He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. ~Isaiah 53:7
For many of us, the apparent silence of God is confusing or frustrating, and we often respond in anger, anxiousness, or despair. We think that we have prayed, tried this or that, done what He asked, or asked Him to do something, and His response? There is none. Or so we perceive it. Yet more and more I find great comfort in the silence of God. But I think of it not so much as a negative, as a lack of a thing. When one looks at the clear night sky, at the great black blanket of night with its scattered stars, doesn’t the blackness appear to be a thing in itself? The stars are not so much hanging in a void as they are resting, set in a profound and infinite tapestry of mystery and wonder. And one would not wish that the sky were filled with so many stars that the darkness were filled, either; not just because each star would become less noticeable, but also because it would seem that something were hidden, that the darkness were somehow obscured by light. This, to me, is something like the silence of God. The more one takes time for silence and solitude, looking for God within oneself—and more importantly, letting Him look at you—the more I think one comes to know this silence as a thing itself, as a gesture, as an act of love. For as St. Mother Teresa said, ‘In the silence of the heart, God speaks.’
The silence of the heart, St. Faustina writes, is ‘not a gloomy silence, but an interior silence; that is to say, recollection in God.’1 As one comes to know Him, to know Him through daily prayer, meditation, speaking from the heart, and listening in the quiet, and most importantly just being with him, one comes to know that He is the prime mover, the first actor. We, on the other hand, are the responder, the one moved by Love, the reactor. God has spoken, powerfully and subtly and undeniably. He has spoken through nature, through the design of the human person, through His design of your own unique person; through the daily gifts that come in the form of laughter, a kind word, the sun, starry nights, warm rain, fiery Autumn leaves, and birdsong; through the human mind which has created wonderful literature, beautiful art, magnificent song; and through the human heart capable of great love, desire, courage, patience, conversion, gentleness, and strength. God is the Author of all goodness, which humble souls joyfully acknowledge. Now let us look at our response: that of pride, envy, lust, wrath, gluttony, sloth, greed, ungratefulness, distrust, and hatred. With the Devil’s help, all have rebelled against Love and chosen selfishness, greed, and cruelty. Each man knows he has hated God and neighbour, and that he finds himself one among a race of creatures who have gladly hastened to a baseness lower than that of beasts: to cruelty, murder, unforgiveness, abuse, and deceit. Now we have seen God’s initial action, and our response. It is His turn, is it not? How should He respond?
Now let the one who wonders at creation and marvels at beauty find himself dumbfounded. For to rebellion, hatred, ungratefulness, and cruelty, God has responded: He has offered Himself as a sacrifice to buy back those who hate Him and one another. It was, in fact, His initial response to the Serpent’s trickery: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.’2 Then from Abraham to John the Baptist God’s prophets write, teach, and shout one message repeatedly: There is one coming who will save you from your own self-destruction. Only wait! Hope in Him! You are unfaithful, but God is always faithful.
And when He came, He came in silence, hidden in the night. He was born as a baby in poverty. He was exiled from His own country. He was ignored, misunderstood, and scorned. Soon He was reviled, hated, tortured, and executed as a criminal. And all the while He spoke only what His Father gave Him to say: Repent, turn and follow me, for I desire you, and I want to give you life, eternal life in friendship with Me for eternity: I, who have always loved you, though you did not know me, and though you hated Me when I came to deliver you from death. And when the time came for Him to finish His response to our sin, when the time was fulfilled, He bore the weight of sin and death in sorrow and silence. So Jesus the Son of God responded to cries of hatred and cruelty not with indignation, righteous anger, or justice, but with silence. Then, when it was finished, He cried out, and gave up His Spirit for the life of the world. For he is ‘the life of the dead,’ and ‘it was precisely out of the depths of death that he made life spring forth.’3
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.' And you would not, but you said, 'No! We will speed upon horses,' therefore you shall speed away; and, 'We will ride upon swift steeds,' therefore your pursuers shall be swift. A thousand shall flee at the threat of one, at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill. Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. ~Isaiah 30:15-18
I said at the beginning that, in St. Teresa’s words, God speaks in the silence of our hearts. In the silent heart—that is, the heart which keeps Him in mind, without giving in to anxiety, worry, fear, discouragement, or self-preservation—here, you encounter Him who was always there, who has never abandoned you. Indeed, He has drawn nearer in your dire need and distress. For ‘the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.’4 In the silence of one’s heart one meets Jesus on the Cross, who willingly bears our sins so that we might believe, be healed by His Spirit, and be raised up to become like Him both in His Death and His Resurrection.5 In this silence one meets Jesus on the road to Calvary, suffering so that we in our suffering might be united to His, and become pure as He is pure, saving souls with Him.6 In this silence one meets the Holy Spirit and Mary, who as our Mother wraps us in Her mantle and quiets us against Her breast. In this silence the soul knows that she is loved, and she can abide in His love, responding not with fear but with love for Him and for others. And then her heart is attuned to listen for His words of love in the myriad ways in which He communicates to her. And when He does speak, His words are like the stars in the mantle of the night sky, and the soul cherishes them as from a lover for whom she longs and whom she awaits with joy and eagerness and yearning.
Let nothing trouble you Let nothing frighten you Everything passes God never changes Patience Obtains all Whoever has God Wants for nothing God alone is enough. ~St. Teresa of Avila
- Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, paragraph 118.
- Genesis 3:15.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 635 and 631. The former comes from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday.
- Psalm 34:18.
- Romans 6:4.
- Colossians 1:24.