Posted March 21, 2011:
Words, Words, Words

by Michael O’Brien.

If I had to choose an image to sum up our times, I would not choose from among the usual ones, such as The Technological Society, The Age of Anxiety, The Computer Generation. I would call it "The Age of Noise." For in the entire history of mankind, there has never been such a continuous bombardment of the human brain.

The ever-present background throb of machinery, the roar of traffic, the high-pitched buzz of fluorescent lights, the musak in elevators and supermarkets, herds of joggers with iPods, a gaggle of talk shows. Hyper-stimuli! Mental overload!

Plus a thousand voices are competing for our attention every day: the communications media, junk mail, candidates for political office, telephone solicitors, emails, television, the internet, chat rooms, cell phones, and so on and so on. Words, words, words! The world is drowning in chatter!

We are, moreover, bombarded by interior noise: the clamor of our anxieties and our skirmishes with the seven deadly sins and a host of lesser evils, the endless inner debates which we conduct against real or imagined enemies, and the sweet, rotten allure of the soap-operas of the fallen imagination.

And of course there is the voice of the Accuser, whispering in our ears about our sins and faults.

We turn quickly away from that voice, unable to endure more feelings of guilt in an already guilt-ridden society—a society which tells us (again through the media) that Catholics are abusers, backward, judgmental, overpopulating, patriarchal, and a menace to the environment.

Burdened with such an array of exterior and interior pressures, we can find it extremely difficult to face the objective guilt of our fallen natures. Overwhelmed, we can be deluded into choosing a less demanding form of faith, a seemingly more "compassionate" kind of Catholicism.

We can, moreover, become the creatures of a powerful conditioning mechanism, and like well-fed slaves, we can accept a sort of comfortable bondage as our lot in life.

We can gradually come to accept the torrent of noise as normal. And when the pressure becomes intolerable, we might even begin to agree with what the noise is saying.

But silence is the natural habitat of truth. Prayer is the dwelling place of right seeing. That is why we must reduce the noise in our lives.

We need moments of complete stillness, and we must take great care to make these moments for ourselves and our children.

When one is raising a family, or is otherwise living a demanding lifestyle, finding the time for silence can be very difficult.

Sometimes extended families, friends, single people can lend a hand in this. What a wonderful gift for someone to give: the gift of a day or weekend for a beleaguered mother or father to attend a retreat or take some time before the Blessed Sacrament.

But even when these are not forthcoming, we can always make short "poustinias," little "deserts" of the heart, even one-minute retreats in the midst of our busy days.

Otherwise, in the babble of voices, how shall we hear the word of truth? And if we do not have silence, how shall we even begin to recognize the voice of truth when we hear it?

Yet even in these days, truth is accessible. Our teachers and prophets are speaking. The universal Church under Peter has given us the magnificent Catechism of the Catholic Church, which continues to be an anchor in an increasingly unstable universe.

The Church is the one voice in this world that speaks the whole truth about man, and it does so in a spirit of love.

The Catechism is a rich resource, intended for families, parishes, and dioceses. It will strengthen us in our understanding of genuine absolutes, of the fundamental, ultimate, unqualified truths that are independent of the ebb and flow of opinions, fashions, myths, and prejudices.

God has also given us remarkable popes, popes who speak from the heart at precisely the moment in history when man has begun to falter in a kind of global fear.

Pope John Paul II, for example, wrote an extraordinary encyclical, The Splendor of Truth, which calls us to grow in humility and reverence for the Truth.

He said that we are in the midst of a grave crisis, yet he called us to total confidence in the saving power of Jesus Christ. He also taught that our freedom is vitally connected to knowing what is true and that we must build our lives upon this sure foundation.

What a gift popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI are in our search for truth among the babbling voices! Both have written voluminously on an amazing range of topics, and in the case of Benedict, new talks and writings on current issues are coming out continuously.

In these, he is continually calling us to serious reflection on the condition of the world in our times, and on our need for repentance.

Lent is a time of making changes, of turning our lives to Jesus Christ once more. He stands ever ready, at every moment, no matter how loud our noise or our confusions or our discouragement, to restore us to himself.

Michael O’Brien, our friend and neighbor, is an artist and writer. His novels are available from Ignatius Press.


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