The First Mark of a Great Father | Silence: Part 1
The Voice That We Seek
Have you ever asked any of these questions: “What can I do to be a better man, a better father?” “What is the secret to becoming the man that God has created me to be?” “What’s holding me back from becoming a man of strength, power, resilience and humility?” Or have you thought, “I’ve been doing this Church thing for years and it feels like it’s not making any difference.” Often we believe that by going to Sunday Mass, listening to Christian music, being on Church committees, or praying an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, that we are fulfilling our Christian duty—and because of this our life should be most blessed. Of course, Holy Mass, acts of charity, serving the Church, and praying are essential to becoming a great man. But why do we struggle to improve spiritually, why do we stall or even cease becoming the godly men we know we are called to be? Often we focus on the letter of the law, while neglecting the spirit of the law. We fulfill exterior duties while neglecting the interior soul. For example, a friend recently shared a story of a retired man, who being an avid golfer never missed his morning tee time. As he and his buddy were about to tee off, he noticed a funeral procession driving down the highway that ran alongside the golf course—caravan of cars led by a hearse. The avid golfer removed his hat, reverently placed it over his heart, lowered his head, and paused for a moment of silence. After he was finished praying, his friend congratulated him for his reverence for the dead. To which the avid golfer responded, “It’s the least I could do for a woman who dedicated thirty-five years of her life to me.” His actions appeared to have the character of Christian righteousness, but obviously his priorities were a bit disordered. Sometimes we can be like our golfer friend and miss the entire point of religion, of our faith, of attending Church. If I asked you, “What is the goal of life?” how would you respond? Many people respond to that question by saying, “To get to heaven.” In a way that is correct—but what is heaven? What makes heaven heaven? If God was not in heaven, heaven would cease to be heaven. Heaven is more of a means than an end. God is the ultimate end for which we all desire. God alone can fulfill our hearts’ longings and desires. But sometimes we use God as a means to an end. We may pray, “God give me this,” or “God grant me that”; but when was the last time we prayed, “God give me you?” Perhaps the reason we stall in becoming men of glory is that we are not seeking first the voice of the God of glory.
The Voice Within
Salmon are defined as being anadromous, that is, they are fish that swim upstream. Annually, thousands upon thousands of salmon, after living in the ocean, reaching full maturity, and accumulating full body mass, migrate upstream to return to their place of origin. The human being, like a salmon, is programmed by God to run upward, to return to his origin. Before God sealed you for delivery into this world, he whispered his Word, his voice into you. This divine Word is sealed within us. It is hardwired, programmed into us. The Latin word from which we derive the word vocation is vox, which means “voice.” It is this vox of God, this call, that defines your vocation, your identity, and your call to greatness. This vox, this vocation is programmed into you. It may haunt you, but it will never leave you. This voice within will chase after you, while calling you to chase after it. It is this voice, this vocation that calls you to run upward, to return to your origin. Unfortunately, by doing so, like the salmon, which become easy prey during its migration, we land square in the evil one’s crosshairs. It is precisely in the midst of our vocational path that Satan stands, poised and ready to intimidate us, always striving to instill doubts, feelings of inadequacy, and insecurity within us. And there lies the battle—the battle that rages in the heart of man and will endure until his last breath. His is the battle to trust that he is a son of the Father. To become great fathers we must first become great sons who trust in the greatest Father. The essence of a son is trust in the Father. The son must trust that he has a divine purpose.
Deciphering the Real Message
You and I have been called to assume our position as defenders of woman, the child, and the family by being generators and initiators of self-giving love. We are called to be like St. Joseph, to be Custos, guardians of our families and marriages. This is our spiritual post; and our children’s future, the success of our marriage, and the future of the Church depends to a significant level upon us assuming this post. The evil one desires to remove you from this battle by convincing you that you are not chosen, not desired by God—that God does not have a purpose for your life. We are like soldiers on the battlefield who have the difficult task of deciphering the real message being transmitted among the mixed signals. Whose voice, whose message are we receiving—our commander’s or our enemy’s message? It is imperative that we become capable of sifting through the mixed messages to discern the voice of our commander. In order to receive God’s message and carry it out it is essential that we fulfill three basic actions: First, we become silent by embracing periods or moments of silence throughout the day; second, while in the silence, we purposefully and intentionally listen to God and discern his voice and presence in our hearts; third, we respond to, and act on, the word that we have received—yet act in a hidden way; never for the purpose of being noticed, lauded, and honored by men. Today, we will discuss the first step: Embracing silence.
Silence: God’s Language
“Silence is among the greatest treasures and most necessary commodities. So precious is silence that one must actively pursue it, strategizing to determine ways to abide in the peace and stillness silence has to offer. Bombarded by the ever-multiplying voices of our age, the ears of today’s father more readily hear the gospel of the world and follow such worldly advice, rarely possessing the space and time to hear the God of the true gospel, a gospel of radical liberation and profound interior healing. To know who we are—to know God’s mission, vision, and plan for our lives—we must know God. To know God, we must speak his language, and to paraphrase St. John of the Cross: God’s first language is silence (see Spiritual Maxims II, 21, St. John of the Cross). It is in silence that God speaks, and without sound that his voice is heard. And as the psalmist says of God, “sacrifice and holocaust you desire not—but an open ear” (Psalm 39:6) (Joseph’s Way, p. 37).
