Chapter 20 – Silence and Solitude
SILENCE AND SOLITUDE
XX Silence and Solitude (click to download pdf)
“Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, and a door round about my lips!” Thus prays the Psalmist. In the words of this short prayer there lies hidden a thought which it would be well for us to consider. Let us draw forth:
David does not ask God to lock up and seal his lips, nor to build up a wall before his mouth, that he might never break through with his tongue to speak even a single word, good or bad. No! he asks God to give him the grace always to make good use of his tongue, that he might speak only what is useful and edifying, and avoid by silence what might be harmful; that he might open his lips to speak, and close them in silence, at the right time, just as one would open and close the door of a house or room. This is the thought: isn’t it an excellent one?
Holy Scripture says, somewhere else: “There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” God does not wish us to be silent all the time. He gave us our tongues that we might use them also for talking, but we are allowed to speak only what is good, and at the right time.
Indeed, if God had so willed, he could easily have made our tongues so that we could never have used them for speaking, neither for good nor for bad—you know how the brutes are in this respect.
Here is an example that I read in a book some time ago: St. Vincent Ferreri was one day preaching in the street in the beautiful old city of Valencia. During his sermon a woman who is dumb is brought before him. He sees the poor creature’s good will and strong faith: is it God’s will that she should receive the gift of speech?
The Saint halts in his sermon a few minutes and raises his heart to God in ardent prayer, after which he turns to the woman and asks: “What is it you would like to have, my daughter?”
“Bread, and the use of my tongue!” answers the woman, loudly and distinctly. On beholding the miracle, the people burst out into a cry of joy and admiration. They praise and glorify God for His goodness.
“Bread you shall have, my daughter, as long as you live,” continues the Saint. “God will not let you suffer again from want of food. But the use of your tongue it is not His will to give you. He foresees that by using it you would commit many sins: your tongue would be sharper than a sword—it would cut, and wound, and do much harm; in the end it would bring eternal ruin to your soul. Hence, my daughter, be satisfied with God’s holy will. You shall be dumb as you have been heretofore, to the end of your life.”
The woman signifies her willingness. She was never heard to speak again until she died.
My little followers of Jesus, to most of us God has given the free use of the tongue: we can speak. But, God has also given us His law. He tells us clearly and definitely what we are allowed to speak, and what not.
He has also given us reason and conscience; we know what is good and bad—reason shows us, conscience tells us. We know also what is good and bad in speaking. Furthermore, God helps us with His grace to keep His law faithfully: He will also help us not to sin by speaking. Do you understand now why Jesus says so strictly: “I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the Day of Judgment””?
We can never be true followers of Jesus unless we learn to govern our tongues; Thomas a Kempis has already given us several lessons on this; now he says: “He that aims at inward and spiritual things must, with Jesus, turn aside from the crowd.” Do you understand what this means? It is not enough for us to guard our tongues, so that they may not say what is wrong, or say things at the wrong time. We must withdraw from company altogether, sometimes; we must tie our tongues and keep them silent—in a word, we must strive to acquire a love for solitude and silence.
We have the example of Jesus for this. “Jesus went up into the mountain alone to pray,” says St. Matthew. And this the holy Gospel tells us, in the same or similar words, more than once. Shall we not try to follow the example that Jesus gives us?
Remember, therefore, these points: First, whenever duty keeps you at home, away from company or your playmates, then be satisfied. Do not grumble, or complain inwardly. Yes, you ought to be glad. Now you can do something to acquire a love for solitude and silence. Turn your thoughts to God; think that He is present. If you have any work to do, do it faithfully. If you have none to do, look for some. You must not idle away your time. If you can find nothing to do, then, at least, take up a good book and read it. Do not fret, and keep thinking of your playmates—what they are doing, the fun they are having, and so on.
Secondly, it is left to your choice frequently; you may go out into company, or not, just as you like. You might, sometimes, choose to stay at home, for the love of Jesus, to mortify yourself by keeping silence. I know, children must have recreation. But you must not be talking, and laughing, and jumping, and running about, and playing, and having fun all the time, what do you think? Is that the way Jesus did? Hence deny yourself once in a while. When you might go out into company, retire and keep silence.
The Following of Christ says: “It is easier to keep silence altogether, than not to fall into excess in speaking; easier to keep retired at home than to be enough upon one’s guard abroad.”