"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Power of Silence by Robert Cardinal Sarah, Part 2

Having taken you through the Introduction and Chapters I, II, and III in my first post on Robert Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, I continue here with Chapters IV, V, the Conclusion, and the Afterward.

The fourth chapter, titled “God’s Silence in the Face of Evil Unleashed” furthers the understanding of silence as it pertains to evil in the world.  It examines why God is silent in the face of evil, silence as a proper reaction toward evil, and silence in understanding sickness and death. 

Christ alone can give man the strength to confront evil and come to terms with it.  He offers himself as the only power of helping mankind to conquer suffering.  “Apart frpm me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).  By the strength of his Cross, he has the power to save mankind.  The most beautiful cry possible is an outburst of love for God.  Suffering is often the expression of immense love.  It is redemptive.  Suffering and sorrow show that we are alive, guiding the physician more precisely in his diagnosis.  It is necessary to accept suffering and to cope with it in silence.  There is no injustice in the world that does not find a prayerful response to God.  (P. 283)

But Sarah emphasizes that silence “is not a form of passivity.”  To fight injustice, man must turn to God and His love.

We must involve God in our combat against injustice.  I like to keep saying that are true weapons are love and prayer.  The silence of prayer is our only equipment for combat.  The silence of invocation, the silence of adoration, the silence of waiting: these are the most effective weapons.  Love alone is capable of putting out the flames of injustice, because God is love.  Loving God is everything.  All the rest has not the slightest value to the extent that it is not transformed and elevated by Christ’s love.  The choice is simple: God or nothing… (P. 292)

While Cardinal Sarah understands man’s rebellion in the face of injustice, he does not support many of the modern approaches to combat such injustice.  In what I find to be one of the most insightful paragraphs summarizing the modern condition, Sarah is repulsed by the noisy struggles from all sides.

Modern existence is a propped-up life built entirely on noise, artificiality, and the tragic rejection of God.  From revolutions to conquests, from ideologies to political battles, from the frantic quest for equality to the obsessive cult of progress, silence is impossible.  What is worse: transparent societies are sworn to an implacable hatred of silence, which they regard as contemptible, backward defeat.  (P. 336)

That paragraph is at the center of the book’s theme. 

The fifth chapter, “Like a Voice Crying Out in the Desert: The Meeting at the Grand Chartreuse” pulls together the various threads that Cardinal Sarah has been developing and comes to answer why search for silence.  Though the themes seem a bit redundant at this point—I think he has answered the same question in every chapter—there is a change in presentation.  A new voice enters the discussion, Dom Dysmas de Lassus, the Prior General of the Carthusians.  Nicholas Diat is still asking questions, but now the two religious answer in a sort of duet.  As the chapter title suggests, the meeting of the three take place at the Grand Chartreuse, the head monastery of the Carthusian religious order.

In an answer to why seek silence, Cardinal Sarah answers bluntly: “The authentic search for silence is the quest for a silent God and for the interior life.  It is the quest for a God who reveals himself in the depths of our being (p. 191).  He continues:

Silence is an extremely necessary element in the life of every man.  It enables the soul to be recollected.  It protects the soul against the loss of its identity.  It predisposes the soul to resist the temptations to turn away from itself to attend to things outside, far from God.

If man wants to become entrenched in the depths of his heart, in that beautiful interior sanctuary, in order to examine himself and to verify the Presence of God within him, if he wants to know and understand his identity, he needs to be silent and to win his interiority.  (p, 192)

Dom Dysmas amplifies this by explaining the Carthusian rule of silence: “In a charterhouse [Carthusian monastery], we seek, not silence, but, rather, intimacy with God by means of silence.  It is the privileged space that will allow for communion; it is on the order of language, but a different language (p. 199).  Cardinal Sarah then cautions that seeking silence has to have meaning.

Man does not seek silence for the sake of silence.  The desire for silence for its own sake would be a sterile venture, a particularly exhausting aesthetic experience.  In the depths of his soul, man wants the presence and company of God, in the same way that Christ sought his Father in the desert, far from the cries and passions of the crowd.  (p. 201)

Cardinal Sarah goes on to assure us not to fear the silence.

A Christian cannot fear silence because he is never alone.  He is with God.  He is in God.  He is for God.  In the silence, God gives me his eyes so as to contemplate him better.  Christian hope is the foundation of the true silent search of the believer.  Silence is not frightening; on the contrary, it is the assurance of meeting God.  (p. 230)

In the formal “Conclusion,” Sarah encourages us “to revolt against the dictatorship of noise, that seeks to break our hearts and our intellect” (p. 240). 

Finally in a short “Afterward,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI praises Cardinal Sarah as a spiritual teacher, one “who speaks out of the depths of silence with the Lord, out of his interior union with him, and thus really has something to say to each one of us” (p. 244).

This book does have something to say that is very important to the modern—or shall I call it, postmodern—world.  But will the world listen?  It would be wise if we each in our individual practices listened.  

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