“IN SILENCE AND IN HOPE SHALL YOUR STRENGTH BE.”
There are three means of acquiring the habit of continual prayer — namely, silence, solitude and the presence of God. These were the means that the Angel suggested to St. Arsenius when he said: “If you wish to be saved, fly into solitude, observe silence, and repose in God by always keeping yourself in His presence.” We shall speak of each of these means.
In the first place, silence is a great means of acquiring the spirit of prayer, and of disposing the soul to converse continually with God. We rarely find a spiritual soul that speaks much. All men of prayer are lovers of silence. It is called the guardian of innocence, the shield against temptations, and the fountain of prayer. For by silence devotion is preserved, and in silence good thoughts spring up in the soul. St. Bernard says: “Silence and the absence of noise in a certain manner force the soul to think of God and of things eternal.” Hence, the Saints fled to the mountains, to caves, and to deserts, in order to find silence, and escape the tumults of the world for, as was said to Elias: The Lord is not in the earthquake (3 Kings, xix. 11). Theodosius the monk observed silence for thirty-five years. St. John the Silent, who gave up his bishopric and became a monk, observed silence for forty-seven years before his death; and all the Saints, even they who were not solitaries, have been lovers of silence.
Oh, how great are the blessings silence brings the soul! It saves us from a multitude of sins by destroying the root of disputes, detractions, resentments, and curiosity; and besides this, it helps us to acquire many virtues. How well does he practise humility who when others speak, listens with modesty and in silence! How well does he practise mortification by not yielding to his inclinations or desire to tell a certain anecdote, or to use a witty expression suggested by the conversation! It is an excellent practice of meekness to remain silent when unjustly censured or offended. Hence the holy Prophet said: In silence and in hope shall your strength be (Is. xxx. 15). Your strength shall be in silence and in hope; by silence we shun the occasions of sin, and by hope we obtain the Divine aid to lead a holy life.
But, on the other hand, immense evils flow from speaking much. As devotion is preserved by silence, so is it lost by a multitude of words. However recollected the soul may have been in prayer, if it afterwards indulge in long discourses it will find the mind as distracted and dissipated as if it had not made Meditation. When the mouth of the burning furnace is opened the heat soon evaporates. St. Dorotheus says: Beware of much speaking, for it banishes from the soul holy thoughts and recollection with God.” Speaking of those Religious who cannot abstain from inquiring after worldly news, St. Joseph Calasanctius says: “The curious Religious shows that he has forgotten himself.” It is certain that he who speaks too much with men converses but little with God, for the Lord says: I will lead her into the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart (Osee ii. 14). If, then, the soul wishes that God speak to it, it must seek solitude; but this solitude will never be found by those who do not love silence. “If,” said the Venerable Margaret of the Cross, “we remain silent, we shall find solitude.” And how will the Lord ever condescend to speak to him, who, by seeking after the conversation of creatures, shows that conversation with God is not sufficient to make him happy?
Besides, the Holy Ghost tells us that in speaking much we shall not fail to commit some fault. In the multitude of words there shall not want sin (Prov. x. 19). While they speak and prolong conversation without necessity, certain persons think that they are not guilty of any defect; but if they carefully examine themselves they will find some fault against modesty, of detraction, of curiosity, or at least some superfluous words. But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment (Matt. xii. 36).
I have used the words some fault; but when we speak much we shall find that we have committed a thousand faults. St. James has called the tongue a universal evil: The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity (James iii. 6). For, as a learned author remarks, the greater number of sins arises from speaking, or from listening to others. A man full of tongue shall not be established in the earth (Ps. cxxxix. 12).