How quickly the joyous seasons of Christmas and Epiphany have passed. There are but a few days officially left of Christmastide which ends this Saturday. However, with the bridge of Septuagesima we have left behind the joyous celebration to prepare ourselves for self-denial and penance. Though Ash Wednesday is just around the corner, we are, in fact, in the Lenten Season for the Church is preparing us for this necessary time of penance and sacrifice to prepare ourselves to be present throughout the cruelest Passion and Death of our beloved Savior Jesus Christ. Let us not forget that while His Passion was and will always be the cruelest, it is at the same time, also the greatest act of Love, of charity, humanity will ever know.
In the past columns of the practice of virtue, which leads us to holiness and sanctity, we have examined the lives of saints whose virtues were exemplary. All were clothed, by God’s graces, in the garment of Holy Poverty and the cloak of seraphic Charity. These two virtues seem to me to embody the practices of all other virtues.
However, there is one virtue, which is seldom spoken of in today’s ultra-modern society, one that, I am certain, few understand, fewer practicing, and very few who teach us of this priceless virtue.
While every canonized saint, as well as those untold numbers of uncanonized saints practiced this virtue in their mortal lives, it is one that we normally reserve for a few chosen souls, in particular those called to the monastic, cloistered life. Let us consider, however, that except within the Traditional Authentic Roman Catholic Church, these so-called “cloistered” nuns, priests, and brothers are not living as their founders stipulated in their approved rules. Rather, they are victims of the same diabolical disorientation to which humanity as a whole is subjected, thus bringing into their cloisters, even hermitages in some cases, the abdominal TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, even music to some degree. A good example is the fact that this coming weekend a convent of novus ordo nuns is opening its monastic doors to Super Bowl seculars who are not there for a retreat, but for accommodations because there is no room in the inn anywhere else in the Valley of the Sun. I do not fault the opportunity to raise some much needed funds when non-profit charities everywhere are hurting so, but to do so when cooperating with the devil's delights strikes another lash on the scourged Mystical Body of Christ, already so bloodied, bruised, and battered by the outrages, sacrileges, indifference and blasphemies against the Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
It is everywhere. Michael passes on the e-mails and news articles he receives that document these outrages, sacrileges, indifference and blasphemies, these offenses against God. They make me literally sick to my stomach. And yet it is necessary to expose them, necessary to root out sin rather than committing the sin of omission by saying nothing.
Ironically it is that omission, that silence that flies in the face of the silence that we should be fostering. Thus, the virtue I am about to write about is absent even in the places where it should belong. I know that must sound confusing. Please stay with me and you'll understand.
Of all the canonized saints, it is possible to pick any one of them as an example of this virtue. Nonetheless, after much prayer, one Saint in particular is pressed upon the heart of my soul to name as the example par excellence of this virtue: Which virtue, you ask?
Ah, perhaps at this moment you are thinking to yourself that silence is impossible in today’s modern world. I sincerely point out that if there was ever a time for silence, it is now! Why? Because it is virtually absent from all lives, even the lives of those who, by God’s merciful grace, have maintained the True Roman Catholic Faith in their lives, homes, families, etc.
The saint who exemplifies this virtue, who is a Patron Saint of this virtue is none other than Glorious St. Joseph, most chaste spouse of the Blessed Mother, and foster-father and protector of our Lord Jesus Christ, and thus of the Most Holy Family.
In Sacred Scripture, as important a role as St. Joseph was chosen to have in the life of the Blessed Mother and her Divine Son, Jesus Christ, St. Joseph speaks not one word. In truth, we know very little about so important a person, who was chosen before time began to be married to the Blessed Mother, practicing the sublime virtue of perpetual chastity at all times. He was chosen by God to hold in his arms the tiny infant Who is the Son of God, the Savior of the World. It was his awesome responsibility before the Throne of Almighty God to protect, guide, and guard the Most Holy Family. Thus, it is no exaggeration to say St. Joseph, next to Our Blessed Mother, is the most powerful intercessor before the Throne of Almighty God. If you don’t think so, check the writings of the saints, inparticular those of St. Teresa of Avila. On the subject of St. Joseph’s powerful intercession, she had much divine wisdom to impart in her writings.
