Rorate Caeli

Guest Op-Ed: The Spiritual Life, Silence, and the Sacred Liturgy

By Veronica A. Arntz

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:6, RSV-2CE).

These words from our Lord direct us how to pray. The prayer that is most pleasing to our Lord is not that which is loud, ostentatious, or even “visible” through spoken words. Rather, it is the prayer that we make from our hearts, the silent prayer that comes directly from our souls. Our Lord desires that we give ourselves to Him through our interior prayer. While vocal and mental prayer that comes right from our heart, the highest prayer, which is meant to be normative for all, is contemplative prayer—a union between beloved and Lover, a prayer in which the soul simply “is” with the One she loves the most.

How can we enter into the kind of prayer in which we are simply being with our Lord? The world does everything it can to distract us from this kind of prayer, because the devil knows that it brings us closest to our God, the One who loves us infinitely. The devil fills our days with busyness, distraction, and noise so that, when we make a movement toward prayer, we cannot settle our minds down from the constant cacophony within our head. The minute we try to pray, the devil fills our minds with thoughts about our tasks, what yet must be done, the little annoyances of the day, and the list could go on and on. The devil despises silence, because he knows that, through silence, the soul encounters her Lover, who speaks in a still, small voice.

Cultivating a life that is oriented toward silence and contemplation is the way that we can enter into the “secret room” of our soul and dwell with our Lord. This indeed is also very difficult, given the many distractions that those living in the secular world face on a day-to-day basis. Thus, the consecrated, contemplative life is the highest calling, and the surest path to Heaven, because the soul is devoted wholly to God with an undivided heart, spending her entire day in prayer (1 Cor 7:34b). 

While it may seem obvious, to learn to pray, we must actually pray. We can read many books about prayer, the spiritual life, and theology, and still not be praying or have a robust spiritual life. Only when we completely enter into prayer and abandon ourselves to God can we truly encounter the One who loves us completely. He is waiting for us in the Tabernacle; He is waiting for us to come dwell with Him in silence. To cultivate a contemplative life while still living in the world, to the best of our ability and through God’s grace, we must enter into prayer throughout the day, even if we cannot kneel before the Tabernacle each time. In this way, longer periods of prayer will not seem so difficult; perhaps we will even look forward to and anticipate those times that we can pray for a longer amount of time. 

If we think that we can pray only a little bit each day, and then spend an hour or more in prayer at one time, then we are sadly mistaken. Prayer must be a habit, one given through the grace of God, which means that we ought to pray throughout the day and for a longer time when we have the opportunity.

Developing our interior, spiritual life cannot be separated from the Sacred Liturgy of the Church. Even though the Liturgy is the Church’s public worship of God, it can still teach us how to pray and help us to cultivate the interior life. Thus, when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated in a banal, anthropocentric way, with unnecessary noise and distractions, this not only affects how the faithful understand the Eucharist, but also how they pray. The liturgy should not be marked by babblings, like the pagans, but should be filled with reverential silence (Matt 6:7). A liturgy that does not offer true silence cannot teach the faithful how to pray. 

These silences ought not be contrived or arbitrary, but intrinsic to the liturgical rite itself, which one sees very clearly in the 1962 Roman liturgy. It should be noted that, in St. Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on Matthew 6:6, he writes that our Lord is not referring to public prayer, but only private prayer (no. 757). Nonetheless, we can still learn how to exercise our private prayer because of the influence of the Sacred Liturgy. If the public prayer of the Church is filled with constant noise, then how can the faithful not model their spiritual lives from that same kind of prayer?

As we read in In Sinu Jesu, “When I instituted the Sacrament of My Body and Blood, I did so not only to unite all the members of My Body more intimately to Me who am their Head; I did it not only to feed them and to give them to drink for life everlasting; I did it also so as to remain present, close, and ever available to those who would seek My divine friendship by adoring Me truly present in the Sacrament of My love” (p. 58). We are invited into friendship with our Lord in the Eucharist, which we experience in the Sacred Liturgy. This friendship is carried into our lives of private prayer, especially Eucharistic Adoration. When we adore our Lord in silence, we have the opportunity to enter into contemplative prayer and thus intimate union with Him. This is what He most desires, that we should adore His Eucharistic Heart and linger with Him in response to His graces.

This deep, contemplative, interior life is what our Lord desires most, but what the world understands the least. When we cultivate the interior life through silent prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, and dwelling in the silence of the Sacred Liturgy, we are truly living counter-culturally. As we enter this season after Pentecost, let us renew ourselves in the pursuit of the interior life, asking our Lord for the graces to dwell with Him in silent contemplation and adoration, entering into our “inner rooms” to hear His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13).