Summary of The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise by Robert Cardinal Sarah

The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise by 
Robert Cardinal Sarah with Nicolas Diat, Translated by Michael J. 
Miller, Ignatius Press, 2016.

This book arose from Cardinal Sarah’s silent friendship with Brother Vincent, a  young Carthusian monk who was stricken with multiple sclerosis and accepted God’s silent will.

One sentence summary of the book:

Man must make a choice: God or nothing, silence or noise (67).

Chapter 1: Silence Versus the World’s Noise

Silence is “the most important human work” (54) and the best way to encounter the silent God, Who waits for us in the “silent temple” of our hearts (22-3). Sarah admits that seeking God in silence is man’s most difficult task but also “man’s greatest freedom” (86).

“Man must make a choice: God or nothing, silence or noise” (67).

Without silence, God disappears in the noise. And this noise becomes all the more obsessive because God is absent. Unless the world rediscovers silence, it is lost. The earth then rushes into nothingness” (80). 

In killing silence through the dictatorship of noise, “man assassinates God” (57) and “avoids confronting himself in his own interior emptiness” (33).

Our world no longer hears God because it is constantly speaking, at a devastating speed and volume, in order to say nothing. Modern civilization does not know how to be quiet. It holds forth in an unending monologue. Postmodern society rejects the past and looks at the present as a cheap consumer object; it pictures the future in terms of an almost obsessive progress. Its dreams, which has become a sad reality, will have been to lock silence away in a damp, dark dungeon. Thus there is a dictatorship of speech, a dictatorship of verbal emphasis. In this theater of shadows, nothing is left but a purulent wound of mechanical words, without perspective, without truth, and without foundation. Quite often “truth” is nothing more than the pure and misleading creation of the media, corroborated by fabricated images and testimonies. When that happens, the word of God fades away, inaccessible and inaudible. 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 (56). 

Chapter 2: God Does Not Speak, But His Voice is Quite Clear

In Chapter 2, Cardinal Sarah speaks about God’s silent language. Only by first seeking to be with God in His silence can we then understand this mysterious, elusive and inaccessible language (90).

The person of prayer is also the only one to grasp the silent signs of affection that God sends him (94).

God’s silence is an invitation for us also to be silent (92) and make acts of faith in response to His silent presence (90).

To believe in a silent God who “suffers” is to make the mystery of God’s silence more mysterious and more luminous, too; it is to dispel a false clarity so as to replace it with a “shining darkness” (92).

Chapter 3: Silence, the Mystery, and the Sacred

Sacred silence is “truly the place where we can encounter God” (121) and the “only truly human and Christian reaction to God when he breaks into our lives” (121). 

To refuse silence filled with confident fear and adoration is to refuse God the freedom to take hold of us by his love and presence (121). 

Silence teaches us a great rule of the spiritual life: familiarity does not promote intimacy; on the contrary, a proper distance is a condition for communion. Humanity advances toward love through adoration. Sacred silence, laden with the adored presence, opens the way to mystical silence, full of loving intimacy (122). 

In liturgical celebrations, “sacred silence is a cardinal law” (122), “the fabric from which all our liturgies must be cut” (130),  “an acoustic veil that protects the mystery” (124) and a “form of mystagogy” to bring us into the mystery without spoiling it” (127) and an essential part of our active participation in the Mass (138).

Chapter 4: God’s Silence in the Face of Evil Unleashed

In Chapter 4, Cardinal Sarah speaks about the mystery of God’s silence in the face of evil and how our silent prayer is the strongest weapon we have to combat evil and save the world.

Silence and prayer are the strongest weapons against evil. Man wants to “do”, but above all else, he must “be”. In silent prayer, man is fully human (150).

Silence is not a form of passivity. By remaining silent, man can avoid a greater evil. It is not an earthly dereliction of duty to place your trust in heaven (151).

The silence of invocation, the silence of adoration, the silence of waiting: these are the most effective weapons (152).

Thanks to the aid of silent prayer, man becomes capable of describing realities in their raw truth (153).

The poison of war comes to an end in the silence of prayer, in the silence of trust, in the silence of hope. At the heart of all barbarities, it is necessary to plant the mystery of the Cross (158).

