Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Great Lent - The Season of Sacred Silence

Once again, it has been a while since I have posted here. It's not that I forget that this blog is here, it's just that I concentrate on both the Archdiocese blog and the Cathedral blog, there posting my homilies and occasional pastoral letters. But, I do think about a host of different things all the time. Does that mean you want to hear about them? Probably not. But we are in Great Lent and there are some thoughts which I would like to share with you.

I am not sure how many of you look with anticipation to Great Lent. I mean, it is a season of struggle and discipline and sacrifice; a time of increased and intense prayer and fasting as well as a more focused attention on alms-giving and works of charity. Great Lent is certainly not one of those times for having fun and letting go. On the contrary, the holy season of Great Lent is a time for repentance, penance and reflection. Yet, in all its somberness and seriousness, Great Lent is still a time of joy and anticipation, a time of expectation and longing. It is a time when we set out to seek Christ and join Him in the desert, and it is in our desert wandering that we hear God speak most clearly and intimately to us.

Among all the facets of Great Lent, silence sticks out more than anything else. Great Lent compels us to silence, the mother of all godly virtues. The Church encourages during the forty days of Great Lent to keep silent in order that we may more clearly hear God speak to us and discern the Holy Spirit's guidance.

When we talk too much or all the time, how is it possible to avoid "idle talk" and thus hear God's voice? Idle talk gives rise to evil thoughts and words, all of which weigh down our souls and distract us from our Lenten goals, which are purification, repentance and m metanoia.

If you are like me, the temptation to engage in idle talk is a powerful one. It is not easy, in our day and age, to limit our words and speech to those or that which are merely necessary and not superfluous. Great Lent is an opportunity to take upon ourselves a more difficult level of spiritual struggle which is designed to effect changes in the way we think and behave.

During Great Lent we should seek to  flee from all unnecessary conversation and only speak in moderation when necessary. Instead of idle talk, let your lips and mouth repeat unceasingly the words of the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." Let your hands work for your daily bread but let your heart focus on the sweetest name of Christ, so that your soul may be filled with every blessing. 

Let us never forget that God provides everything we need, both spiritually and materially, that is sufficient for both our physical and spiritual well-being. To look for these things elsewhere, especially from the world, is folly and a mistake fraught with the greatest of dangers. I must admit that I am guilty of this; I often look to the world to give me what I need, or at least what I think I need. But then, I catch myself. It is for that reason that I am grateful for times like Great Lent because I am confronted with my brokenness and faults in more intense ways. Great Lent, more than any other liturgical season in the Church, brings our brokenness and defects into the light of day.

I realize that I am flawed. I know too, that I am a sinner. I also know that it is only through God's grace and forgiveness that I can enter heaven. I say that I am flawed and boy, is that an understatement. Not only am I a sinner, but there are so many other ways in which I am flawed. For example, I am bald, I wear bifocal glasses, I have a huge scar on my stomach from colon surgery as well as a scar on my chest from emergency surgery resulting from a pulmonary embolism. I have a skin condition as well as asthma, COPD and emphysema, all resulting from the time I spent ministering at Ground Zero. And, to top it all off, I have recently been diagnosed with PTSD. What does this make me? In some ways flawed, but more than that it all makes me a pretty irregular regular guy who has faced and faces some difficult challenges. 

With all that has gone on in my life, it would be pretty easy to succumb to depression and despair. I will not lie and say that those feelings have not been my regular companions, especially over the last few years, but I have experienced them, and still do, but God has been good to me and He and I have been spending a lot more time talking.

It is often said that God doesn't choose the qualified, He qualifies the chosen. One very important thing I have come to realize is that I do not need to be perfect to serve Him. My perfection comes about in and through Him. Look at the Apostles, they were simple fishermen, tax collectors, men of no distinction. yet, God chose them to do His work and, with sincerity of heart and faith in the Lord, they went out and did great things in His name. Yes, they persecuted and suffered greatly because of Him, even unto death for most of them, but they changed the world forever. 

For myself, I am happy to be in their company. When my own struggles seem unbearable and insurmountable, I simply think about the Apostles and all the fathers and mothers of the Church who have suffered many things in their lives yet remained faithful to Christ, and to the Church. It is especially during this time of Great Lent that I feel most at peace and that I feel strengthened to fight against my struggles with a renewed vigor and hope.

It is precisely because of the hope and promise which Great Lent provides that I encourage you all to struggle ardently against all those things which seem to be wrong in your life, the things which seem to make your life "irregular" and out of control. Persevere in prayer, silence and penance and you will find your strength to fight will be become stronger and your life will change for the better. Compel yourself to follow and accompany the Lord in the desert. 

Close your mouth to idle talk and your mind to worldly pursuits. Set them, rather, on the things of God, seeking Him at all hours of the day and night and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit whispering in your ear, telling you the way that you should go. 

Silence is the greatest and most fruitful virtue because it allows God to take charge and direct the way. The fruit of silence is holiness, and the fruit of holiness is life in communion with God. Through holiness we become one with God and God sets Himself forever in us.

Another fruit of silence are luminous thoughts, the acquiring of the holy things of God which bring about the baptism of tears of repentance, by which the soul is purified, shines and becomes like the angels.

We will never attain salvation if we do not keep watch over the door of our lips. What I mean by this is that in order to attain salvation, we must watch our words and what we say. Talking to much can lead us to the pit of hell. Words can be destructive, to others and to ourselves. We must always have patience, humility and love but these can only be present in us if we watch our speech. 

One of the most important messages of Great Lent is silence and repentance. repentance is born out of silence because silence allows us to see more clearly our faults. In silence, God's word is not impeded but rings through clearly. If we keep silent, then the eyes of our heart and mind will be opened and we will see all that keeps us from attaining what we truly desire, and that is life in God through Christ Jesus. 

The path to happiness and fulfillment is found in silence, prayer, fasting and doing good for others. Explore them all during this time of Great Lent and let them become a fixed part of your life beyond this holy season,

There is no question that we all live disordered lives. No matter how good any of us think our life is at the present time, there is always room for improvement. Great Lent gives us an opportunity to reflect on where we are in our lives and where we need to be. Let's not waste the opportunity given to us.