A Word From the Fellows

March 07 | Matt Nelson

Silence and the Evangelist

Silence and solitude are the mediums within which the Spirit-driven evangelist is prepared and sent.

Before we are evangelists, we are philosophers. Although we are essentially rational creatures compelled by our God-given nature to navigate the world with logic, we present-day human beings have become inept at being what we are. We are by design philosophical animals; but we have become progressively bad at philosophizing, at least in so far as doing real philosophy entails “the love of wisdom.” No culture in human history has been less in love with wisdom than ours.

We live in the era dominated by relativism, deconstructionism, and radical determinism, all of which at bottom renounce logos as the foundational adhesive that holds all of what is good and true and wise together. These are anti-philosophies. They make logic the enemy; they renounce the objective truth-bearing power of rational argument; and they often do so by wielding something suspiciously like the thing they renounce.

Monsignor Robert Sokolowski teaches us that philosophy—the love of wisdom—is the art of making distinctions. To do philosophy, then, is to peel back all the fine layers of reality and contemplate how they are different and how they cohere. If we love wisdom, then, we will take care to make the distinctions that will make us wise. 

What is the difference between solitude and silence? Here now is a distinction worth pondering. More than simply worth pondering, however, it is also a distinction that should foster practical wisdom. It should move us to action.

We experience silence when we isolate our minds from the input of other minds (and things) for the sake of prayer.

We experience solitude when we isolate our minds from the input of other minds (and things) for the sake of thought.

Both of these practices are essential for every evangelist in a world dominated by what Robert Cardinal Sarah has called “the dictatorship of noise.”

All silence occurs in solitude. Only once we can think can we hear. And only once we can hear can we pray. “True,” says Catherine Doherty in Poustinia, “silence is sometimes the absence of speech—but it is always the act of listening.” Neither solitude nor silence is pure passivity. In solitude, we are always active as we ponder the underlying identities and relations conferred upon the world by a God who is truth itself (John 1:1; 14:6). In silence, we are ever active as we pierce the temporal veil and enter into conversation with the infinite God. 

St. Josemaria Escriva does not coddle us in our spiritual slovenliness and addiction to noise. He challenges us with a question:

You seek the company of friends who, with their conversation and affection, with their friendship, make the exile of this world more bearable for you. There is nothing wrong with that, although friends sometimes let you down.

But how is it you don’t frequent daily with greater intensity the company, the conversation, of the great Friend, who never lets you down? 

In solitude, the evangelist bolsters his intellectual armory so that he might grow in holiness. For you cannot love what you don’t know; and the more you know about God, the more you can love about him. Moreover, solitude poises the evangelist for proposition, argument, and eloquence, while never compromising on charity.

In silence, the evangelist is sanctified. Without this, he builds his house on sand. Without silence and the sturdy foundation of grace it avails, the evangelist destines himself to fail in serving Christ as he ought. 

So, seek solitude. Seek silence. Do it now.