Returning to the routine after an extended absence is always somewhat jarring. And as I sat in mass this morning before my first day back to what is my current level of normal, my mind was racing through the million and one things that are on my agenda, all of which need my attention. This is one of those blood-draining-away sort of sensations, like when you see someone is about to go sailing through the intersection and just miss hitting you. As a result it was difficult to focus on what was going on in front of me, though I was trying my best to keep my mind on where I was and what I was doing.
And then my phone rang during the Consecration.
Now, if you have ever had your phone ring during church, you know what a horrible feeling that is, but for Catholics in particular to have your phone ring during the Consecration is without a doubt the absolute worst time it could possibly happen. Fortunately, even in such a moment there are good lessons to be learned. The first is to make sure I turn my phone completely off when entering a church, not simply mute it. The second lesson is a related one, which I want to explore a little bit, and that is the fact that sometimes you just need to turn off the world.
We are living surrounded by noise which we voluntarily bring into our lives by turning on the phone, the television, the computer, the iPod, and so on, and we forget how good it is to be silent. It is so often that in silence, man has sat back and planned magnificent buildings, worked out complex scientific theories, or composed beautiful poetry. He has used silence to reflect on his relationship with God and with his neighbor, and to detach himself from the world so that he can rest. However silence is now something we avoid at any cost.
We are so constantly bombarding ourselves and others with noise, no wonder we all seem to be on such short fuses. If you did nothing but drink caffeine all day long, you would become jittery and unable to sleep; that lack of sleep would eventually take its toll on your mental and physical health. Yet isn’t that what we are doing by being awash in meaningless stimuli so much of the time? And what is the end result of this, what is the benefit of it?
Well, let us look at the evidence of this brave new world we have created. For one thing, we shout at each other (or worse) through closed car windows as we break the speed limits and change lanes without signalling. We laugh at and mock emotionally unbalanced people who choose to humiliate themselves on television for our entertainment.
We dress like beggars and prostitutes to “express” ourselves, and we will not quarter any criticism of our appearance. It used to be said that we would call each other names on social media which we would never say in person, but sadly I think that reticence is disappearing, based on what I heard in the supermarket just the other day. We are no longer concerned about being considered vile, crude, or ill-mannered by others, thanks to all of the messages we receive telling us that they are okay just the way we are.
Quite frankly, one of the reasons why we have seen such a rapid growth of atheism and such a correlated, rapid decline in basic public decency, is that we have forgotten how to be quiet. For God is in the quiet, and we do not care to hear what He has to say. All of this over-stimulation is a way of covering up that uncomfortable silence, and what we might not like to hear when we are alone with ourselves, and with Him. So we are told to turn up the volume, put on the earbuds, and get those eyes on the screen with all of its flashing, true-to-life high-definition colors, and forget about the fact that you are mortal, and that one day you are going to die, no matter how hard you try to escape from or forget that fact.
The consequences of our embrace of noisiness are to be found in all of our endeavors, from social media and entertainment to politics and business – for there is no more joy and love, only mockery and lust. We are no longer building beautiful buildings, or writing beautiful music, or making beautiful films. All the signs are that our civilization is dying, and yet we roll our merry way along worrying about how many apps our cell phone has, rather than worrying why it is we have not read a serious work of literature in over a decade.
Therefore gentle reader, remember as this New Year begins that stepping away from the computer, the phone, and the television for even brief periods of time each day will be of far greater benefit to you in the long run, than avoiding finding yourself in silence, for fear of what you might hear there. By no means am I suggesting that everything electronic is bad. I would hardly be blogging or podcasting otherwise! But I would suggest that you make judicious use of what has not yet been fried in your brain to step away from devices, even if only for a little window of time each day.
There are plenty of practical ways to implement this. Turn off the television during dinner, for example, or get up a bit earlier without turning on the phone or the radio. Shut down the computer an hour earlier than when you normally go to bed, by saying good night and meaning it. And above all, enjoy the silence – don’t be afraid of it.