I do not play many games on my electronic devices, but when I do, it will be one of two favorites. Among these is a word game involving a series of jumbled letters which the player uses to form words from 3 to 7 letters in length. In a recent play session two 6- letter words were needed; the first one that emerged was “listen.” Interestingly, the second word formed from the same letters was “silent.” The irony presented here inspired some Advent reflection since this season is filled with mysteries that encourage listening. And in truth, there is no way to truly listen without silence. I once read that “silence is the indispensable climate for all revelation; noise renders it absolutely impossible.” Thus, silence is essential to growth in the spiritual life, to good discernment, to deepening our relationship with God, and to truly hearing what is going on within one’s own self. Silence allows us to listen deeply to what God is revealing. We are subjected to so much noise in our everyday lives that we must be totally intentional about building in the time for silence. Silence is crucial to our well-being as it creates a space for us to calm down, to find peace, healing, and love in the open and active disposition of waiting. In silence God is found.
Advent is a time to slow down and listen, to imitate Mary who became the Mother of God. By entering into the silence she created an empty, fertile place for God to enter, and thus she was able to be filled with His Holy Spirit. Mary was in quiet awe and reverent reflection when the angel Gabriel arrived. His presence startled her, though interiorly she was more prepared than perhaps she was aware; in her immense humility and purity of heart, it probably never occurred to her that she would merit any sort of visitation from a messenger of God, especially not one with the message he bore. As part of our Advent meditation we can apply a similar practice by prayerfully opening our heart to allow God to fill it, something which means letting go of our own agendas and desires so that God can reveal His plan of peace and healing. For the space in our hearts to be fertile, we must first trust that He desires to make His home within us, and then we must invite him to do so.
While it is unlikely that an angel will appear during our prayer, listening does open us to the awareness of the hidden angels in our daily lives. Every encounter is pregnant with the possibility that an announcement of love, peace, and blessing is being made. But unless we cultivate the ears to hear, the eyes to see, and the heart to love, we will miss countless angels bearing messages from God. These angels come in various forms such as in children, the elderly, the poor, strangers, the folks in the pews around us during worship, those with us in the checkout line, and yes, even other drivers on the freeway! They will speak through words, deeds, and sometimes in the silence of simply being present. The more we participate in silent prayer, listening to what emerges from our openness to God in reflection and ‘active waiting,’ the more we will hear and see both within and outside of the time of prayer. What listening does is transform our way of being and of perceiving; it brings us to new birth. In short, it expands our hearts so that we find Jesus anew.
Silence awakens reverence, wonder and awe. In the days of late Advent, the days we are now entering which span from December 17 to 24, there are a series of antiphons, or verses, that are used in our liturgies of both evening prayer and daily Mass that provide an excellent source for reflection and can move us to deeper reverence, wonder and awe. These are commonly referred to as the O Antiphons because each one begins with a phrase from Old Testament prophecies which reverently describe the Messiah, invoking Him to come quickly. An example is from December 17th: “O Wisdom of Our God most High…come to teach us the path of knowledge!” These antiphons can assist in our silent listening as we ponder what they reveal about Jesus. Perhaps for the duration of Advent it would be beneficial to spend time reflecting upon these antiphons found in the Gospel verse of each day’s Mass.* And if you really want to engage in the silent prayer of listening, and are so moved, write your own 'O Antiphon' and then pray with it; let your heart reveal the way you wish to glorify the Lord Jesus who is to coming to birth anew in your life.
These days offer a unique gift wrapped in the mysteries of Advent. We have an infant Lord coming soon, God arriving in an unexpected way on a dark, silent night which will be illuminated by Love. This Child for whom we wait is Emmanuel, God-with-us, Prince of Peace, Father Forever, Wonder-Counselor, Lord of Lords. (Isaiah 9:5) He is God come down from Heaven to live and to die so that we might be healed. Let us seek Him, waiting in hope-filled expectation with Mary and Joseph, remembering that it is in the silence that we shall indeed find Him.
May we enter into the silence, listening for the Lord to enter! May our time of silent prayer awaken reverence, wonder and awe within our hearts! May we seek the intercession of Mary and Joseph to assist us in our silent listening! And may we open our hearts wider so that we may make room for Jesus who comes in the form of the lonely, marginalized, and the materially and spiritually poor! Let us meet at the stable where we wait for the joy which is to come! Maranatha! Come O Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*Here is an excellent short explanation as well as a list of all of the O Antiphons: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/prayers/the-o-antiphons-of-advent.cfm
1. Image, Study for Winter Trees of Life, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. This seemed like an excellent way to depict silence in winter. It can be found for purchase at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/study-for-winter-trees-of-life-299-william-hart-mcnichols.html
2. Icon, Mother of God Waiting in Adoration, by Fr. William Hart McNichols: It can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/mother-of-god-waiting-in-adoration-248-william-hart-mcnichols.html
3. My photo taken in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico: Depicts people going about their daily lives, here seen in front of a church.
4. Print of O Antiphon graphic.
5. My photo, giant snail taken at Gozalandia Falls and Hiking Trails, Puerto Rico. It does not get more silent or 'slowed down' than in the observation of a snail.
6. Graphic, candles for third week in Advent.
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart