IN THE SACRISTY of the parish I attended as a teenager, there was a sign that read: Silentium! I didn’t need to know much Latin to figure out the message. Prior to Mass, as the pastor prayed the rosary or the Divine Office, we altar servers were expected to speak in whispered tones and only when necessary. We were careful not to drop things or slam doors. Even as rambunctious teenagers, we tried our best to keep the decibel levels down.
I thought of that on a recent Sunday as I ambled around my very large and empty cathedral in Baltimore. How different, I thought, from most Sundays, when the sacristy is bustling with activity and people are gathering for Mass. But now, during the pandemic, no one was there. It was utterly quiet and silent. And this silence drew me to the Blessed Lady Chapel, where I sat, wordlessly, before the tabernacle. It was a graced moment when the Lord’s heart spoke to mine.
I was reminded that, though the cathedral was empty, the Church itself is still very much alive. The activity had shifted from that magnificent structure adorned with bas-reliefs and mosaics to the “domestic church” — our Christian homes and families. These days, our “domestic churches” are bustling. Mass, communal prayers and spiritual messages come into the home via livestream or other electronic means. Parents find themselves multitasking, in many cases working from home and supervising school. Children are taking online classes and find that their usual outlets, such as sports, are temporarily out of the question. For once, everyone is home — almost all the time.
Some parents have spoken or written to me about the stress and anxiety that such togetherness has produced. One wife and mother wrote to say that while it’s all well and good to talk about the domestic church, she has had her fill of it. “It’s wearing me out,” she admitted. Another took me to task for painting an overly idealistic picture of the domestic church. “It’s fine for you to speak about the family as a place of faith and safety and respect for life, or about the role parents have in sharing the faith with their kids,” she said. “But you don’t live with them like I do!”
Silence is not only easier on the nerves; it is also good for the soul. ‘Silence leads to God, provided man stops looking at himself.’
In recent years, the Order’s consistent promotion of the domestic church has been among its most important initiatives. We don’t water down what the domestic church is supposed to be in God’s plan. It is truly called to be a sanctuary of life and love that shares in the life and love of the three divine persons of the Holy Trinity; a place of prayer where the faith is shared and passed on from one generation to another; a place where virtues and values are formed; and a place where the call of God, one’s vocation, can be discerned and fostered. But as Knights we are realistic and practical. So we have provided many resources and tips that help families really be or become “domestic churches.” One of those important tips is — when possible, try to cultivate silence.
For a parish church to be a place of prayer, there have to be times of silence. For a domestic church to be a place of prayer and formation, there likewise need to be periods of silence — times when everything is unplugged and when the members of the family can, as the saying goes, “hear themselves think.” Silence is not only easier on the nerves; it is also good for the soul. But not just any kind of silence. In his book The Power of Silence (2018), Cardinal Robert Sarah explained, “Silence leads to God, provided man stops looking at himself.” It is only when we quiet down and invite God into the inmost temple of our hearts that we gain the spiritual wherewithal to shepherd a domestic church.
Silentium! read that old sign in the sacristy. Its message is timelier than ever!
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