Monday 1 April 2019

The Power of Silence - Robert Cardinal Sarah - Against the Dictatorship of Noise

The Power of Silence:
Against the Dictatorship of Noise
Robert Cardinal Sarah
Nicolas Diat
Michael J. Miller (Translator)
Ignatius Press
ISBN 9781621641919
eISBN 9781681497587

Both this book and God or Nothing have been on my ‘to be read list’ for a while now. Which are the only two works by him that are available currently in English. Each time I was about to start this book, it got bumped for some reason. But I have just finished reading it for the second time in a month as part of an online Catholic book club. This book was not exactly what I was expecting, but it has proved to be what I needed. It has been an excellent resource to be reading at the beginning of lent.

This book has mixed reviews. It has a 4.49/5 star average with over 660 ratings and 120 reviews, at the time of writing this review. In looking at the reviews and ratings from friends, authors, and others in the book club I am surprised by the range. From the people I know the book is rated either 3/5 stars or like I rated it 5/5 stars. And in part that is likely due to the format. The first four chapters of the book are written in numbered point form responses. A total of 365 points to be precise. Some are a short as a single sentence:

“297. There is no genuine action or major decision except in the silence of the prayer that precedes them.”

And some are several paragraphs and even extended with supporting quotes. And a few are almost entirely quotes from other sources. And the final chapter is a dialogue, transcribed and for us in English also translated. The chapters in the volume are:

I. Silence versus the World’s Noise
II. God Does Not Speak, but His Voice Is Quite Clear
III. Silence, the Mystery, and the Sacred
IV. God’s Silence in the Face of Evil Unleashed
V. Like a Voice Crying out in the Desert: The Meeting at the Grande Chartreuse

This book is not a how to guide. There are many great Catholic and Christian books on that. This book is a dialogue with the focus of the conversation being the need and importance of silence. The importance of silence personally, communally, and in corporate worship. One of the things I love about our current Parish priest is he is ok with silence during mass. He deliberately sits after the homily and pauses, even during weekday masses. He respects the silences during the mass and nurtures them, and through them our parish family. Points 263-268 have some great points regarding silence in the Ordinary Form of the mass.

This book is easy to read, but less easy to live and apply. It is a conversation drawn from personal experience and draws from church history. The many sources referenced attest to the longstanding tradition of silence. As such it will serve more as a jumping off point. It will help readers begin to understand, or to grow in their understanding of the importance and need for silence.

But because of the structure and form, the book can be seen as repetitive. Circling back to points and themes already covered. Two of the points that spoke directly to me on my second reading of the book were:

269. As for interior silence, it can be achieved by the absence of memories, plans, interior speech, worries. . . . Still more important, thanks to an act of the will, it can result from the absence of disordered affections or excessive desires. The Fathers of the Church assign an eminent place to silence in the ascetical life. Think of Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the Great, not to mention the Rule of Saint Benedict of Nursia on “taciturnity”, or his words about grand silence at night, where he adopts the teaching of Cassian. Starting with those spiritual masters, all the medieval founders of religious orders, followed by the mystics of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, insisted on the importance of silence, even beyond its ascetical and mystical dimension.

Is silence, therefore, an essential condition for contemplative prayer?

270. The Gospels say that the Savior himself prayed in silence, particularly at night, or while withdrawing to deserted places. Silence is typical of the meditation by the Word of God; we find it again particularly in Mary’s attitude toward the mystery of her Son. The most silent person in the Gospels is of course Saint Joseph; not a single word of his does the New Testament record for us. Saint Basil considers silence not only as an ascetical necessity of monastic life but also as a condition for encountering God. Silence precedes and prepares for the privileged moment when we have access to God, who then can speak to us face to face as we would do with a friend.”

I loved reading this book, and particularly loved the commends and feedback from others in the book club. I have recommended this book to friends both Catholic and evangelical. And I recommend it to you.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2019 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Robert Cardinal Sarah:
The Power of Silence
God or Northing

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