Advice for Seminarians and Priests from Cardinal Sarah’s Book: The Power of Silence

Quotes from: The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of 
Noise by Robert Cardinal Sarah with Nicolas Diat, Translated 
by Michael J. Miller, Ignatius Press, 2016.

“All activity must be preceded by an intense life of prayer, contemplation, seeking and listening to God’s will” (28).

“The more we are clothed in glory and honours, the more we are raised in dignity, the more we are invested with public responsibilities, prestige, and temporal offices, whether as laymen, priests, or bishops, the more we need to advance in humility and to cultivate carefully the sacred dimension of our interior life by constantly seeking to see the face of God in prayer, meditation, contemplation, and asceticism. It can happen that a good, pious priest, once he is raised to the episcopal dignity, quickly falls into mediocrity and a concern for worldly success. Overwhelmed by the weight of the duties that are incumbent on him, worried about his power, his authority, and the material needs of his office, he gradually runs out of steam. He manifests in his being and in his works a desire for promotion, a longing for prestige, and a spiritual degradation. He is harmful to himself and to the flock over which the Holy Spirit set him as guardian to feed the Church of God, which God acquired for himself by the blood of his own Son. We all run the danger of being preoccupied with worldly business and concerns if we neglect the interior life, prayer, the daily face-to-face encounter with God, the ascetical practices necessary for every contemplative and every person who wants to see the Eternal One and live with Him” (28-9).

“The Divine office recited without recollection, without enthusiasm or fervor, or irregularly and sporadically, makes the heart lukewarm and kills the virginity of our love for God” (31).

“I will never stop thanking the good, holy priests who generously give their whole lives for the kingdom of God. But I will untiringly denounce those who are unfaithful to the promises of their ordination. In order to make themselves known or to impose their personal views, both on the theological and the pastoral level, they speak again and again. These clerics repeat the same banal things. I could not affirm that God dwells within them…” (38).

“Even today, our pastoral strategies without any demands, without an appeal to conversion, without a radical return to God, are paths that lead to nowhere. They are politically correct games that cannot lead us to the crucified God, our true Liberator” (40).

“Without the asceticism of silence, pastors become rather uninteresting men, prisoners of their boring, pathetic torrents of words. Without the life of the Holy Spirit and without silence, a priest’s teaching is nothing but confused chatter devoid of substance. A priest’s speech must be an expression of his soul and the sign of divine Providence” (78).

“The priest is a man of silence. He must always be listening for God. True pastoral and missionary depth can come only from silent prayer. Without silence, the priesthood is ruined. A priest must be in the hands of the Holy Spirit. If he strays from the Spirit, he will be doomed to carry out a merely human work” (79).

“We must uproot ourselves from the world, from the crowd, and from all activity, even charitable works, in order to remain for long moments in the intimacy of God” (103).

Today, some priests treat the Eucharist with the utmost contempt. They see the Mass as a talkative banquet where Christians faithful to the teaching of Jesus, divorced-and-remarried persons, men and women in an adulterous situation, unbaptized tourists who participate in the Eucharistic celebrations of the large anonymous crowds can indiscriminately have access to the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church must examine with urgency the ecclesial and pastoral appropriateness of these immense Eucharistic celebrations made up of thousands and thousands of participants. There is a great danger of transforming the Eucharist, “the great mystery of faith,” into a vulgar county fair and of desecrating the Body and Precious Blood of Christ. The priest who distribute the sacred species while not knowing anyone and give the Body of Jesus to all, without distinguishing between Christians and non-Christians, participate in the desecration of the Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice. Those who exercise authority in the Church become culpable, by a form of voluntary complicity, in allowing the sacrilege and desecration of the Body of Christ to take place in these gigantic and ridiculous self-celebrations, where so few perceive that “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again” (1 Cor 11:26) (105).

“Some priests unfaithful to the “memory” of Jesus insist more on the festive aspect and the fraternal dimension of the Mass than on the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the Cross” (106).

Under the pretext of pedagogy, some priests indulge in endless flat, horizontal commentaries. These pastors are afraid that silence in the presence of the Most High might disconcert the faithful (123).

“How many priests walk toward the altar of sacrifice while chattering, discussing, or greeting the people who are present instead of losing themselves in a sacred silence full of reverence…” (124).

“Sacred silence is a good belonging to the faithful, and clerics must not deprive them of it” (124).

“In order to speak about God, it is necessary to begin by keeping quiet. I am thinking here about preachers, too. A homily is not a summary of theological knowledge or of exegetical interpretations. Priests, who are marked with the priestly character, are thereby in a way the mysterious instruments of the Word of God. The homily is therefore strictly reserved to men who have been invested with the sacred order of priests and deacons; it cannot be delegated to laypersons, not even to the most competent… And so priests must prepare their homilies in the silence of prayer and contemplation” (128).

It is sad, and almost a sacrilege, to hear occasionally priests and bishops chattering incessantly in the sacristy, and even during the entrance procession, instead of recollecting themselves and contemplating in silence the mystery of the death of Christ on the Cross, which they are preparing to celebrate and which ought to inspire in them nothing but fear and trembling (137).

“The bishops of my continent should take measures so that the celebration of the Mass does not become a celebration of one’s own culture. The death of God for love of us is beyond any culture. It submerges all culture” (140).

How can a priest live apart from silence? Because of the great mystery of the Eucharist that he celebrates daily, he must devote a large part of his life to silence, from which the Canon ought to emerge, weighty with power and meaning. Holy Mass is the most sacred, most divine thing that he possesses. It must be surrounded with dignity, silence, and a sacral character. The Divine Office prepares us for it… The priest must know when to be quiet and when to speak (194).

It is essential for priests to learn to keep to themselves words and opinions they have not taken the trouble to meditate on, interiorize, and engrave in the depth of their heart. We must preach the Word of God and certainly not our petty thoughts! (194)

It is necessary to consent joyfully [to obligatory times of silence], to welcome them as precious, privileged moments for building up our interior life. Indeed, the priest’s vocation and mission is to stand constantly facing a silent God, whose heart nonetheless watches, listens, and reshapes us in his likeness so that we might be “conformed to the image of His Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom 8:29). Unless there is a very strong discipline that consists of desiring to encounter God, silence is difficult and nothing urges you to seek it diligently (210-1).

Silence must shape the souls of seminarians and priests (211).

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