Silence is the longest precept in the Rule of St. Albert written for the Carmelites. We are instructed to keep silence and to work in silence because “silence is the way to foster holiness.” For Carmelites this precept of silence is seen as a means for recollection, not as penance. It is a privative, though a happy one because it is what makes possible our union with God. This is also the most difficult precept of the Rule. There is noise everywhere! A constant montage of noise fills every moment. And if by chance one can escape the exterior noise and find some solitude, then there is the barrage of interior noise that goes on within one’s own self!
What happens in silence is an amazing thing. Robert Cardinal Sarah has a new book titled The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. In it he stated that, “What is extraordinary is always silent.” This phrase really stuck a cord and moved me to contemplate this thought more.
He goes on to explain that, “The greatest mysteries of the world are born and unfold in silence.” For example a “tree grows in silence.” “Springs of water flow at first in the silence of the ground.” “The sun that rises over the earth in its splendor and grandeur warms us in silence.” (Sarah, p. 34) Other extraordinary things also came to mind as I read this: The dew appears on the grass in silence, and clouds form and grow gathering in the sky, all in silence. A new human life grows in its mother’s womb in silence. Snowflakes fall to the earth in great silence.
At prayer an extraordinary thing also happens. The soul encounters God and unites with Him in heart, mind and will. Therefore the need to move away from the noise, to find secluded places to be alone with God Alone.
In The Twelve Degrees of Silence by Marie-Aimee de Jesus OCD, she expresses this beautifully. “Just as a flower unfolds in silence and its scent worships its Creator in silence, the interior soul must do likewise.” (Marie-Aimee de Jesus, p. 54)
To pray in silence. Silence in the presence of God. This is love in action for a contemplative for “The silence of love is love in silence.” (Marie-Aimee de Jesus, p. 50)
Continue to contemplate these thoughts as I end with one more image from Marie-Aimee de Jesus. “A silent heart is a pure heart; a melody singing in the heart of God. Like a sacristy lamp flickering noiselessly at the tabernacle, and like incense silently rising at the Savior’s throne, such is love’s silence.” (Marie-Aimee de Jesus, p. 51)
Silence is the longest precept in the Rule of St. Albert. For Carmelites this precept of silence is seen as a means for recollection, not as penance. While it is a privative, it is a happy one because it is what makes possible union with God.
Prayer, silence, and solitude -these three things go together and complement each other.
By being silent one is able to stay away the evils that come about in the abuse of words. What do we have to talk about? What is it that we communicate when we speak? Ideas?
No. Actually, most of what we communicate are images and impressions – mostly foolishness and nonsense. But God gave us the gift of speech to communicate ideas. In reality the more we speak the more our interior recollection is clouded. Words which do not express ideas will only manifest matter. Matter just makes dust! While on the contrary, silence makes for recollection. Silence is difficult and poorly observed. This we can all agree. It costs.
For St. John of the Cross to be silent is to be seen in terms of contemplation.
“The Father spoke one Word, which was his Son, and this Word he speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul,” (Sayings of Light and Love #100)
Today try to observe silence. During the day let’s wrap ourselves in silence:
speak little think little
The heart stirs up an image of that organ which beats within the human body giving it life. It is the heart that preserves our earthly existence. It is also the heart that makes up that place deep within us that gives rise to emotions and desires particularly to love. The heart holds a place of prominence in the spirituality of a Carmelite. Since it is love of God and love of neighbor that are the focus of all our energies, the heart then holds a place of prominence in the spirituality of a Carmelite. For a Carmelite, God is the longing of the heart. Since a Carmelite longs for God deep within the heart, cultivation of this heart to love is necessary so that this heart will be open to those around them.
The Rule of St. Albert no. 19 mentions the heart and instructs us on how to cultivate the heart:
“Your loins are to be girt with chastity, your breast fortified by holy meditations, for as Scripture has it, holy meditation will save you. Put on holiness as your breastplate, and it will enable you to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Faith must be your shield on all occasions, and with it you will be able to quench all the flaming missiles of the wicked one: there can be no pleasing God without faith; and the victory lies in this — your faith. On your head set the helmet of salvation, and so be sure of deliverance by our only Saviour, who sets his own free from their sins. The sword of the spirit, the word of God, must abound in your mouths and hearts. Let all you do have the Lord’s word for accompaniment.”
