In the still of that holy night

December 21, 2013

By Christopher Gunty


To no one’s surprise, “Silent Night” consistently ranks as one of the favorite Christmas carols, in any poll (including the one on the homepage of catholicreview.org). There is something in the peaceful melody and words, in German or English, that evokes a calm serenity.

There are some who listen to the carol with disbelief, if not disdain, noting that the region around Bethlehem has rarely seen peace through the centuries. “All is calm” seems off the mark to these folks.

But the carol sets the scene where the newborn Savior can “sleep in heavenly peace.” While shepherds quake in fear, choruses of angels proclaim the good news.

Pope Francis noted recently that without some silence in preparing for Christmas, chances are people will miss an experience of the love and tenderness at the heart of the holiday.

Reflecting Dec. 12 in a homily at daily Mass, the pope noted that Elijah heard the Lord, not in the rain, storm or rushing wind, but in “a sonorous thread of silence: this is how the Lord draws near, with that sound of silence that belongs to love.”

“This is the music of the Lord’s language,” Pope Francis said. “As we prepare for Christmas, we should listen to it. … Normally Christmas is a loud feast, so it will do us good to be silent a little, in order to listen to these words of love, of great closeness, these words of tenderness.”

In these last few days before Christmas, it can be hard to find – among the cards and cookies, the parties and meal preparation – a place of stillness to prepare prayerfully for the Incarnation. But we must.

Father Andy Aaron, pastor of Holy Family in Davidsonville, recalls a Christmas, when he was about 12 years old, when silence spoke volumes to him.

Then a parishioner of St. Timothy in Chantilly, Va., he had started seventh grade at a 2,500-student school and “felt a bit overwhelmed by all of that.” One December evening, after religious education class, he wandered into the church where a beautiful, colorful Italian Nativity set, made of wood, was set up.

“It was just me in that big, dark church, and the only flickering light was from the tabernacle candle. My family did not go to church, and we were not a religious family, but I had a strong experience that evening of something I would simply call ‘beauty,’ and I felt a sense of peace and what I would later recognize to be the touch of God,” he recalled.
Father Aaron added that he looks back often to that night as one of his first real encounters with true prayer and communion with God.

The sound of trumpets heralding the tidings of Christmas can be uplifting, and I will sing the “Gloria in excelsis” with full voice at Christmas Mass. But in that church – in the darkness and stillness with only the light of the Christ in the tabernacle, the “Son of God, love’s pure light” to show the way – Father Aaron encountered the Lord. Sometimes, it’s not the trumpets that bring the voice of the Lord, but the quiet, and we need to listen to the stillness.

“It will do us great, great good,” Pope Francis says.

As you prepare your heart and home for Christmas, set aside a little bit of quiet time – so the Lord can whisper his love and tenderness to you.

May you and your loved ones have a blessed Christmas time.

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