“Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day, he invents machines and devices that increase noise and detract humanity from the essence of life – contemplation and meditation.” This quote from the German artist Jean Arp aptly portrays what I consider the bane of current society — unceasing activity. Technology has stifled silence, whether it be telephone, e-mail, tweets or internet browsing, they all facilitate in rendering the mind less potent, less imaginative, less willing to be alone with oneself.
The desert Fathers had a name for it, ‘acedia’, which they listed as one of the more dangerous of their eight deadly sins. Listen to St. John Cassian describing one of its forms, “He looks about anxiously this way and that, and sighs that none of the brethren come to see him, and often goes in and out of his cell, and frequently gazes up at the sun, as if it was slow in setting.”
Now let us picture ourselves anxiously awaiting a reply from that e-mail we sent two seconds before, or the madness that arises when we have to talk to an answering machine, or the frustration that develops while during the Rosary the telephone rings. We have all experienced it I think; we are kneeling with a sincere attempt to meditate on the mysteries and then it happens — the phone rings, you’ve been told to ignore it, the answering machine goes on and somewhere in that Hail Mary, knees start shaking, heads turn an ear, and a general fidget envelops all the participants. “Dad, maybe we won the lottery, maybe it’s a nuclear emergency, or just maybe the dog learned to dial the phone and we need to get it on You Tube.” In my case, only the dog part is remotely real. The point is, technology, whether for good or ill, dominates our lifestyles to the point of utter distraction, and usually replaces what is most good in our spiritual life, silence.
William Burroughs said, “Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” This need for talk pervades our modern society in a contagious cacophony of constant conversation. I dread summer, not only because I prefer winter for hardly any one is out and about, but because of its endless parade of parties. We have parties for every conceivable event and non-event that has occurred since time began. Birthday parties, wine tasting parties, wedding parties, pre-wedding parties, farewell parties, welcome parties, Christmas parties, (which invariably occur during the non-party season of Advent), New Year’s Eve’s parties, and parties because last week we didn’t have a party. These last two occur in winter so the chances of weather postponing them is always real, so I don’t mind them so much. Soon I think, we will have pre-funeral parties where the participants hold a lottery for the unlucky guest who won’t receive money in the future. The advantage, of course, is there will always be money to hold another party. There are chick-flick nights, sing along nights, game nights, and to be fair poker nights, but I’m earning money there. I sometimes believe that if we were present at the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden, someone would have thrown a ‘going out’ party.
Not all silence is good of course, for we have that most true quote from Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” In other words, to be silent. We as Catholics are subjected daily to this tragedy in the silence of our bishops who refuse to condemn so called catholic politicians or schools who support, some enthusiastically, the murdering of the unborn, the acceptance of unnatural lifestyles, and the approval of immoral changes within the Sacrament of Marriage. This same Church fought for centuries these ambassadors of evil, unflinchingly wielding the sword of truth in the battle for God’s rights. Not so today. We have a court that re-defines marriage, and nary a word is said in defense of God’s rights. We have infamous speakers invited to Catholic schools; speakers that detest all that is Catholic, and no voice is raised in protest by our prelates. It seems the abomination is sitting in the temple. In frustration, or is it hope, we look for support to the Keys, and we get encyclicals on the environment, and worse yet, instead of the thundering roar from Peter, we get inspirational quotes like ‘who am I to judge.’ This is another form of silence; let us call it the silence of the lambs.
As Ben Franklin put it, “As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.”
I recall one dinner party where for one solid minute no one had anything to say. The guests were staring down at their plates wondering if the zucchini was bewitching the crowd. My wife called it an awkward silence; I called it an enormous success for silence is conversation, precious and rare amongst friends. After all this you may consider me anti-social, which would be true to a point, for I do crave solitude, but let me describe best my attitude with a quote from Karen Armstrong, “I like silence; I’m a gregarious loner and without solitude, I lose my gregariousness.”
Now parties are not an evil; indeed, they are very necessary for us traditional Catholics who are oppressed within and without, but unceasing activity can be an evil, only remedied by silence in solitude with our Creator. And of course, most families will hold only several soirees a year, if that, but that usually generates a party given in return for the favor, and so on and on. Never trust anything that is self-breeding.
Then there is the silence of the men, the very humans God assigned to watch the gate in Paradise lest any evil enter. Generally speaking, we as men have failed miserably in protecting our families from the rot of the world. Yes, we provide for their physical needs, but do we really provide for their spiritual protection and advancement? We have succumbed to co-ed sports, un-chaperoned dating, phone devices that now have easy access to the internet, and a general slothfulness in instructing them in the truths of their Catholic Faith. We work out in the world, most times in co-ed circumstances, then fail to appreciate the very women who have shouldered the burden in our absence. We claim fatigue usually not noticing, and in many cases ignoring, that their work day with the children, our mutual responsibility, is only that, their work day. How many of us would want to exchange places? They complain to us, we weather the storm hoping it will go away, knowing that the tempest will arise again. It is this inaction on the men’s part that has led to the worst part in this sorry scenario; namely, the substitution of a correct patriarchal society for a matriarchal one.
And lastly, there is the lack of silence in the women. There are many reasons for this, such as the feminist movement or the call for women’s rights, but I wish to focus on the Catholic perspective. I believe that the women now lead their families, and the men have gladly relinquished that duty. They plan everything from socials to Rosaries. They instigate the uncomfortable conversations, remind all of first Friday and Saturdays, ember and rogation days, and warn constantly of the hidden dangers of the world. But I think they do this begrudgingly because they would rather not be the one always sounding the reveille. When they get together, we men frequently are the main topic of conversation, because they vent all their pent up emotions, and find usually that the problem is pandemic in all families. The only way to repair this anomaly is for the men to take charge, not with a tyrannical knee jerk reaction, but with a humility in recognizing that the problem was theirs in the making. Having had conversations with other men about properly leading again, I have stated that it will be less difficult for men to lead than it will be for women to relinquish this inherited power. With that I am entering into dangerous territory for ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’
This reversal of hierarchies has resulted in another phenomenon in traditional Catholic circles, that of vociferous women raising their voices in the assemblies. It used to be that men would do all the vocalizing when issues arose, especially in public venues, and the women would sit in their tight knit groups whispering to each other, sometimes exclaiming “that’s my man up there.” Now it is the men who have taken the corner seats, and while the women are vocalizing, a groan can be heard, accompanied by “there she goes again.” We men have to fix this if all be right with the world again, for it does start at home, then outward into all facets of society, then upward into the realm of our Creator. I will leave the women with a quote from Marianne Williamson (and I thank God it’s a woman I’m quoting), “There is nothing more powerful than a woman who knows how to contain her power and not let it leak, standing firmly within it in mystery and silence. A woman who talks too much sheds her allure.”
Silence being golden, I will keep quiet now.