The Gift of Silence enables us to hear the voice of God which liberates us from the “Dictatorship of Noise.” Recently, I have been feeling the need to for silence. It is not easy for a priest who needs to give homilies on regular bases, who needs to listen and counsel people almost every day, who needs to call people back or answer phone calls every day. The life of a priest needs, but misses silence a lot, like the deer misses the good steams of water. If I open my heart to people and friends, they will see that one of the best things I like to do is to be in total silence for a time. The way I do it is usually to retreat in prayer, and I do it in the following order:
First, almost regardless of what time I go to bed at night, I end up, somehow, rising up every morning around 5:30 or 6:00 am. What do I do? I stay in bed, looking at the Crucifix, looking at the image of Our Lady, and I bless myself with the Cross and with holy water. Then I try to pray the following prayer in hymnody:
“Alleluia: Virgin, You are my Mother, I offer you myself. I consecrate my heart, my mouth, my love and life. All my day, with its labor and burdens, my thoughts, my studies, my readings. As of now I pertain to you, my compassionate mother. Make my sweet hopes flourish before my eyes and with Christ. Alleluia through ages to come”. Amen (Tune of Fsheeto, from Aramaic Music of early centuries.)
Next, I take up the Cross which is in my closet, I face with it all four corners of my room, to bless all the homes and the sides of my parish and all families I serve. Then I pray the prayer of Saint Ephrem (+371 A.D.):
“The light of the just and joy of the Upright is Christ Jesus, our Lord. Begotten of the Father He manifested Himself to us. He came to rescue us from darkness and to fill us with the radiance of his Light.”
Then, I turn on the prayer of the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), according to the Roman Rite, where I listen to the service of the readings. Every day this service has readings from either the Old or the New Testament followed by a reading, usually a commentary from one of the fathers of the Church on that Bible readings. Once the service of the readings is finished, I start praying the Morning Prayer according to the Liturgy of the Hours, which is in the Roman Rite.
Additionally, throughout the day, I do stop a little for prayers here and there. I try to go to the Church every day and light a candle for the people who have asked me to pray for them.
At night, blessing myself with the Holy Water and performing a small ritual of the Cross, I try to push my sleepy and heavy body to pray a little longer; just a short and deep prayer. I read from the Book called, The Imitation of Christ. Twice a day. Then I make the sign of the Cross, blessing myself with holy water, and say in Aramaic the Prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syriac,
“Alleluia, At Night, Your Cross, O Lord, I draw on my sleeping body. And it becomes for me the vigilant Watchman to watch over me through the night. In the Middle of the night,
the devil comes to try me and disturb me. But he sees the Cross of Light on my dying body, he runs from it, perspires in fear as the power of the Cross burns the devil into hell. As for me, I wake up in the Morning, with joy and in peace, to praise you O Lord." (From the Maronite Liturgy of the Hours, Thursday Before Bed Prayer called: Setoro)
Sure, I do pray my Liturgy of the Hours according to the Maronite Rite. Remember, I prayed all 7 prayers in the oldest books of the Liturgy of the Hhours according to the Maronite Rite in the Monastery since the age of 14. Every day, five times: Morning, Noon, Evening, Before bed, and Midnight. With these five main prayers, came the Mid-morning meditation, and the Mid-afternoon benediction. The total of those seven prayers were always accompanied by readings from the Old, the New Testament, and the Fathers of the Church, predominately the Eastern Fathers, of Antioch, Egypt, and Cappadocia.
The reason why, when I came to the United States, unless we are at a Maronite Catholic gathering of Clergy, I end up praying the liturgy of the hours in the Roman Rite, is because of the engaging psalms during the week. Yes, the Psalm of David. 150 psalms, set for the entire year. Morning, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, evening, late evening and midnight. It is such an amazing sacramental and mystical reality, if a priest, a brother, a nun, a lay person can follow these prayers. You will find the Voice of God, and you will engage in the Sacred Silence, which is the Gift of listening to the Voice of God. Of course, every day, a priest is to celebrate the Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist, The Mass. Lots of priests start their days with the Mass, others, like myself, choose another time. I like to celebrate it in the evening, to give opportunity to many in the parish family and beyond, to come and celebrate with me. After the Mass, we pray to Our Lady. Before the Mass here at St. Rafka, some people come 30 minutes earlier to pray the Rosary. After the Mass, we pray the "Angelus" or the Greeting of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, followed each time by the Hail Mary. Every night we conclude by asking the intercession of Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church and Patron of the family, and of Saint Rafka, and we call upon the intercession of the Saint of the Day, and then Our Lady, as the Mother of God, Mother of Divine Mercy, Our Lady of Hope. At the end, we chant the "Hail Holy Queen" or "Salve Regina". In Arabic this prayer is called: "Assalamou Alaykee Ya Malikat, Oum Al Rahmat...".
Can you believe with all the craziness of the day, I try to maintain this spiritual protocol for my life? Otherwise I feel I am living under the oppression of Noise, or as Cardinal Sarah (Robert) calls it: "the dictatorship of Noise" (Robert, Cardinal Sarah with Nicolas Diat, The Power of Silence, Against the Dictatorship of Noise, Trans. from French by Michael J. Miller, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2017).