There is a time for human action, which is often uncertain, and a time for silence, which is truly victorious. Far from vengeful, noisy, ideological rebellion, I believe in the fruitfulness of silence. Prayer and silence will save the world (167).

Sickness is a sublime manifestation of God’s mysterious silence, a loving silence that is close to human suffering (177).

The language of suffering and silence contradicts the language of the world. Faced with pain, we see two diametrically opposite routes traced out: the noble way of silence and the stony rut of rebellion, in other words, the path of love of God and the path of love of self (181).

An attitude of silence is the best Christian way of welcoming death. The Virgin Mary stood silently at the foot of her Son’s Cross (186).

Chapter 5: Like a Voice Crying out in the Desert: The Meeting at the Grande Chartreuse

In Chapter 5, Cardinal Sarah dialogue with Dysmas de Lassus, the Prior General of the Carthusian Order, at the Grande Chartreuse. A very profound chapter, as shown with all the following quotes I gathered…

“In the withdrawal of monasteries and in the solitude of the cells, patiently and silently, the Carthusians weave the nuptial garment of the Church” ~ Saint John Paul II

The principal endeavour and goal of the Carthusians are to devote themselves to the silence and solitude of the cell.

The authentic search for silence is the quest for a silent God and for the interior life (191).

Silence is an extremely necessary element in the life of every man. It enables the soul to be recollected. It protects the soul against the loss of its identity. It predisposes the soul to resist the temptation to turn away from itself to attend to things outside, far from God (192).

We seek silence because we seek God. And we will find it if we are silent in the very depths of our heart (193).

God’s silence should teach us that it is often necessary to be quiet (195).

Everything in our relation to God is a paradox. The realities that are opposed in man are combined in him. Presence and absence overlap ~ Dysmas de Lassus (198)

Voiceless speech or silent communion: these expressions underscore the ever-mysterious reality of the encounter with God. How could it be otherwise? When the infinite meets the finite, this meeting does not fit into our usual frameworks (199).

The paradox is impressive: God stoops to speak our language, and that makes us deaf to the divine inflections of this all-too-earthly voice (199).

Man does not seek silence for the sake of silence. The desire for silence for its own sake would be a sterile adventure, a particularly exhausting aesthetic experience… Silence is not sought for its own sake but, rather, for the space it makes. Silence allows us to perceive better and to hear better; it opens our inner space (201-202).

Paradoxically, exterior silence and solitude, which have the objective of promoting interior silence, begin by revealing all the noise that dwells within us (202).

Attaining communion in silence requires long work that is started over and over again indefinitely. We must be patient, and the efforts to be made are difficult; when our imagination finally agrees to cooperate and to quiet down, the moments of profound intimacy with God amply repay the efforts that were necessary to make room for him. But we can never create intimacy with God; it always comes from above, and our responsibility is to build the setting in which the encounter can take place (202).

Silence and solitude are the perfect places for a heart-to-heart conversation with God (203).

With time, we end up knowing God’s language, a language that is different for each person (204).

If God’s entrance among us occurred in silence, it is quite normal that communion with him should be marked by the same seal (205).

Silence is the profound peace of the soul that knows that it is loved beyond its wildest dreams, the unchangeable calm that dwells within it – is that not interior silence? A living, expressive, inhabited silence (206).

The silence that brings us close to God is always a respectful silence, a silence of adoration, a silence of filial love. It is never a trivial silence (206).

Silence and solitude is a place of rest and also a place of trial where he will have to face the most difficult combat: the battle with himself (209).

The apprenticeship of silence requires that we rest in the Lord’s presence. It is a matter, not of struggling against our interior thoughts, but rather of unceasingly returning to God. Distractions are formidable because we do not see them coming and before we realize it (209).

It is necessary, however, to acknowledge that silence is difficult. It scares us. It gives us a greater awareness of our helplessness and awakens a certain fear of isolation in the presence of the invisible God. Silence awakens the anxiety of confronting the bare realities that are at the bottom of our soul. Our interior temple is often so ugly that we prefer to live on the outside of ourselves in order to hide in worldly devices and noises. But the moments of silence lead infallibly to profound decisions, wordless decisions, a gift of my inmost “self”. Conversions take place silently and not in spectacular gestures. Returning to God, burying oneself in him, this total gift, these moments of intimacy with God are always mysterious and secret. They involve absolute silence, a formidable discretion. I think that it is really necessary to practice silence (210).

