Many of us enjoy coming to church for a number of reasons. Not only do we get a chance to be closer to God, but we also get to see some of our friends, people that we have known perhaps for a long time, which gives us a chance to catch up on what is going on in each other’s lives. Some people come to church to be able to serve in one way or another: singing in the choir, assisting at Mass in one or more ways, even cleaning during the quiet times when the church is empty. But most importantly, we come to church not for ourselves, not for our friends or for something to do. We come to church for God.
A friend of mine told me that years ago, one of the things that she brings to church in addition to a prayer book and a rosary was a set of ear plugs. EAR PLUGS? Yes, she told me. She comes to church and wants to spend some quality time with God. And try as she might, inevitably someone walks in and begins talking in a loud voice, or yelling across the church at a friend, and there is distraction from her listening to God.
Unfortunately, I would have to tell her that our church is the same. I am often stunned by the high level of noise coming from people’s voices before Mass. Talking, even yelling at one another, as if they were in the playground. The church is a sacred space, a place where many people come to talk…to God. Not to you. I wish that we treated our sanctuary as a sacred place, a place reserved for silence and mystery and reverence and prayer. I realize that our gathering space is small and the space is limited, and especially during the cold winter months, it is not easy to stand outside while we chit chat. However I often look around, both before Mass and afterwards, and see the individuals, struggling to remain in silence, while others around them carry on conversations, and not in whispering voices.
The church is not just another large room, a hall or movie theater. There is something different here, something worthy of worship. The silence of a church isn’t a fearful silence of a slave before his or her master; it’s the stunned silence of an adopted child basking in his Father’s love. It’s a soul washed clean standing before her Lord, gasping, “See what love!” The silence demanded by God’s sanctuary is one of gratitude, of intimacy mingled with awe.
So I invite you, friends, to take your conversations outside. If someone starts chatting with you, encourage him or her (in a whisper) to join you in the gathering space. Before Mass begins, kneel and pray in silence as a witness to the power of a silent sanctuary. Perhaps the people around you will be struck by your reverence and recognize more fully the God who is present to us in the tabernacle. You may find that your example draws other people to silent prayer, too.