Saturday, March 10, 2012

Third Sunday of Lent B. "Remember to keep holy the sabbath day": holy silence expresses zeal for the Father's glory in His house of prayer

Noise is cheap, abundant and like a pestilence invades all too easily and frequently our homes, cars, offices, our minds and hearts. And noise also invades the house of God.

Yes, the noise of enthusiastic conversation, words of sympathetic concern or neighborly inquiry after health and family are kind, humanitarian and appreciated but they are not the only means of expressing regard for or serving the well-being of others.

In the house of the Lord, especially as most of His people gather on the Lord's day or its vigil, it is perhaps silence which is the best of all options for expressing solicitude and care for the well-being of neighbors.

Why is this? For the reason that in the house of the Lord prayer comes first, prayer is needed by everyone and the prayer of holy Mass for which we prepare in silent meditation is the most perfect and necessary of prayers and the gift of the Lord's Body and Blood is the greatest of gifts for which we give thanks in silent adoration after the conclusion of mass.

"Contemplative prayer is silence, the 'symbol of the world to come' or 'silent love.' Words in this kind of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love. In this silence, unbearable to the 'outer' man, the Father speaks to us his incarnate Word, who suffered, died, and rose; in this silence the Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus." (CCC 2717)

Everyone needs prayer and helping to provide the best conditions for a recollected mind and heart for the sake of effective and wholehearted prayer is the greatest of gifts in the Lord's house which is, above all other things, a house of prayer.

Has the custom of holy silence become so neglected that there is almost no corporate memory of it among our Catholic people? Perhaps this is true, but it is never too late to do the right, necessary and salutary thing.

"Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." Now, thankfully I do not see parishioners roving from pew to pew selling Avon or other home improvement products during Mass. And the only things on the tables near the door are those necessary for worship: the bread and wine for the Eucharist and the bulletins. No need to overturn those.

But there are other things which can make the Lord's house akin to a marketplace and among these are avoidable noises such as unnecessary or superfluous conversation and the ringing of cell phones.

Lent might be a good opportunity to, for example, begin the habit of leaving one's cell phone in the car as the sign of a desire to give more radicall and fully give oneself over to prayer and worship at Mass. Asking a friend to step outside, in warmer weather of course, to chat after Mass might give those neighbors who wish to do so the opportunity to more recollectedly offer a thanksgiving prayer following Mass, as the Church has long urged us to do. With perseverance, encouragement and practice this can become a common sign of regard for others for more and more of us. The extraordinary form Mass group has a long-established practice of providing a social time with coffee and donuts after Mass on most Sundays of the year. This option is certainly available after all of our Masses in order to make visits possible with those we do not normally see outside of church events.

The Lord loves us, He who "did not need anyone to testify about human nature" because "He himself understood it well". In His love He urges us to take what we need for our good. Yes, the Lord who shared in our human nature perfectly needed prayer, prayer aided sometimes by silence. And he knows we need it also.

Oh, and those friends you see only at church and with whom you would like to visit: Why not catch up by inviting them over to your home or to stop at a nearby restaurant to break bread together after Mass?


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