Yesterday morning, though, I took an hour in the park, to a little sweet spot by a green pond filled with ducks and turtles and singing birds. It’s about as far away from the city as you can get in the middle of the city. I read something in The Power of Silence (a new book by Robert Cardinal Sarah, whose last name by the way is pronounced like the wine Petite Sirah). At first I thought “The Power of Silence” an odd title, because silence communicates love, not power. But the French title, La Force du Silence, is not so much “power” as “strength” silence as the life-“force” of the universe.
There is this paragraph on page 79:
“The priest is a man of silence. He must always be listening for God. True pastoral and missionary depth can come only from silent prayer. Without silence the priesthood is ruined.”
The subtitle of Cardinal Sarah’s book is “against the dictatorship of noise,” and it seems to me the diocesan priesthood must be a witness to silence in the heart of a noisy (and nosey!) world. When I'm discouraged that God is so blithely ignored by the thousands of people in my city, it occurs to me that if all I can do is stand silently on the corner of 8th and Geary in my cassock, it would be enough. Here stands the Church, our lofty, empty, silent church on one of San Francisco’s busiest thoroughfares. It stands there in silent witness to the existence of God. It need not speak. It need only bear silent witness in the heart of the city. But without this silence, as the Cardinal says, the priesthood—especially the secular priesthood—is ruined.
Cardinal Sarah is inspired by a Carthusian monk, and contemplatives in general, which he quotes lavishly. But he himself is a diocesan priest, who has survived a brutal (by the way, the French word for “noise” is bruit) dictatorship in his native Guinea. He and his fellow Christians, as is normal in many parts of Africa, must suffer constant assaults of violent noise—rap music, machine gun fire, grimy factories and trucks belching noise and smoke. Africa’s lush green has been violated by global companies dumping industrial filth into their communities.
The secular priest must be a man of silence. He must sit in silence in his chapel, he must pray his rosary in silence as he drives, he must read in silence after the day’s work is done. How hard it is for me to do that, knowing that I have 921 unanswered emails on my desktop, and stacks of papers, and so many sick people to visit. But if we priests do not keep silence, who will? The cacophonous world, even while ridiculing God, yet expects at least priests to be men of prayer. And if our parishes are not Houses of God, where will we find refuges of silent joy in the City of Man?