The Kingdom of Noise
Carving out time for silence and embracing silence is becoming more and more difficult for the modern man. The enemy is bent on keeping us from silence. Consider the constant assault that invades our being, whether we are at the grocery store or at a restaurant or at the gas station. Music and television bombard us with countless messages, robbing us of our ability to hear and discern God’s voice. The enemy tempts us to turn on the radio when we’re in the car, to have the television on all the time, to check e-mails,- and texts or to send emails and texts, to check out the latest news—all with the purpose of filling us up with something other than God. The evil one is satisfied with filling us with “good things” as long as those good things keep us from the “greatest thing”—communion and union with God. His purpose and intention is simple—he desires to keep you from hearing the vox. Satan keeps us occupied, keeps our minds racing, prompts and compels us to busyness in order to distract us from the vox of God that will reveal God’s mission, vision, and plan for our lives. As Thomas Merton said, “Tthe biggest disease in North America is busyness.” Adolf Hitler, relating how he despised those who embrace silent contemplation, said, “Only the man who acts becomes conscious of the real world. Men misuse their intelligence. It is not the seat of a special dignity of mankind, but merely an instrument in the struggle for life. Man is here to act. Only as a being in action does he fulfill his natural vocation. Contemplative natures, retrospective like all intellectuals, are dead persons who miss the meaning of life . . . only deeds and perpetual activity give meaning to life . . . All passivity, all inertia, on the other hand, is senseless, inimical to life. From this proceeds the divine right of destroying all who are inert.” (Adolf Hitler, from Herman Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction). In other words, according to Hitler, those who enter the silence and pray to God are useless. In his cleverly insightful The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis exposes the evil one’s agenda. Screwtape, an archdemon, writes a letter to his demon nephew, Wormword. In it, he says, “Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father [the devil] entered Hell . . . no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise—Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile . . . We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth” (The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis). I was recently in Nashville, waiting at 4 a.m. for a cab to drive me to the airport. As I stood outside the hotel, I was assaulted, invaded, and penetrated by country song lyrics describing hot women in extraordinarily tight blue jeans doing things that I should not be thinking about at 4 a.m.—or any other time, for that matter. Modern music has the incredible power to overwhelm our mind, manipulate our thoughts, and lull us into meditating upon things that will destroy our ability to love truly.
The Power of Silence
The enemy desires to keep us from embracing moments of silence. Why? As Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “Those who would become wise must become silent. A mirror is silent, yet it reflects forests, sunsets, flowers, and faces. Great ascetic souls, given to years of meditation, have taken on a radiance and beauty which are beyond the outlines of a face. They seem to reflect, like the mirror on the outside, the Christ they bear within. Silence alone gives them inner sanctuary in which true solitude is born. A place where the soul stands naked before God.” In other words, by entering silence, we become like God, reflecting his power, beauty, strength, and wisdom. However, by listening to the voice of the devil, which has saturated most of today’s technological mediums, we become like him: a weak, selfish, manipulated, uncontrolled user. As Joe Hebert, our cofounder, says, “Silence is the foundation of a relationship with God.” Indeed, without silence, we cannot listen to God, and without listening to God, we will not know what he is asking of us, and without knowing his will, we are aimlessly attempting to hit a moving target while blindfolded. Why does this matter? Because not only our souls, but also our wives’ and children’s souls are at stake. Over the weekend, my family attended a huge bonfire event where hundreds of people gathered. At one point, a little girl, perhaps three years old, discovered a large worm and picked it up. My friend prompted her, saying, “Go show that to your mother.” As the little girl trotted off with the large worm dangling from her little fingers, she said in a somewhat melancholic tone, “I don’t have a mom.” Me and the men around me were devastated. Our jaws dropped; our hearts sank. We were stunned and crushed. After she hopped past us, she abruptly said, “I mean, my mom isn’t here.” Phew. We all wiped our brows and began laughing. What that account discloses is that the heart of a father longs that his child be cared for, loved, attended to, and never abandoned. Do we ever consider that by abandoning the silence we could eventually be neglecting our vocation and children by not becoming the fathers we are called to be?
Being Naked Before God
“The heavenly Father invites all fathers to enter His silence, that they may become like Him and image His Fatherhood to the fallen world, If a man declines this invitation to silence, he rejects the possibility of obtaining a deep and abiding faith, a faith which unlocks the treasures of God’s generosity. One reason men so often decline God’s invitation to silence is tthe lack of a deep, interior trust in God” (Joseph’s Way, p. 35). Be not afraid. The evil one wants you and me to be afraid of being “naked before God,” of presenting ourselves to God in the silence. Often we think that by hiding ourselves from God, God cannot see us. Like Adam hiding from God in the garden, or like a little child who believes that by covering his eyes with his hands he will not be seen, we believe that we can somehow hide our interior souls from God. He already knows our pains, struggles, errors, faults, and sins—and he desires and loves us regardless. Today, I challenge you to take the most fundamental step in becoming a great man and embrace silence. Perhaps you shut off the radio while in the car, and simply present yourself to God in the silence. Perhaps you shut off the television several nights a week. Perhaps you discontinue your subscription to particular bloggers, news sites, etc. Perhaps you deny yourself texting and e-mail during family time. By giving God these sacrifices, he will in turn fill that space with himself. God will never be outdone in generosity.
Simply Looking at Him
Perhaps you are thinking: okay, embracing silence is well and good, but what do I do once I am sitting in silence? The scriptures testify that St. Joseph turned aside and considered the matter of Mary’s pregnancy. In other words, he entered the silence and presented himself to the Lord. It is that simple—we simply “be” in the presence of the Lord. St. John Vianney noticed that a peasant farmer would silently sit in the church each morning for an extended time. St. John Vianney asked him what he did while sitting there, and the peasant responded, “I don’t say anything to God. I just sit and look at him and let him look at me.” Beautiful. He is naked before God, carving out time and space for God to enter his life. This is how we will become fathers of greatness—by embracing the silence. Until our next session, let us simply follow the advice of that peasant from Ars, France, and the example of St. Joseph and begin to embrace periods of silence throughout our day.