The Simple and the Silent: Preparing for Holy Week

“How do I pray?”  

“How can I pray better?”

These are common questions that we all have, made especially pertinent as we enter the holiest week of our year.  Libraries are filled with books on this very topic.  Theologians have laid out compelling strategies on how best to personally relate to deity.  Saints and mystics have offered paths for us to follow to get closer to God.  All of these can be useful.  But I’ve been moving in a different direction lately.  I’ve been on a quest to simplify and to seek silence.  I’ll cut to the punchline: try to spend quiet time this coming week contemplating the suffering and sacrifice of our savior.  Seek moments when you remember how loved you are.

This “quest” has been prompted by a series of books that I recently read.  They are Letters from the Desert by Carlo Carretto, The Power of Silence by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Interior Freedom by Jacques Philippe, and currently, No Greater Love by Mother Teresa. These are four very different books, written in varied styles and from distinct vantage points.  But I have been struck by the many similarities within them… and I have been moved by the challenge these authors pose: you have to prioritize solitude, silence and simplification.  This is a challenge, particularly now, because many of us have become addicted to noise, distraction, and avoiding boredom at all costs.  Technology enables and even prompts this because it’s all too easy to check emails and texts, look up the latest score, check in on a social media, watch a brief YouTube video, listen to music or a podcast, call someone, take in some news, etc.  None of these are bad things per se, but when they collectively prevent the quiet time we require to connect with our God, then they are part of the problem.  For some of us… a big part.

One of my favorite moments of the Triduum is immediately following the opening celebration on Holy Thursday.  This year’s pandemic reality may prompt a change in procedure, but typically after, we remain in silence before the Eucharist.  Jesus has just been captured.  He awaits his fate in, we envision, a holding chamber of some sort.  Artists have depicted this as Jesus sitting in quiet isolation, within the shadows of an awaiting destiny.  This is a far cry from the sheer elation evidenced as he entered Jerusalem to much fanfare and commotion.  Palm Sunday’s noise and exuberance sharply contrasts with the solemn reality of a man awaiting a tragic conclusion to his life.  How must he have felt in that moment?  On Holy Thursday, we share in this, albeit from the comfort of our pews.  

Holy Week is a good time to unplug, to disconnect, to actively pursue quieter moments.  Prayer aids, spiritual reading, and speaker programs can help in our consideration of the events that unfold as Jesus enters Jerusalem, but the moments of simple silence are when we are most likely to encounter our Lord.

I have more to say about this but instead will rely on some new friends:

“So true prayer demands that we be more passive than active; it requires more silence than words, more adoration than study, more concentration than rushing about, more faith than reason.”  Carlo Carretto

“The desire to see God is what urges us to love solitude and silence. For silence is where God dwells. He drapes himself in silence.”  Cardinal Robert Sarah

“The more our soul is peaceful and tranquil, the more God is reflected in it, the more His image expresses itself in us, the more His grace acts through us.”  Jacques Philippe

“It is difficult to pray if you don’t know how to pray, but we must help ourselves to pray. The first means to use is silence. We cannot put ourselves directly in the presence of God if we do not practice internal and external silence.”  Mother Teresa

Holy Week is upon us.  Let’s find some moments of simple silence to consider all that awaits.

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