Silence is Prayer
Thursday June 16, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Corinthians 11:1-11) Gospel (St. Matthew 6:7-15)
Saint Paul in the first reading today chastises the Corinthians because they seemed to be willing to accept a gospel other than the one that was preached to them. This is a very easy thing to do because the Gospel is not easy. Even though if we accept it and we live the truth it is the sweetest, easiest, and most pleasant thing in the world, when we look at all the attractions that the world has to offer and then we look at the Gospel, we are tempted to think that the Gospel is too harsh; and what happens is we find ways to either skirt around it or to water it down.
And so in the reading today in the Gospel, Our Lord simply tells us about prayer. He tells us not only all the words of the Our Father, the perfect prayer that contains every single thing that one could ever ask in seven little petitions, but He tells us several specific things about it. He says, number one, When you pray do not babble on like the pagans do. Anyone ever babble on in prayer? Probably all of us have. What we need to do in prayer is to come before the Lord in reverence and silence. We are not going to change God’s mind, so you do not have to come before the Lord and present some case like a lawyer and try to convince the Lord of the justice of your position. He already knows. And, in most cases, it is not a very just position to begin with. So we are not going to convince Him to do what we want Him to do. Secondly, the Lord tells us that we have to forgive or we will not be forgiven.
These are hard things because with the first one we want what we want and we want it right now, and if we do not get what we want then we are going to complain and grumble against God and talk about how mean He is and whatever else we want to say. Of course, it is all false, but that is our human perspective on things. Secondly, we like to ramble on. We like to think that what we have to say is so incredibly important that we just go on and on and on and on and on. To what end? If we bore people, don’t you think we are going to bore God? Obviously, He has infinite patience, but there comes a point where you just have to say, “Enough. Be silent.”
Look at how Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament. Silent. He is not standing up and jumping up and down and screaming and hollering and making Himself heard. He is there silently. And when we come before Him, anyone who is deep in prayer understands well enough that the vast majority of time in prayer is silent. By silent, I do not mean that you are not speaking any words from your mouth; I mean that there is nothing – nothing in your head. You are not rambling on in the silence of exterior words, but there is silence interiorly. That is what we need. We do not need more words. We need more silence, especially in this culture where silence is considered to be an absolutely horrendous thing, for some odd reason. People hate silence in our culture. You cannot pray if you do not have silence, so we need to set that time aside for the Lord.
When we go to prayer, we have to understand that if things are quiet – in fact, really quiet, as in nothing goes on, so we say – that does not mean you are doing something wrong. That does not mean, therefore, that you pull out a prayer book or start praying your Rosary because nothing else is happening. If it is the time for silent prayer then sit in the silence and do not try to force something to happen. God wants us to learn silence so that we can listen, so that in the silence we can be changed. That is what is required. And in the silence, as we become conformed to Jesus Christ, Who is there silently, then we will begin to really embrace everything that the Gospel teaches. It is there, when we are changed and transformed into Christ, that we will be able to forgive as He has forgiven, that we will be able to love as He loves. It is the only way it is going to happen.
So we need to have that time set aside. We need to pray daily. Yes, we need to pray our Rosary, and, yes, we need to do the other prayers, but it is absolutely necessary if we really want to grow in holiness that we set aside a chunk of time every single day for a silent, contemplative kind of prayer. It is called “mental prayer,” and there we have to sit with the Lord. Sometimes we will be able to talk, other times we will not. The vast majority, as I mentioned, is silent. But this fulfills exactly what Our Lord told us: When you pray, do not babble on like the pagans because they think they are going to win a hearing by the sheer multiplication of words.
The only way we win a hearing with God is love, and love requires no words at all. All that it requires is a heart that is open to give and to receive and to be one with the beloved. If we are going to be one with the Beloved, He is right there silently, and that is what He is asking of us. His heart is open, ours needs to be open – the mouth does not. We simply need to have an open heart to receive what He is offering and then to give, so that as we have received we in turn will give a like gift, which is the whole person. That requires no words, but the silence of a heart that is filled with love.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.