Let us, however, return to the subject at hand, that of Silence. We are speaking here of both interior and exterior silence, in a world of sound bytes that hit us as a blitzkrieg at every moment of our waking life, leaving us only the few hours of sleep we are able to obtain when the hour is late, and our minds are exhausted from the day, and are already dissecting and processing everything we have facing us the following morning upon waking.
I doubt that St. Joseph allowed his mind to do this. In fact, to have achieved his glorious role in the plan of Salvation, St. Joseph had to have maintained, at all times, a close union with God through both interior and exterior silence.
Silence is more than not speaking. It transcends the obvious, and enters into the supernatural realm the more we practice this virtue. By Silence, we must keep check upon our mind and our tongue, which are tied together so intricately, that once a thought enters our minds; our tongue is ready, willing, and able to speak that thought to anyone who might be present in our life. The achievement of interior silence belongs fully to the supernatural life, and while to most it appears possibly the most difficult, if not impossible, virtue to practice, I assure you it is not.
We can and must learn from St. Joseph the practice of Silence if we are going to make progress in the spiritual life, to increase in the practice of all virtues, to climb the ladder of holiness, which ultimately leads us to the sanctity to which God ordained for each of us before time began, so that we may see Him in Heaven.
How then do we go about this practice of exterior silence? Are we to glue our lips together, learn sign language, post a sign in our homes announcing to our loved ones that we are not going to speak? No, we do not have to go to such extremes. Rather, our first priority is prayer. Remember, ASK, SEEK, KNOCK? This is what we begin with. We must pray and ask, seek, and knock at the heart of our Divine Savior to grant us the graces necessary to understand and practice holy silence. This happens to be a life-long prayer, one we need to repeat as often as possible throughout the day, and as often as it is necessary in our life, dependent upon our vocation and individual circumstances.
God will most certainly grant us the graces to practice Silence, for it is only when we have learned to be silent exteriorly and interiorly that we can hear God speak to us. Prayer is conversation, and conversation is two-way. If we are, through prayer, able to speak to God, it is through exterior and interior silence that enables us to hear God speak to us in the heart of our soul. Thus, in this penitential season, let us endeavor to pray for the graces necessary to achieve both external and internal silence at all times, no matter the chaos around us. Despite our modern mindset, silence is not only necessary, it is fully possible to possess, even in the midst of a crowded stadium filled with screaming fans, in a home filled with the energy and noise level of life in general, of children, youth, teenagers, and young adults. It is fully possible to achieve this vital virtue, if only we desire it.
St. Joseph knew the necessity of silence, and practiced it his entire life. No, Sacred Scripture gives us no examples of this, except that which can be properly discerned through those passages where we learn that God communicated to him in dreams, and his absolute obedience resulting from those dreams.
He speaks not one word, still fulfilling his lofty vocation as the head of the Most Holy Family. Certainly, he will help us.
Begin by practicing external silence. It is not necessary to talk all day long. We must eliminate all extraneous conversation with others, even members of our family, every day. We must check our tongue, lest we allow this member of our body to speak out at any moment, entering into gossip, expressing opinions on every subject, rendering judgments on others we do not know, or falling into the dangerous trap of gossip. Oh, yes, we do gossip as a society, and we do it very well, and to excess. We all have opinions about many subjects, but are they necessary to talk about in the overall picture of the context of our daily life?
How many times have you cringed when in a grocery store people are loud and obnoxious and they are not talking to you while looking right at you? No, they're on the phone or headset, totally oblivious to how ridiculous they may seem to everyone else...except that most others are lost in their world of talk, talk, talk, but seldom to each other. Ah, the wonders and curses of modern technology.
If you study your own pattern of talking, you will find, undoubtedly, that the large percentage of it is unnecessary, dependent upon your life’s circumstances. Listening is far more important than getting our two cents’ worth into every conversation. Begin by shortening what you say, then work on eliminating your comments to brevity, and then it is a short step to achieving that external silence all of us must strive to obtain and maintain.
Interior silence requires effort, only this effort becomes easier if we’re working on exterior silence. Again, prayer is the beginning of achieving any virtue at all. Therefore, we go back to the three necessities: ASK, SEEK, KNOCK. Once we begin to do this, and do it frequently, making sincere steps toward achieving interior silence, be assured God will respond. Pray especially to Glorious St. Joseph to assist you in this endeavor, trusting in his powerful intercession, and God’s Providence to aid us in all ways if we but trust in Him.
