"Be still and know that I am God."
-- Psalm 46: 11
The Lord comes to us in many ways. Often he comes to us in solitude and quite. That is way the rhythm of Sunday Mass calls for periods of silence. In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the suggested quiet places are pointed out.
The first place is at the penitential rite. We pause briefly when the priest says, "Let us call to mind our sins." We reflect on what we have done in the past week that we are especially sorry for. Were we impatient or unkind? Were we dishonest? Did we tell any lies? Did we neglect some duties? We prepare to express our sorrow.
Secondly, just after the Gloria, before the opening prayer or Collect, the priest says, "Let us pray." We pause to spend some moments in silence. We reflect on God's presence and on what we want to pray for this day. This is a good place to reflect on world news. What are the troubled spots around the globe that need our prayers?
A third place for quiet is during the Liturgy of the Word. After the Old Testaments reading, before we sing the responsorial psalm, we pause to reflect for a few moments on the meaning of what we just heard. After the New Testament reading, before we sing the Alleluia, we meditate on how that reading speaks to us today. Then after the homily, we pause to think of ways we can put the lessons we have heard into practice. The Holy Spirit will prompt us to wisdom as we ponder in stillness.
Finally, after Communion, we sit in sacred silence to "praise and pray to God in (our) hearts."
A good conversation is not constant talking. There is a certain rhythm. We talk, we listen, we shout with excitement, moan in sadness, and sometimes we simply keep silent. The Mass, our dialogue with God, has a certain rhythm, -- time for listening, time for asking, time for thanking, time for acclamations, and time for silence.
In the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy we read, "The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with his brethren, but he must also enter into his chamber to pray to the Father in secret (cf. Matthew 6:6). Indeed, according to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, he should pray without ceasing." (#12)
Throughout the week there is need for prolonged silent prayer. "You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for awhile," Jesus told his disciples (Mark 6:31). In our noise-filled world, where can we find a "lonely place" where we can rest with the Lord? This can be difficult. When I was a kid, the only place to be alone in our small house was the bathroom, hardly a fitting place for prolonged prayer. Fortunately, in those days, churches were not locked during the day, and I could stop by for a "visit" any time I wanted. People who live in the country often find prayerful solitude among nature. And some people develop the ability to be alone with God even in the heart of a big city. They have an inner quiet amongst the external hubbub.
Much has been written in recent years about the practice of meditation. It is as if an ancient treasure has been rediscovered. For centuries the saints used meditation as a means of communing with God. And in our day people are once again turning to meditation to reach a deeper level of prayer. Some concentrate on the words and actions of Christ. Others reflect on various mysteries of the faith. Still others focus on the presence of Christ in their heart. There are those who simply sit in awareness of God without any thoughts in our mind. Yes, meditation can take a wide variety of forms. What is basic is shifting the center of our attention off ourselves and onto God. We let God take over our prayer. Once we let go, He will guide our minds, our emotions, our wills and our hearts. He desires communion with us more than we can ever realize.