It is from the Scriptures that we are to learn to love God and our neighbor. Our preeminent model for how to do this is Jesus. Meditation on the sacred texts will show us what He said and did. It will also reveal to us the well-ordered emotions of our Lord. From the Gospels we know that Jesus had a heart. He had a broken heart and tender emotions. There are also accounts demonstrating his feelings of forgiveness and love.
St. Albert of Jerusalem
The Lawgiver of Carmel
Albert Avogadro was born in Italy in the middle of the twelfth century. He became a Canon Regular of the Holy Cross and was elected prior in 1180. In 1184, he was named Bishop of Bobbio and of Vercelli in 1185. In 1205 he became Patriarch of Jerusalem. Sometime between 1206 and 1214 he was approached by the hermits living on Mount Carmel with the request that he would prepare for them a written rule of life based on the traditional patterns of their contemplative communal life.
This Rule inspires Carmelites all over the world. It is one of the shortest of the great rules giving the Carmelites a Way of Life. It is obvious when reading the Rule that St. Albert lived every moment the Gospel, having internalized it so completely that the words of the Bible are used to express his thoughts. Writing the Rule for the hermits on Mount Carmel, it is quite notable that he relied on the Scriptures. The Rule is steeped in the Gospel’s message; though there are not any explicit passages quoted, there are many allusions to Sacred Scripture.
As Carmelites, we too should be personally familiar with the Scriptures in our daily encounter with them. Then as St. Albert says of St. Paul in number 20 of the Rule we may have “both the teaching and the example of Saint Paul the Apostle, into whose mouth Christ put his own words.” The sacred texts should be in our minds and expressed in our thoughts and words. As Carmelites our day is filled with opportunities to meditate on the Scriptures: Mass, Morning and Evening Prayer, Night Prayer and the practice of Lectio Divina.
you have given us a Rule of Life
according to the Gospel
to guide us on our journey
towards perfect love.
Help us always to keep watch
at our prayers, to live in
allegiance to Jesus Christ,
and to serve him
faithfully until death.
Through Christ Our Lord.
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“You must give yourselves to work of some kind, so that the devil may always find you busy; no idleness on your part must give him a chance to pierce the defences of your souls.” (Rule of St. Albert)
Manual labor is strongly encouraged by the Rule of St. Albert. “You must…” strong words for this precept. “No idleness on your part must give him a chance to pierce the defences of your souls.” Here we have the motivation for this point in the Rule. For when we are unoccupied we are left open to the influences of the devil who comes to knock. The imagination and memory are his favorite playgrounds, if he can gain an entrance. Left alone with our thoughts, images and memories are created which will trouble us and stir up temptations.
It’s not that thinking is a bad thing. To think is a good thing. However, lest bad thoughts creep in, our thoughts must be general ones and should have God as their object. Consequently, when left to dream, living in the imagination can be dangerous! Thought is a dynamic force. It is the beginning of action; therefore, it can lead to sin, even serious sin!
It must be recalled that everything in the Carmelite Rule is directed towards contemplation. A soul that is contemplative truly loves God and gives God more glory than any other soul. The devil knows this and will make every effort to hinder a contemplative soul. He accomplishes this best by trying to trouble the soul by overburdening it and causing it disquiet within it.
The devil is so clever. He will do whatever he can to accomplish this disturbance within a soul even pushing it to idleness or to a work that overburdens it – excess or defect. Either way he will gain.
“In this respect you have both the teaching and the example of Saint Paul the Apostle, into whose mouth Christ put his own words. God made him preacher and teacher of faith and truth to the nations: with him as your leader you cannot go astray. We lived among you, he said, labouring and weary, toiling night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you; not because we had no power to do otherwise but so as to give you, in our own selves, as an example you might imitate. For the charge we gave you when we were with you was this: that whoever is not willing to work should not be allowed to eat either. For we have heard that there are certain restless idlers among you. We charge people of this kind, and implore them in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they earn their own bread by silent toil. This is the way of holiness and goodness: see that you follow it.”(Rule of St. Albert)