Letting the silence move your heart

A year or so before I entered seminary, I was getting more involved at my home parish in Wichita. One day the gentleman who was in charge of the Adoration Chapel over there, asked me if I’d be interested in taking an hour for him.

My (naïve and overly-optimistic) response, “Sure, what hour do you need filled the most?”

“2am Friday morning.”

“OK…”

I could tell all sorts of stories about my 2am hour. There were the times I got pulled over by the police. (When they asked where I was going, I said “Church, to pray for an hour, you can come too if you want.” Fun fact: I found something you can say that does surprise a police officer!) There were the times I almost didn’t wake up in time. There were the times I sat down and promptly “rested my eyes”… for 45 minutes.

But despite the occasional hiccup or craziness, most of my Friday mornings passed without anything unusual happening. A few weeks into my 2am commitment, I had a good routine for Thursday nights so I wasn’t super tired during my adoration hour, and I began to truly enjoy the time with God. There is simply something different about the world at 2am. You can guess the obvious things: no traffic, not a lot of noise, it’s dark. But describing those mornings in that way never felt right. I never felt that such descriptions did that adoration hour justice. The world “silence” came close to describing the experience, but even that didn’t seem sufficient. I never could find the word to describe that hour on Friday mornings.

It wasn’t until six months into seminary that I stumbled across a word to describe what I felt those mornings in the adoration chapel. I began to read the book Meditations before Mass by Romano Guardini. He begins his book by meditating on stillness, writing:

When Holy Mass is properly celebrated there are moments in which the voices of both priest and faithful become silent. The priest continues to officiate as the rubrics indicate, speaking very softly or refraining from vocal prayer; the congregation follows in watchful, prayerful participation. What do these intervals of quiet signify? What must we do with them? What does stillness really imply?

Later, he writes:

It implies above all that speech end and silence prevail […] People are often heard to say: “But I can’t help coughing” or “I can’t kneel quietly”; yet once stirred by a concert or lecture they forget all about coughing and fidgeting. […] Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life, the quiet at the depth of its hidden stream. It is a collected, total presence, a being all there, receptive, alert, ready. There is nothing inert of oppressive about it.

This meditation moved my heart and gave me the word I had been seeking for years. Stillness is the word for the world at 2am from the perspective of the Adoration Chapel. There is nothing going on. The noises are gone. You can finally focus on the one person that matters: Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

I have not yet mastered stillness in Adoration or while at Mass, but the pursuit of stillness allows for a tranquility of heart that has been vital to my life. I know where to go when I’m in trouble, need help, am anxious, whatever. More accurately, I know to whom I must go. No matter where I am, whether I’m saying Mass with a lot of exuberant children, standing in the middle of an airport where everyone is on edge because the flight is late, waiting at the bedside of someone who will soon be going to their eternal reward, I can always go back to those moments of stillness and remember who is there to save all of us and who I am meant to bring into the situation. I am meant to join Christ in making his love incarnate. (This is one of the reasons I love Christmas so much: despite the excitement of the season, I feel a great stillness when I am at Christmas Mass celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.)

It took me a long time to understand what happened to me at those 2am Adoration hours on Friday mornings, but my encounter with Christ in Eucharistic Adoration was a school of interior stillness which has been a source of grace and peace for years.

Remain in God, Remain in Love.

We must seek God first. Only then can everything we do be through God, with God, and in God.

Homily for the Memorial of St. Martha on July 29th, 2020.