God did not come to do away with suffering; he did not even come to explain it. He came to fill it with his presence and share in it (214).

God’s love is veiled in silence, suffering, death, in the tortured, ruined flesh of Jesus who is dying on the Cross (214).

By his silence, God wants to give us an opportunity to go beyond merely human love so as to understand divine love (214).

Eternal life is the essential key to understanding God’s silence. God’s time is different from ours; for him, “a thousand years [are] as one day” (2 Pet 3:8). He lets us experience trials for a little while before saving us for a whole lifetime. Who would dare to complain about a surgeon who, in the two hours of a painful operation, cured a sick person for the rest of his life? (215)

God has a plan of salvation for the whole world, and men must always seek to understand his perspective better. We must be willing to join him in his silence (218).

Silence is the prerequisite for being open to the great answers that will be given to us after death (219).

If a man seeks God and wants to find him, if he desires a life of the most intimate union with him, silence is the most direct path and the surest means of attaining it (219).

Silence is of capital importance because it enables the Church to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, imitating his thirty silent years in Nazareth, his forty days and forty nights of fasting and intimate dialogue with the Father in the solitude and silence in the desert (219).

The true nature of the Church is not found in what she does but in what she testifies. Wherever deep, mysterious things are, there is silence (220).

Silence is the place where we welcome mysteries (220).

When we are face to face with a God who has become a man, how can we not remain silent? Reading, study, and reflection, these initial stages finally lead to silence; there, instead of working ourselves, it is important to let the Holy Spirit work in us, to explain the mystery that our intellect cannot understand (221).

Silence is the liturgical sign part excellence (225).

The liturgy is not the place to promote my culture. Rather, it is the place where my culture is baptized, where my culture is raised to the height of the divine (225).

When the Gospel enters a life, it destabilizes it and transforms it… the Gospel takes up all human and cultural values but refuses to take shape in the structures of sin (226).

For someone who is far from God, silence is a difficult confrontation with his own self and with the rather dismal realities that are at the bottom of our soul. Hence, man enters a mentality that resembles a denial of reality. He gets drunk on all sorts of noises so as to forget who he is. Postmodern man seeks to anesthetize his own atheism (229-230).

A Christian cannot fear silence because he is never alone. He is with God. He is in God. He is for God. In the silence, God gives me his eyes so as to contemplate him better. Christian hope is the foundation of the true silent search of the believer. Silence is not frightening; on the contrary, it is the assurance of meeting God (230).

Seated silently at the feet of Jesus, we learn to pray without ceasing and to become fearless witnesses of the Gospel (230).

Today the Church has one central mission. It consists of offering silence to the priests and to the faithful. The world rejects solitude with God repeatedly and violently. Well, then, let the world keep quiet, and silence return… (231).

The expression “continual prayer” should not mislead us: it does not mean saying prayers without stopping. Actually, this expression refers to a way of being with God ceaselessly, of letting him dwell within us, of consciously experiencing this indwelling… the more one enters into this mystery, the more one enters into silence and is taken up by silence ~ Dysmas de Lassus, 231

Afterword

God drapes himself in silence and reveals himself in the interior silence of our heart (237).

Silence is one of the chief means that enable us to enter into the spirit of prayer; silence disposes us to establish vital, ongoing relations with God (238).

God’s first language is silence (238).

Silence and prayer are inseparable and mutually fructifying (238).

Speak only when it is more useful to speak than to be silent” ~ St. John Chrysostom. We should be silent when it is not necessary to speak, and speak only when necessity or charity requires it (239)

It is time to revolt against the dictatorship of noise that seeks to break our hearts and our intellects (239).

Comments

  1. Denise Wharton says:

    Beautiful!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Sea Yun Joung says:

    Wow.

  3. Reblogged this on dom.ugo.

  4. Nice work! This book is more relevant here in Africa, Nigeria where I am. Catholic should learn how to hold on to what is their original liturgical manner of worship in silence. Noise distorts both mind and body and we must worship God as whole – mind and body. I hope someone out there could please send me a copy of this book.

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