The Power of Silence

12.19.17  Tues. Advent – wk 3 – (II)
1st Rdg  Judges 13:  2 – 7, 24 –  25a
Gospel  Luke  1: 5 – 25

Please refer to your own Bible for the Scripture readings.


Homily:  Fr. Mike Murphy                   The Power of Silence

The Angel Gabriel said something very interesting about the mission of John, the son of Zechariah.  Listen to these words:  “He will…turn the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people for the Lord.” (Luke 5:17) Those who are “disobedient” will have the “understanding” that the “righteous” possess.  So what is it that the “righteous” understand, that those of us who are “disobedient” to God, do not understand?  We get an idea of this by looking at John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth.

St. Luke described both Zechariah and Elizabeth as “righteous in the eyes of God,” (Luke 1:6); so they are the righteous.   The first quality that Luke mentions that defines their righteousness: they observed “all the commandments” blamelessly and both were people of prayer.  Gabriel had said to Zechariah: “Your prayer has been heard.” (Luke 1:13)  The parents of John would turn to God in their need.  They spent time in communion with God in prayer, trusting in the Lord’s will for them.  At this time in their life, God’s will for them had not been to be parents.   Being childless was considered to be a curse at that time.  They had done something wrong in their life to deserve this yet they accepted the fact that she was shamed by their society.  But they knew this was God’s will for them.  And Zechariah was not bitter toward the Lord.  He did not lose his faith in God, but rather continued to serve God as a priest in the Temple.

When the angel appeared to him, Zachariah did not doubt Gabriel’s presence or even that God had sent His angel to him.  But, in his humanness, Zechariah found the promise of a son to be so incredible that he doubted the possibility.

Before we condemn Zechariah for lack of faith, think of the many times you have doubted in your lifetime – that God would do the impossible for you in your life, but He accomplished it anyway.

I understand Zechariah’s hesitancy, I’ll never be “full of grace” to understand the Virgin Mary’s absolute docility, but I do understand Zechariah.  In God’s wisdom, Zechariah was struck mute, not as a punishment  for lack of faith.  There are numerous examples throughout the Scriptures at how God punished the lack of faith of His people. The Lord could have turned Zechariah into a pillar of salt, as He did to Lot’s wife; He could have struck him with leprosy or any number of diseases.  But God chose, in His wisdom, that Zechariah would be struck mute.  Why?  This is not a punishment for lack of faith, because Luke had made it clear that Zechariah was a man of faith.  The Lord actually gave Zechariah a gift; a gift to prepare him for the birth of his son.  When God draws us into His presence, He wants us to be still and quiet before Him.  In this way we can listen to the voice of God speaking to us in our heart, so we can understand what He wants to reveal to us.   We read in Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God, exalted among the nations – exalted on the earth.”(vs.11)

So, Zechariah was given the fatherly task of forming his son, John, to be the new Elijah who would prepare the way of the Lord.  That was a pretty tall order for any dad; to prepare their son for that.  This time of silence and reflection was both a blessing and a necessity for Zechariah to train and prepare his son to pass on his knowledge of God.

Parents should understand that their prayer time is so important in their parenting.  Parents who take the time to pray daily, will find family life less stressful and discover the giftedness of family life, rather than seeing it as a burden.

Caryll Houselander was a 20th century spiritual author and she wrote: “God speaks silently, God speaks in your heart.  If your heart is noisy and chattering, you will not hear.”  If we spend too much time immersed in the noise and chatter of the world, we will become deaf to the Lord’s words and our spiritual senses become dull.  In silence the Lord filled Zechariah with confidence and joy, which is expressed in the beautiful and powerful Canticle of the birth of his son.

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,

He has come to His people and set them free.

He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,

born of the house of His servant David….

You my child shall be called the prophet of the Most High,

for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way,

to give His people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sin.”

(Luke 1:68-69, 76-77)

Zechariah was able to compose that beautiful prayer after nine months of silence in reflection and prayer.   It was a time for him to understand the role his son would have in salvation history.

Fr. Henri Nouwen wrote: “The spiritual life demands making available the inner space where God can touch you with an all transforming love…The discipline of the heart to help us let God into our heart where God can become known to us there, in the deepest recesses of our own being.” (Waiting For God: Advent Reflection and Prayer With Henri J.M. Nouwen; All Saints Press, St. Louis MO., 2010, 2013; p. 19)

How do we move our hearts from “disobedience to the understanding of the righteous”?  It is through prayer – to keep our heart attentive to what God is saying to us.  Take the time to listen to prayer.  Angels may not appear to us.  (If they do, they might give you something impossible to do).     However, the Holy Spirit does speak to us every single day.  If our lives are too noisy and distracted we will remain deaf and disobedient, lacking in “understanding of the righteous”.  Our silent communion with the Lord in prayer will fill us with the joy and confidence of the Lord that we need to face our daily crosses, our daily life.  So take time this week to quiet down as you prepare for the “Silent Night – Holy Night.”  Go to your “inner room” and close the door as Jesus instructed us during His ‘Sermon on the Mount.’

Listen with a silent heart and a peaceful heart, and the Lord might reveal to you how the impossible in your life is possible.

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.