Archbishop Durocher of Canada said on the occasion of the canonisations on 29 April of Ss John XXIII and John Paul II that he was moved by the moments of silence and prayerfulness in the ceremony, despite the huge crowd of pilgrims there.
Pope Francis recognises the importance of silence – how can we forget his first appearance on the loggia when he asked the crowd to pray for him. The radio stations that could not see St Peter’s Square thought that they had lost their sound feed as the massive crowd became silent in prayer.
The pope says that his favourite time of prayer is adoration in the evening, in silence. While he is obviously happy to ride on the pope-mobile greeting shouting and cheering crowds, he has also made sure that on solemn occasions he comes into the square from the basilica without any noise. This occurred at the vigil for Syria and, indeed, at the beginning of the canonisation ceremony. When he visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Apericida, a look of almost despair crossed his face when the all-too-brief time of silence in front of the image had to end.
Today we are obsessed with noise. From the radio alarm in the morning to the news on the car radio and background music in offices or stores and television at night, we fill every waking moment with noise.
When I told people I would be going to a week-long silent retreat, I could see the thoughts going through their minds – ‘Ha, Bridget will not keep quiet for a week’. I knew, however, that the silence would not be difficult – it would be a grace, as indeed it was and, in fact, I became irritated with those who broke the silence or used other means to communicate with each other. As I sat quietly beside a river, a neighbour asked if I was on retreat – he graciously left me alone when he could see I was in silence.
Yet it is easy to be in silence with those that we love or know well. Quietness does not mean that we are separated or not at peace. And this should apply to our prayer life, too. Fr Bill O’Malley SJ says, ‘We should rid ourselves of the old foolishness that prayer should be a time of “saying prayers”. Prayer is merely a time of being vulnerable to God.’ We remember the words of the lovely hymn – ‘And his mercy is gentle as silence’.
Should we not use this beautiful gift of silence to spend precious time with the Lord?