I’m blessed to have a pastor that takes his time celebrating Mass. During the Eucharistic Prayers, you don’t have to be Catholic to know that something extraordinary is happening. Such is the nature of liturgy when it is celebrated with dignity – and peacefully.
I say “peacefully” because my pastor allows silence when only silence will do. This is especially true after the consecration of each species, when, with a profound genuflection, he stops, permitting a pause of living quiet, which allows the faithful to wonder at the miracle that just took place. This is a rarity in our Internet-speed world – and tragically so. Indeed, the significance of silence in our lives and liturgies was noted with gusto by Pope Benedict XVI in his Wednesday audience on March 7, the topic of which was “The Silence of Jesus.”
Elsewhere, Mother Teresa tells us that “God speaks in the silence of the heart.” These are important words, especially during Lent, which, like Advent, being a time of calm, allows us to ponder our lives, prepare for God’s glory, and prevail over our weaknesses by accepting our Lord’s invitation of grace.
But to ponder and prepare well, and for the strength to give our lives to the Lord, we benefit from a particular sort of silence that nature provides in abundance. Our Lord’s 40 days in the wilderness – which we seek to mimic during Lent – is a model for us to heed well, as are all the Gospel accounts of his retreating to pray, especially, as the Holy Father has noted, Christ’s agony in Gethsemane.
Praying in a natural setting is not some sort of pagan ritual. It is a way to remember our one-time place in Eden and the promises of a new Heaven and new Earth. As St. Bonaventure teaches, a healthy contemplation of nature is a way to recognize that all creatures share in signifying “the invisible attributes of God, partly because God is the origin, exemplar, and the end of every creature.”
Contemplating such lofty ideas doesn’t require great planning or effort. You need not visit a retreat house in the hinterlands – although that’s not a bad idea. Instead, you can pause occasionally to observe the majesty around you – even in the suburbs or city.
As I left my house the other evening to attend the Stations of the Cross, I noted that at 6:45 p.m., before we had changed the clocks, the sky still held on to a subtle blue twilight. Venus and Jupiter hovered brilliantly over nearby pines. The planets rivaled the winter constellations, which have been making their journey west these past few weeks. Under the quiet song of the spheres, the chilled air stirred with scents of spring. The sum of this cosmic and earthly beauty gave me pause as I wondered how awesome is our Father – the creator of all that I was seeing and breathing – to have given us his word in Jesus Christ, to be conceived, born, live, suffer, die, and rise for our salvation.
Nature, when seen correctly, does not take our eyes away from the Triune God. Rather, it helps us journey towards Him. Again, the words of that bishop and Doctor of the Church, St. Bonaventure, who takes great inspiration from St. Paul:
“From all this, one can gather that from the creation of the world the invisible attributes of God are clearly seen, being understood through the things that are made. [. . .] thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has transported us out of darkness into his marvelous light, when through these lights exteriorly given, we are disposed to reenter the mirror of our mind in which divine realities shine forth.”
In other words, by taking the occasional moment to study the beauty of the created order, we can better know our creator – and better hear his voice speaking softly in the silence of our hearts about repentance and salvation and communion.
Then, in better knowing our God, we may in our lives better appreciate the words and pauses of the Mass – words like, “blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”