“The true revolution comes from silence”

Robert Cardinal Sarah’s “The Power of Silence” has much to offer Catholic eco-advocates

It’s summer here in the States. A time for front porches at twilight. For rummaging through gardens collecting cucumbers, blueberries, and black-eyed Susans. A time for walking the beach, or reading in the shade of trees—perhaps reading Robert Cardinal Sarah’s new book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise (Ignatius Press).

This is a book I cannot recommend enough. Its thesis is simple, offered in the first few pages, set in a monastery in winter. It echoes through many seasons and topics, informing them, and us. Cardinal Sarah is candid with his warnings against our age of noise, and he comforts us—and challenges us—with what our Catholic faith brings to the world.

Cardinal Sarah of Guinea, age 72, is the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He is loved by many (myself included) and he concerns others for urging priests to celebrate Mass ad orientum and for his general calls to reverence in Catholic liturgical practices.

He is a cardinal that history will remember—perhaps someday for being elected the Successor of Saint Peter, or at least for his presence and his words, which arouse such thoughts. Here we come to The Power of Silence, which should be encountered with his words, not mine.

And so here are a few gems that, I suggest, those of us engaged in eco-protection might ponder:

On a proper perspective of human activity

Silence is more important than any other human work. Because it expresses God. The true revolution comes from silence; it leads us toward God and others so as to place us humbly and generously at their service.

On consumption as a distraction from God

Postmodernity is an ongoing offense and aggression against the divine silence. From morning to evening, from evening to morning, silence no longer has any place at all; the noise tries to prevent God himself from speaking. In this hell of noise, man disintegrates and is lost; he is broken up into countless worries, fantasies, and fears. In order to get out of these depressing tunnels, he desperately awaits noise so that it will bring him a few consolations. Noise is a deceptive, addictive, and false tranquilizer. The tragedy of our world is never better summed up than in the fury of senseless noise that stubbornly hates silence. This age detests the things that silence brings us to: encounter, wonder, and kneeling before God."

On finding our true peace

Contemplative silence is silence with God. This silence is clinging to God, appearing before God, and placing oneself in his presence, offering oneself to him, mortifying oneself in him, adoring, loving, and hearing him, listening to him and resting in him. This is the silence of eternity, the union of the soul with God.

Cardinal Sarah has some feisty words about liturgical practices. He is critical of pastors and parishes that celebrate Mass without any amount of silence—creating a raced, self-referential reality, a celebration of ourselves, rather than a communal moment of worshipping God, and journeying together toward Him. All this emphasis puts the focus on we creatures, not the Creator who saves us and all creation.

The same warnings, I’d argue, could be offered about our quests for social and environmental justice.

It may very well be that we Catholic eco-advocates are becoming too worldly, too loud, at the expense of our spiritual lives and, as a result, the good of the world.

The Power of Silence reminds us what history has shown. The Church’s best tool is not our activity or raised voices—as necessary as those are. It’s the witness of holiness, truth, and love born first in the silence of God.

The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, co-written by Nicolas Diat, can be purchased here.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons/François-Régis Salefran

About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.