Bishop Hying

In the midst of a world increasingly filled with noise, the Lord speaks to us in silence

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on July 30, 2017


       When I moved into the Holy Angels Cathedral rectory, I was surprised by how quiet it always is.  Besides the gentle hum of the tollway, the distant clatter of a train and an occasional passing car on the street, the neighborhood is peaceful and still. I could be in the middle of the woods. Although I am seldom home, except to sleep, I have come to appreciate and savor the silence I have discovered there.

       Too much silence, or the negative types of it, can bother us. The long silence after a marital spat, the awkward quiet of a blind date, the empty stillness when a spouse has died can weigh on us as an oppressive force of loss, conflict and loneliness. Our society has become increasingly uncomfortable with silence amid the whirl of entertainment, gadgets and noise of all kinds, which keeps us so busy and distracted that peace and quiet almost seem impossible. 

       Yet, the Lord speaks profoundly in silence.

       Jesus Christ, the Word of God, is conceived in the moment of Mary’s spoken consent, but then grows in quiet and stillness. The natural world of forests, mountains and fields flourishes in a mighty silence of beautiful creation. True conversation depends on authentic listening, which requires both interior and exterior openness to the other. 

        How illuminative to watch an argument, as two people literally try to talk over each other. We need peace and quiet to read, study, write, reflect and pray. I loved my mission experience in the Dominican Republic, but the constant noise was a challenge. Between the raucous music, racing motor bikes, barking dogs and crowing roosters, life there was a cacophony of external stimulation. I loved it but often found myself craving the peace of the distant hills or the gentle seashore.

       I am currently reading “The Power of Silence” by Robert Cardinal Sarah. Here are several quotes. 

       “Christ lived for thirty years in silence. Then, during his public life, he withdrew to the desert to listen and speak with his Father. The world vitally needs those who go off into the desert. because God speaks in silence.” Jesus preaches, heals and loves from the rootedness of interior stillness, nurtured by those fruitful nights of intense prayer in solitude. 

       “The more we advance in the mystery of God, the more we lose speech. We are enveloped in a power of love and we become mute from astonishment and wonder. Before God we disappear, snapped up by the greatest silence.” Don’t you find that the more you pray and meditate, the fewer words you need or desire? Our time with the Lord simply becomes a wordless resting in the blazing mystery of God’s love.

       One of the most beautiful films I have ever seen is “Into Great Silence,” a poetic illustration of life in the Grand Chartreuse, the original Carthusian monastery in the French Alps. The movie is like a still-life painting, capturing the sweet silence of monks who have completely given themselves over to prayer, study and manual labor.

       Founded by St. Bruno in the 11th century, the Carthusians are one of the most austere orders in the Church. Members live in their own solitary cell, grow food on a small plot of adjacent land, saw their own firewood and eat meals passed through a slot in the door.  Such a radical existence may make no sense to our noisy and hurried world, but these monks abide at the heart of the Church, wrapped in an ineffable silence that must eventually penetrate the soul.

       For those of us who do not live in Carthusian monasteries, how do we attain some modicum of peace and stillness in our overflowing lives? 

For me, the only answer is to dedicate some time each day to doing nothing productive. A meditative walk, quiet time before the Blessed Sacrament, reading a good book, even for 15 minutes, sitting in a favorite chair and just thinking, pondering the Scriptures of the liturgical day, praying the Liturgy of the Hours or contemplating a sunrise are those transcendent moments that lift me towards God. 

       None of them are accomplished without silence. I do not watch television at all and seldom listen to the radio, but I do enjoy watching movies and listening to music. I deeply need some silence and solitude to allow the Holy Spirit to grow my relationship with God. Without that stillness, I would quickly become unraveled and stressed, truly unable to do the work of ministry. 

       Perhaps, some of the unrest, violence, depression and emptiness of our human communities would find healing in the transformative experience of silence. Imagine if everyone living in a house, working in an office or traveling in a car took ten minutes of silent reflection together! Sometimes, our collective babble of words and images has robbed us of peace and joy.

       If you do not already do so, try carving out some quiet time every day and see what a difference it can make.  Okay, I’ll stop talking now…


       + Donald J. Hying

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