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A Sound of Sheer Silence

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time


‘... He went up the mountain by Himself to pray.’

Matthew 14:23

Dear Family in Christ,

In 1985, cultural critic Neil Postman wrote a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. Here’s an excerpt I found extremely insightful:

‘We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.’

That was written almost four decades ago, before the internet and smartphones and whatever other distractions loom large in our world today. Our readings this Sunday provide a violent rebellion against the tendency to ‘amuse ourselves to death’: silence. Not empty, vacuous silence, but prayerful silence, filled with the presence of God. Elijah encounters God on a mountain, and Jesus leaves the crowds behind and climbs a mountain to be alone with His father.

My dear brothers and sisters, we need to fight for this kind of silence. Mountains may be scarce here in Niagara Falls, but our parish has a great treasure in our adoration chapel. It’s open 24/7, it’s quiet, and most importantly, Jesus is there waiting for you and me. He waits for us to put down our phones, turn off the television, and just be with Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If you’re new at this, it might feel strange at first. But if you keep showing up, even just for 5 minutes, I promise you your life will change. Time in the chapel has become for me like coming up for air, or finding the calm amidst the storm. I pray each of us could experience the presence of Jesus in this way.

God love you,

Father Daniel

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