Finding God in the Silence
In his homily for 4th Sunday of Easter, Year C, Father Hanly talks about finding God in the silence in our lives.
Readings for Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C
- First Reading: Acts 13:14, 43-52
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 100:1-2, 3, 5
- Second Reading: Revelation 7:9, 14-17
- Gospel: John 10:27-30
When I was a child in Brooklyn, New York, in the very early days of my youth, we lived in a rather tough neighbourhood and a lot of the kids at school ended up in reform school.
And so whenever Brother taught us about the Good Shepherd he said, “In this class, we should forget about the Good Shepherd and we should talk about the Lord is my truant officer,” because he’d look around and a lot of the kids who got in trouble were sent away to reform school and then sent back to the school again.
Well, of course, we were just joshing around.
But the idea of the shepherd is very, very, very long and deep in the history of salvation and it begins all the way with Abraham. And the Jewish people were all shepherds. Abraham was a shepherd, Isaac was a shepherd, all of them were shepherds, including King David was a shepherd as a boy.
And so the idea of the shepherd leading sheep, the idea was this was a very responsible task and a very responsible job. And when the poets wrote poetry and they sang their songs, they enshrined God as their shepherd, who was the true shepherd.
And yet it was that when Jesus came and Jesus was sent, that those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus himself explained what those words meant.
He said to the people, “I am the good shepherd. I know mine and they know me. They hear my voice and they follow me.
“And no one will take them away from me. And I will give them life here and I will give them life everlasting, for I will journey with them and I will not let anyone grasp them and tear them from my hand.
“And my Father, these sheep belong to my Father and He has appointed me to take care of them. And in the caring and in the loving we shall change the world.”
This morning I was getting up rather early and I was looking at the television. Have you ever seen this, a new programme on that I wish I had a little collection of them. The program only takes about a minute, or a minute and a half, or two minutes, and it’s called “8 Billion People.”
The first thing you see is of all the people of the world in little snapshots, their faces, or a large number of them. And then what they do is they interview these people one by one. They pick out one or two. And they’re ordinary people from all the nations of the world.
And they pick a subject for them like the law or war or love or growing up. And then when they’re interviewed, they use their own language. And it kind of takes about a minute or two minutes, and you get these wonderful little stories when they’re talking, ordinary people about their ordinary lives on ordinary subjects.
This morning, the lady that was being interviewed — and the over-voice translation is always very, very good — she was from Chechnya.
Now you all know Chechnya as once being part of Russia. Poor Chechnya was a part of everybody. All the strong nations of the world seemed to trample in and out of Chechnya. For a while, they were given a little bit of peace, but constant war and fighting and bickering, and a very tough place.
And there was this sweet lady about, I would say, in her Forties, and the subject was: “What are you most afraid of?” And then they let her talk. And she said…
I’m going to try to say what she said, but I’m saying it from my heart which means I probably can only tell you what her heart was like but not the words themselves because she was in another language.
But what she said was this, “The thing I fear most is war. And we have nothing but war.
“We have been fighting, and when you go out all you can hear is the bombs, and you can hear the explosions, and you can hear the rifle fire, and you can hear the tanks roaring in, and you can hear the arrests and the screams, and that’s all you hear day after day.”
And she said, “I couldn’t believe that we could live under this kind of a world and it would go on and on and on, the noise of war, the terror of war, but especially no peace, no even hope of peace.
“And then one night when I was in my room, with the doors locked because we locked the doors at night because soldiers would just rush in and kill people and destroy whatever you had,” she said, “all of a sudden there was a great silence.”
“And at first,” she said, “I couldn’t believe it. It was frightening. And I didn’t know what happened. No more bombs, no more guns, no more screaming, just a great silence. And it frightened me.
“And then I opened the door, I took the bolt off the door, and I looked out into the streets and into the sky, and there was a new moon shining and there was the great silence.”
And she said, “I just looked out and stood there. And I began to feel the silence as if the silence was talking to me. I began to feel that this silence is something that we never had had, that we don’t know what to do and it frightened me.
“But I began to talk to it. And I began to talk to it and I was afraid the neighbours would hear me and they would say, ‘Why is this woman, she must have lost her mind, talking to this silence?’”
But she said, “I can remember the day it happened,” and she gave the month and the date and the time and she said, “I remember sitting there looking at the moon, listening to the silence and talking through the silence.
“And a great peace came upon me and I said to myself, ‘The peace that comes with this silence, it is almost, if the price that we have to pay is the terrible shrieking of guns and the destruction of our cities, the frightening of our children, it’s worth it, because it has its own voice and it is always silence.”
And then she smiled and she said, “I talk to silence. And I’m sure many people feel that I’m crazy, but what I’m doing is I’m talking to the real life, the only life, the great life that I have experienced in this terrible place which is my home.”
This is the way God talks to us.
One of the things that struck me right away was all the noise in my life. I mean the noise from the TV and the radio, and the noise from the streets, and the noise here and the noise there, and there is no silence, there just isn’t any silence.
And yet, I could relate to what she was saying, because when I was in the seminary we used to have what they called the Magnum Silencium.
The whole seminary, there were four hundred seminarians, and the whole seminary would be dead quiet from after supper until the following morning after breakfast. And you wouldn’t hear anything. And one of the lovely things that you did hear was the silence.
And when she speaks of talking to the silence, you realise that she’s talking to God, because God communicates in silence, not in noise and screaming and jumping and yelling and all these kind of things.
You have to learn to talk to the silence.
And that’s the only message I have on Good Shepherd Sunday, for God says, “I am your shepherd, and my Son is your shepherd, and he walks in great silence through your whole life, every morning, all day, day after day, month after month, year after year.”
But you have to listen and hear and open your heart to the wonder of the Good Shepherd’s silence caring for you, worrying about you, guiding you through all kinds of situations, and yet you know that he will never leave you, he will always be there and his joy is to be at the centre of the silence in our own lives.