Silence for the Mission
Fr. Antonio Izquierdo, LC, was a professor of Sacred Scripture for years in Rome. I received the classes of “Introduction to Sacred Scripture” and “Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels” from him. He was a knowledgeable professor and very capable. I appreciated him even more when he preached 30 days of Spiritual Exercises to a group of Legionaries in the summer of 2011. He dove into Scripture and made each meditation come alive for us. He lived out for us what it meant to be a Legionary of Christ with a contemplative spirit.
Priests speak a lot. We are preachers of the Word. We also throw in a lot of our own words along the way. We can be teachers, counselors, spiritual directors, and apostolate directors. Words are an important means in our apostolate.
This heavy investment in words requires a similar investment in silence. This is something that I learned from Fr. Antonio.
1. Silence and reflection
Silence helps to form a reflective soul. We are used to hurrying from one activity to the next, without taking much pause to think. Silence helps to slow the motor of the body and warm up the motor of the mind. Things come into awareness that went unnoticed previously.
Often, we try to ignore the value of silence for reflection. We want to think that we are good at multi-tasking, but we are not. If we can focus our attention on one problem, we are much more capable of finding an appropriate solution. “Focus does not mean saying yes, it means saying no.” (Steve Jobs) To focus means, among other things, saying no to the distractions that try to run our lives. Saying yes to silence is a great way to jump-start our capacity for deep work.
“It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world.” (Og Mandino) This capacity for concentration is also related to building up a habit of silence. Silence can help to make a person more emotionally mature and stable since he is able to look in on himself when things get tough. He can manage his emotions more efficiently because he controls his tongue and his thoughts.
2. Recognizing God’s action in our lives
Silence is a powerful help to recognize God’s action in our lives. God is constantly at work, but we do not always recognize his hand’s presence in our day-to-day. This is a habit that can be improved upon constantly. Every gain you achieve is thanks to God’s grace. A spirit of silence and reflection will help to recognize these moments and actions of grace. It will give you a more realistic outlook on life since you will see the true causes behind what is happening.
Do you thank God for a good night’s sleep? When you have a good day at work, do you raise your mind to God and thank him for helping you? Silence is a great backdrop for seeing the action of God in our lives. We have to get used to seeing it. It is like learning to watch hockey. You have to get used to following the puck.
When the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, arrived to orbit he said famously: “I looked and looked and looked, but didn’t see God.” The American astronaut John Glenn returned to Earth after orbiting three times and said: “I saw God everywhere!” It is often a question of perspective. Silence helps to see life with the correct perspective.
3. Recognizing God’s action in our apostolate
Doing apostolate, or bringing others to Christ, is one of the most rewarding and at the same time difficult tasks that exists. It takes a lot of focus, effort, and personal dedication to develop the art of apostolate. Many skills can be learned, but the most important aspect will always be God’s intervention.
Especially for those involved in apostolate during various years, it is important to recognize the hand of God at work. Otherwise, it is easy to succumb to the temptation of thinking that all efforts have been in vain. “God does not call us to be successful, but to be faithful.” (Mother Teresa) Contemplating God’s action in silence helps to set up in the soul an attitude of gratitude and receptiveness that otherwise might be missing.
Fr. Antonio left a strong witness as a Legionary priest. Many read his books or were taught by him at class. But it was his quiet way of prayer and lived spirituality that always impressed me the most. The best words are born in silence. The most peaceful lives have long periods of silence.
Questions for reflection
1. How is your ability to focus?
2. How often do you recognize the presence of God in your day-to-day life?
3. Do you recognize the hand of God in your apostolic endeavors?