By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.
The Spiritual Exercises
, St. Ignatius of Loyola gives us the
First Principle and Foundation
. In it, this Joyful Beggar communicates to us our goal in life: to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by these means to save our souls. In short, we are born to be saints. This statement alarms many: “Saintliness is only for monks and nuns.” Others may recognize the desire to be saints, but their uneasiness and dread stop them from heeding this universal call to holiness.
This is the first stumbling block in our understanding of holiness: we equate holiness with perfection. When we hear that we are called to be saints, we think that we need to be perfect. Well, here is the good news: we don’t have to. Perfection cannot be attained on this side of eternity. One of my Jesuit brothers likes to constantly remind the rest of us that we are wonderfully imperfect. Our call is not to
; we are called to be
. Jesus called imperfect people to be His disciples. He worked through their imperfections, and their love for Jesus set them on fire for the Kingdom of God.
The men and women we recognize today as saints had a profound and intimate relationship with Jesus, and they lived out the fruits of that relationship through their interactions with others. If we are to take our vocation to holiness seriously, we need to pray. Prayer needs to become our daily bread. In prayer, we know by faith that God is within us, closer than breathing, thinking, or choosing.
In prayer, we are aware of God’s promise to us: “I will lead you into solitude and there I will speak tenderly to your heart.” (Hosea 1:14) There is no prayer without silence. There is no silence without solitude. Yet, we find the idea of silence incredibly frightening. A couple of weeks ago, the satirical newspaper The Onion reported on a man who had a horrible encounter with his own thoughts:
“It was just awful — that’s the last time I ever take a moment to myself to reflect. The worst part is, I actually did this to myself. I actually said, ‘I think I’d like a little time alone to think about some things.’ Then, for a few brief, horrible moments, I looked deep within myself and saw who I really was. It was honestly the scariest, most nauseating experience of my life.”
This faux report, although amusing, is very telling: we are petrified by solitude and silence. We do not know what to do with our own thoughts, desires and feelings. Yet, it is precisely in our relationship with God that our thoughts, desires and feelings acquire new depth and meaning. Our relationship with God finds new depths through silence. Silence is the key to the immense Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is the sanctifying furnace where we are tried and purified.
Just as with holiness, silence is not the prerogative of men and women in monasteries and convents. Silence belongs to everyone. In times when we are constantly plugged in to our iPods, connected to the internet, and attached to our cell phones, silence gives us the opportunity to turn to God in our busy lives and to experience the joy and peace that allow us to help building God’s Kingdom.
Let us strive to find moments of silence in the midst of the city and the everyday of our lives. May these solitudes and moments of silence purify our minds and hearts, and fortify our intent to be saints. May our lives be consumed in the sanctifying furnace of silence.