles an hour and we do not enter the interior silence necessary to hear God. The hours in silence and prayer during the retreat gave me a chance not only to quiet my mouth but my mind as well. As I entered the interior silence, I was able to step away from the world and reflect upon my life.

Entering the retreat I had been contemplating engagement, but fear was holding me back. During spiritual direction, the priest pierced my heart with clear counsel that God was calling me forward into marriage. On account of the retreat, I resolved to get engaged and discern marriage. My wife has been thanking the priest for this counsel ever since.

Of course, the retreat was beneficial in other ways to me besides discerning my vocation. I was exposed to different forms of prayer and learned some good tips on how to deepen my walk with Christ through prayer. During the meals, we listened to The Soul of the Apostolate, a must read for devout Catholics who want to grow in holiness in this age of activism.

miles christi

One friend summed up the retreat like this: this retreat will give you the tools to become a saint in your everyday life. The priests pulled no punches, calling us forth to answer Jesus’s call to follow Him and live life as a committed disciple through prayer, good works, and an apostolate.

Since our devotion to Christ can wane throughout the months after retreat, the priest recommended each retreatant to resolve to make an annual  silent retreat to reclaim fervor and grow deeper in holiness. For these past few years, I have attended a silent retreat during every Lent.

Each time I am challenged to grow in my faith and hopefully I leave a holier person.  Every year it is hard to enter the silence, but once I embrace it, God begins to work powerfully in my life.

I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who is serious about growing in holiness to attend a retreat on the Spiritual Exercises offered by Miles Christi. They travel throughout the United States preaching the Spiritual Exercises, so hopefully they are coming to a town near you.

However, if Ignatian spirituality is not your style, there are many other silent retreats out there. Most retreat centers or monasteries offer silent retreats, whether directed or personal.

If you are looking to stretch your spiritual muscles a bit further this Lent, attend a silent retreat. Experience the beauty and wonder of God in silence. You will grow in faith like you never had before.

A Letter to Silence and Solitude

Dear Silence and Solitude,

I miss you.

Over the past few years I have seen our time together dwindle. From long periods a few years back, to now brief glimpses of each other, sweet moments that are far between.

Our time together has been invaded by four sweet and energetic children who are under the age of five, and they do not appreciate the time that we sometimes need. Their schedules do not overlap to allow us to steal moments together, let alone the hour or so of luxury we once knew.

We used to have time together praying, attending church, reading, emailing friends, leisurely completing chores or merely doing whatever we wanted. Hey, we even used to have thinking time together!

But now, these far and in between moments are taken with rushed moments of cleaning the house as quickly as possible, doing jobs that can’t be done with small people around or I am guilty of taking moments that I need with you to fill with another type of noise, the noise of social media or trashy television that tune me out from the world.

I have to admit, I have times that I become jealous of you with others. I am envious of the people around me who get to go home to greet you and choose what they would like to do at any given moment of the day. I wonder what you and my husband get up to together and worst of all, I hold it against him.

I know that I am blessed now to be surrounded by this noise and life. That often you can both be worst enemies to people, as well as best friends. That this time is precious time that will pass quickly.

But to me, right now I need you. When I am worn and tired, when my head hurts and my body aches as I have never experienced before, when I need time with Jesus to fill me up, yet I am overtaken with noise and demands of my family and have no choice but to carry on. However much my mind and body are fighting me. With love and joy.

Noise and I are getting better at working together. I have even learnt to nap whilst sitting up and being half aware of what children are up to! As I am gaining more energy and my youngest baby gets bigger we are working better at managing. I’m slowly improving at finding Jesus in my outlook and amongst the chaos that surrounds me and the clutter and dullness that often seems to fill my mind.

I hope that we can work on finding some moments together. Moments where perhaps I will even feel refreshed or energetic. Where I can begin to have my own interests or hobbies again.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder huh? I think when that time comes, I will never appreciate you more.

I hope to see you sometime soon,

Young Mother

Oh Silent Night

I have long been fascinated by the themes of noise and silence during the Christmas season. There is so much noise – from things to get done to Christmas carols to Christmas movies – and yet silence is such an integral part of the actual Christmas story itself. We know the story of Jesus being laid in a manger, since there was not even room at the inn, and we can all recall the accounts of Shepherds, wise men, and most likely of Herod seeking to kill this newborn King. For me, though, the most beautiful moment in all of it is the moment of silence.

In Luke’s Gospel we are told what Jesus’ birth looked like: “And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger” [Luke 2:7, RSV]. What we aren’t told, though, is what it sounded like. You can imagine, with me, what the angels in heaven saw in that moment, as the God of the universe, the Creator of all things, took flesh and was laid in a manger. Moments later we hear the angels speaking praise in front of the shepherds, but there had to first be a moment of pause for silent adoration. For this moment, this one incredible moment, these angels saw the profound humility of the God of all things as He lay, a tiny infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, in a feeding trough.

I think that, in that moment, silence is the only appropriate response. No words, songs of praise, nor acts of worship could portray to the God of all things the adoration due in that moment. Mary knelt next to her child with Joseph at her side, and all of the choirs of heaven fixed their eyes on this scene in Bethlehem. It would only be fitting that all of creation would have stopped, realizing that this moment changed the entire reality of creation.

For me, then, this is what Christmas must be about: pausing, fixing my gaze on that manger, and quieting my heart in silent adoration of the King who came as a child to save me from my sins. The power of that silence is deafening and life-changing. May this Christmas, for each of us, bring that change in our hearts which He brought with him 2,000 years ago.

“Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.” -Pope Benedict XVI