“Silent Night. Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright.” We all know the lyrics to this beloved Christmas hymn. Now that the Advent season has begun, while the world hustles and bustles in full-on Christmas mode, we Catholics have the privilege of stepping away in “silence”, so that we can become “holy”, and through this “calm” disposition, shine “bright” the light of Christ for all the world to see. Did you see what I did there? If not, go back and read the whole paragraph again… I can wait 😉
There was one other major word I intentionally left out. Night. That is the only word used twice in that snippet of song lyrics. This word has a major significance for us here on the northern tundra of Minnesota. We will have exactly 8 hours, 46 minutes and 11 seconds of daylight on the shortest day of the year which falls a few days before Christmas. People- that means that we have 15 hours and 14 minutes of darkness, and when the sun sets, it is night time in my book.
Nighttime is a time for resting. The liturgical calendar is pure genius. Like it says in Ecclesiastes, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens.” Advent is our allegorical time to rest, which coincides brilliantly with our journey around the sun and the 6 hours and 51 minutes less daylight than the summer solstice.
In order to properly rest at night, one of the key ingredients needed is silence. Noise is a major pandemic in our society. We have actual noise as well as visual noise bombarding us at all times, which leads to an emotional and mental siren blaring in our heads at all times. Most people have the “noise” of their phone screaming at them from the moment they wake up until the moment they shut their eyes. If they aren’t on their phones, they have the morning paper with their breakfast while watching the news, the radio blasting on the way to work while the visual pollution of billboard after billboard fly past their car. I could keep narrating a day in the life of the typical American, but I assume you get my point. What’s so wrong with this picture though? Is it really so bad? What if I have Christian music playing and follow all the cool Catholic social media influencers?
Like everything else, noise is ok in moderation. But we need silence in order to communicate with God. Remember in the bible when the Lord told Elijah to go out because He was going to pass by? First there was a huge windstorm, but the Lord wasn’t found in the roar of the windstorm. Then there was an earthquake, but the Lord wasn’t found in the chaos of the earthquake. Then there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the intensity of that mighty fire. After that big production there was a tiny whisper which is exactly where the Lord was found. You are only able to hear a whisper when all else is silent.
The truth is, silence is terrifying! Who wants to be left alone with their own thoughts? What kinds of scary things would we have to face? Yet when we finally face our fears and spend time in silence, we find this beautiful inner peace that was just waiting to be discovered.
If you got really creative you can carve out many moments of silence throughout the day, and eventually take it up a notch and add some intentional silent prayer time. Start by closing your eyes. St. Teresa of Avila advises this to anyone wanting to spend time in quiet prayer. It is almost impossible to keep a conversation with Christ going while staring up at the crucifix without getting distracted by people walking by, a conversation in the other room, thinking about the need to repaint the walls, or some other worldly distraction. By closing your eyes, you are creating a darkness that opens the door for the Light of the World to enter in.
This Advent season, embrace the darkness. Be encouraged by the famous words of Pope St. John Paul II, “Be Not Afraid,” and fearlessly learn to sit in the awkwardness of silence. Then on Christmas morning, sing joyfully the words of the favorite hymn, “Silent Night,” and let this song take on a new meaning for you, as you let it guide your prayer life going forward to find that heavenly peace that Jesus wants to give you.
Until next time my dear friends- your sister in Christ,