In just a few short days, we will celebrate the Savior’s birth. These are days we will most likely dedicate to working, planning, shopping, wrapping, prepping, cooking, eating, and cleaning. For some, peace and quiet are all but forgotten between Thanksgiving and New Years’. Sure, there are things we would like to get done and gifts which ought to get wrapped, but what is there to be done when we ourselves are wrapped up in these expectations? It can be hard to find Christ amid the tinsel and the toil. Where might we discover him? We will find Him in the silence.
From the earliest days of the Church even to our own age, men and women religious have sought Christ by fleeing the world to be alone with him in a sacred silence. Like doves in the clefts of rocks (Song 2:14), monks found caves or built little huts called “cells” where they could stay all day long and pray. They have gone to deserts, mountains, or forests seeking a peaceful place to remain, finding there the quiet of solitude. Without the buzz of busy-ness (or the lights and noise that are all but inescapable today), they are better able to concentrate on weeding out every fault and opening up their lives to the Word of God.
For those not called to the eremitic life, we need to find other places to take refuge and to rest. Retreats or parish missions may offer a renewed vigor and zeal to the love of God and neighbor. Throughout the world the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in tabernacles so that the faithful might come before Jesus in adoration and supplication. We can even set up our own little oratory in the corner of a room to keep as a sanctuary in the home. The tranquility of these places, however, can still be restless if one lacks quiet and serenity in the heart. True peace in the soul, which only Christ can give, is the source of peace in the rest of life.
Following Jesus’ instruction in Matthew’s Gospel to pray behind the closed door of your room (Matt. 6:6), St. Catherine of Siena developed in her inmost self a secret, interior cell. She compares her spirit to the dwelling of a monk. In our souls, we can establish our own little chapel of the heart where we can find rest, prayer, and nourishment. Weekly or daily Communion, regular Confession, spiritual reading, and growth in self-knowledge maintain a purity and power in this sanctuary of the heart. St. Ambrose of Milan gives this advice, “Maintain this house, sweep out its secret recesses until it becomes immaculate and rises as a spiritual temple for a holy priesthood, firmly secured by Christ, the cornerstone, so that the Holy Spirit may dwell in it.” Someone who is on a train, in a store, or in their kitchen can at once be in their interior cell where Christ is ever present.
Momentary escapes from exterior noise to this interior chapel help lead to and nourish a habit of prayer and peace. Certain things, like finding a quiet place or regular time to pray, will dispose us to that rest in Christ and enable us to focus on loving God and seeking His will. Regardless of whether there are kids hanging from arms or meetings clogging up calendars, a visit to the quiet of this cell takes no more than the blink of an eye to beg the Holy Spirit to send his grace and peace. For blessings, too, might a prayer of praise and thanksgiving be offered when beside a fire, chatting with loved ones, or gazing out on a snowy evening.
Image: A Carthusian