19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
First Reading: 1 Kgs 10:9,11 - 13
Second Reading: Rom 9:1 - 5
Gospel Reading: Mt 14:22 - 33
"The Lord is about to pass by," God told Elijah. There followed a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but God was in none of them. Then there came "a sound of sheer silence," in which Elijah perceived God.
"Anyone who wants to be close to God requires 10 things," Pope Benedict XVI quoted at World Youth Day in 2004: "nine parts silence and one part solitude."
I once preached on silence in a church where many people came in, selected seats near friends, and chatted with them before kneeling and praying; one even went around the church talking to acquaintances until Mass started; and normal conversation began again as soon as Mass finished.
Afterward, one person objected, "What can I do? If someone talks to me, it's rude not to reply!" Another said, "In this parish, we believe in community."
Anyone who talks to you when you are praying is interrupting your conversation with Jesus. It is not rude to say, "I'll see you in the vestibule" and then finish talking to Jesus first.
Community is important. "It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service," Pope Francis said in Gaudete et Exultate. "Everything can be accepted and integrated into our life in this world and become a part of our path to holiness."
However, he added, "I ask that we never regard prayerful silence as a form of escape and rejection of the world around us."
The time before Mass is not "for small talk," he said in a Wednesday general audience, but "for recollection within the heart, to prepare ourselves for the encounter with Jesus. Silence is so important!"
The Mass is not a "spectacle," he said. As we enter the church, we should think: "I am going to Calvary, where Jesus gave his life for me." Then the idea of a "spectacle" disappears, and so does "the small talk."
"We must foster in our communities the experience of silence," Pope St. John Paul ll told priests in Pastores Dabo Vobis. "We need silence if we are to accept in our hearts the full resonance of the voice of the Holy Spirit and to unite our personal prayer more closely to the word of God and the public voice of the Church. In a society that lives at an increasingly frenetic pace, often deafened by noise and confused by the ephemeral, it is vital to rediscover the value of silence."
Even before Mass, "it is commendable that silence be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner," the Church's liturgical instructions say.
Jesus is always present sacramentally in the tabernacle. Accordingly, as St. Pio of Pietrelcina wrote to a correspondent, "enter the church in silence and with great respect, considering yourself unworthy to appear before the Lord's majesty. Then take holy water and Sign of the Cross carefully and slowly.
"As soon as you are before God in the Blessed Sacrament, devoutly genuflect. Once you have found your place, kneel down and render the tribute of your presence and devotion to Jesus ... Don't turn your head here and there to see who enters and leaves. Don't laugh - out of reverence for this holy place and also out of respect for those who are near you. Try not to speak to anybody, except when charity or strict necessity requires it."
The same is true after Mass. "To guard yourself vigilantly after Communion" is as necessary as "devout preparation before," Thomas a Kempis said in The Imitation of Christ. "Beware of much talk."
"The first requirement for prayer is silence," St. Teresa of Calcutta warned. "People of prayer are people of silence."