My brothers and sisters, life is erratic, mad and wild without the silence. People today strive in confusion because of the many rumors in the world. People vomit words that are empty of wisdom. Many lies have become the norm of this life. Many fake statements affect today the way our youth think of God, of Life, of Truth, and of Right and Wrong. As Pope Francis said recently, “the world and the church are suffering from hypocrisy.” Hypocrisy happens when people do not discern right from wrong under the light of the Holy Spirit. In fact, in a very recent
sad experience, I noticed that part of why the new generation suffers from not knowing what is right versus what is wrong, is because the young people did not learn to pray on daily bases from their parents.
This is a grave and dangerous sin. As Cardinal Sarah says: "Without Silence, God disappears in the noise. And this noise becomes all the more obsessive because God is absent.
Yes I am relating the prayer to silence.
Prayer rises from the Spirit who dwells in the depth of human beings. Prayer renders the mind, the heart, the passions, the emotions, the thoughts, and the desires of those who are praying into the disposition of calmness, of relaxation, of silence, which enables them to enter into the eternal light of Peace. Once the body is at peace, only then, the Prayer becomes the medium through which God, in the Holy Spirit, speaks through the power of mystical and sacred silence to the fullness of man and woman who are in prayer.
So what does God say at that time? He makes us hear the truth of His presence by the Power of sacred silence. Cardinal Sarah asks this fundamental question in his Book: “Can those who do not know silence ever attain truth, beauty, or love? Do not wisdom, artistic vision, and devotion spring from silence, where the voice of God is heard in the depth of the human heart?”
My message today is for the youth in the world and in my parish: Please rediscover the power of silence so you will find wisdom and joy. Please give God time out of your day and try to stop and pray so that God can start speaking to you and you hear his Word and Do as He tells you. Youth are being misled by not being exposed to prayer at home, not being receptive to humility of Spirit, for they think, for the most part, they are smarter than most. I am afraid the youth in the world are being intimidated by fear of pain, not wanting to rise to the level of their souls, they hide in the passion of their desires and their worldly interests. God cannot speak in the world. God speaks right into the soul of human beings. Please my dear youth, I know how much you care for life and you want to live it to its fullness. Therefore, try to transcend your worldly dimension and go deeper into your existence; through silence, fasting and prayer you will discover God.
Life is odd without silence. Life would have never came into existence without silence. Cardinal Sarah quotes Saint John of the Cross who declares in his Spiritual Maxims, “The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence must It be heard by the soul.” (Robert, Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence, 7. Page 24). Please, my friends, the first step to enter into life is to render Glory to God. This is called prayer. Please pray constantly and with unceasing faith, hope and love to Almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
My fear is this: The Dictatorship of noise in the world, is taking the world back to the Ex-Nihilo, or the NOTHINGNESS. The less prayer is raised in our families from all, and in our churches by all, the less effective life will be, the more catastrophic life will become, the more violence will be, the less graces and blessings will shower from Heaven upon us, and life will go to death, and only those who were patient and prayerful to the very end, will be saved.
Finally, I encourage you to enter into your inter-being, who is starving and is in famine for God, by renewing you baptismal promises. As Cardinal Sarah quotes from Fr Marie-Eugène de l'Enfant-Jésus, “I want to See God”. (Robert, Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence, 8. Page 25). Don't you want to see God? Then, this is an invitation to become pure of heart as Jesus says in
Matthew 5, 8, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God”. This is also a solid expression of the most intimate desire of a man and woman who realizes that God is the Father by nature, and that without Him we are orphans and dead. This is why the first things our parents and the Church do for us when we are born is baptism and confirmation, and then Holy Communion. These are called the mysteries of Christian Initiation, the Mysteries of Adoption and Liberation form Evil, the Mysteries that enables us back to become again the Children of God. My dear brothers and sisters, don't be orphans. Pray, renew your baptismal promises, confess, stay in the state of grace, and let God rock this life to what life is to be: Life in God, for peace and prosperity, for blessings of joy and eternal life.
I made my case, and my case is based on the dumbness of men, yet the wisdom and Mercy of God.
I leave you with this text from Saint Isaak the Syrian from his Ascetic Homilies that Cardinal Sarah quoted in his book on the Power of Silence:
“Prayer offered up at night possesses a great power, more than the prayer of the day-time. Therefore all the righteous prayed during the night, while combating the heaviness of the body and the sweetness of sleep and repelling corporal nature. . . . There is nothing that even Satan fears so much as prayer that is offered during the vigilance at night. . . . For this reason the devil smites them with violent warfare, in order to hinder them, if possible, from this work [as was the case with Anthony the Great, Blessed Paul, Arsenius, and other Desert Fathers] . . . . But those who have resisted his wicked stratagems (cunnings) even a little, who have tasted the gifts of God that are granted during vigil, and who have experienced in themselves the magnitude of God's help that is always nigh (near) to them, utterly disdain him and all his devises. . . . Which of the solitaries, though possessing all the virtues together, could neglect this work, and not be reckoned to be idle without it? For night vigil is the light of the thinking, and by it the understanding is exalted, the thought is collected, and the mind takes flight and gazes at spiritual things and by prayer it is rejuvenated and shines brilliantly.” (Robert, Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence, Introduction Page 15)
Fr. Andre Mahanna, Pastor