Interior silence comes gradually to most of us. Yes, there have been chosen souls who were given this grace, this virtue, at birth, or very early in life. If they had not possessed silence, they would not have progressed rapidly toward the practice of all other virtues, nor would they have achieved their glorious place in Heaven. Perhaps silence is the beginning of wisdom, which latter brings about the birth, the blossoming of all other virtues.
Interior silence is so vital for all souls, regardless of their vocation. While it would be a true miracle if, by our individual practice of silence, the decibel level of the entire world would fade to low, leaving only a hum of activity in the background. In the eyes of Almighty God, our individual practice of silence is so pleasing, that He is pleased to shower abundant graces on souls attached to silence, souls practicing silence. He is pleased to increase this virtue in our souls, and by His Providence, He shall lead us into such silence of being, both exterior and interior, that ceaseless prayer (conversation with God) becomes fully part of our self, until we are enveloped in silence at all times.
There is no greater formula for the virtue of silence than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This wondrous Mystery is said so reverently and absolute, and from the Orate Fratres to the Pater Noster is said by the priest in silence - in soto - a low voice that is not audible to the faithful. Why? One, because it is such an august Mystery and Moment - the Consecration of the Mass, and two, to allow the alter Christus to communicate more fully with God the Father in offering on behalf of the faithful His only-begotten Son to Him in the unbloody Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Mass we ASK forgiveness and petition God, we SEEK to praise and adore God, we KNOCK in thanksgiving and He opens the door to His graces by providing the Food of Life: His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity present in the sacred Host we receive when free of mortal sin at the communion rail. The entire Mass is a lesson in silence.
During this Holy Season of Lent, which we have already entered, let us begin our preparation for Holy Week and Christ’s ultimate sacrifice by following the example of Glorious St. Joseph. Let us seek his aid and intercession at all times, particularly when we realize we are speaking on any and every subject, not because it is pleasing to God, but because we want to be heard, to have our opinion heard and commented upon, or because we tend to gossip, not realizing that in so doing, we are entering into dangerous waters with rip tides pulling us into sin, often grave sins against charity.
Let us remember what our dear Lord said in refuting the Pharisees that it is not what man puts into his mouth that is unclean, but what comes out of his mouth. He was speaking of uncharitable words that can utter forth before even the brain has a chance to slam shut the tongue. He was speaking of platitudes that have no justification with God. He was speaking of blasphemies, curses, slanders, lies, vulgarities, obscenities, all enabled by idle talk and gossip.
For this season of Lent, let us imagine that our lips are glued together, or if you prefer, you have put a padlock on them. Practice exterior silence, speaking only when necessary, and keeping all conversations to a minimum. Together, through prayer and the aid of St. Joseph, let us seek interior silence, the most important spiritual realm we can enter into. Within this protected environment, we, who are mere fallen creatures, will find the closest thing to Heaven on earth, a familiar conversation with God and His saints, a refuge from the shattering noise of our modern society. We shall then be able to hear Him, our Father, our Savior, our Sanctifier, and also His Most Holy Mother, our guardian angel, and the saints we invoke to intercede for us. It is our ‘special’ place, where no one else may intrude, so protected is it by Our Lord.
Christ said, “Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” A humble heart, that is, the heart of the soul, knows silence. It revels in its silence, for it knows that there Christ reigns, remains with us, and with Him the heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost take up Their abode.
How beautiful our souls will become by the practice of this seldom-mentioned virtue: Silence.
If we begin now, this very day, to seek after silence, we shall find that our Lent shall be most profitable to our souls. Like ripples upon a pond, we shall witness the effects of our silence upon our family, friends, acquaintances, even in the work place. Our spiritual journey toward the practice of all virtues, climbing steadily upward the ladder of holiness shall increase rapidly, and our journey to our Heavenly Home shall be expedited, leading us straight to the very Heart of Our Beloved Savior, when It was pierced by a lance on Good Friday.
Silence is the entry point into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Allow St. Joseph to be your guide to this most vital and necessary place of refuge against the onslaughts of evil that pervade our society. Silence will lead us on the path of perfection, through penance during this holy season of Lent.
O Lord, open our ears and hearts and help us keep a guard on our tongues. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we love You. Save souls.