THE LOVE OF SOLITUDE AND SILENCE
SEEK a suitable time for leisure and meditate often on the
favors of God. Leave curiosities alone. Read such matters as bring
sorrow to the heart rather than occupation to the mind. If you
withdraw yourself from unnecessary talking and idle running about,
from listening to gossip and rumors, you will find enough time that is
suitable for holy meditation.
Very many great saints avoided the company of men wherever
possible and chose to serve God in retirement. "As often as I have
been among men," said one writer, "I have returned less a man." We
often find this to be true when we take part in long conversations. It
is easier to be silent altogether than not to speak too much. To stay
at home is easier than to be sufficiently on guard while away. Anyone,
then, who aims to live the inner and spiritual life must go apart,
with Jesus, from the crowd.
No man appears in safety before the public eye unless he first
relishes obscurity. No man is safe in speaking unless he loves to be
silent. No man rules safely unless he is willing to be ruled. No man
commands safely unless he has learned well how to obey. No man
rejoices safely unless he has within him the testimony of a good
More than this, the security of the saints was always enveloped
in the fear of God, nor were they less cautious and humble because
they were conspicuous for great virtues and graces. The security of
the wicked, on the contrary, springs from pride and presumption, and
will end in their own deception.
Never promise yourself security in this life, even though you
seem to be a good religious, or a devout hermit. It happens very often
that those whom men esteem highly are more seriously endangered by
their own excessive confidence. Hence, for many it is better not to be
too free from temptations, but often to be tried lest they become too
secure, too filled with pride, or even too eager to fall back upon
If only a man would never seek passing joys or entangle himself
with worldly affairs, what a good conscience he would have. What great
peace and tranquillity would be his, if he cut himself off from all
empty care and thought only of things divine, things helpful to his
soul, and put all his trust in God.
No man deserves the consolation of heaven unless he
persistently arouses himself to holy contrition. If you desire true
sorrow of heart, seek the privacy of your cell and shut out the uproar
of the world, as it is written: "In your chamber bewail your sins."
There you will find what too often you lose abroad.
Your cell will become dear to you if you remain in it, but if
you do not, it will become wearisome. If in the beginning of your
religious life, you live within your cell and keep to it, it will soon
become a special friend and a very great comfort.
In silence and quiet the devout soul advances in virtue and
learns the hidden truths of Scripture. There she finds a flood of
tears with which to bathe and cleanse herself nightly, that she may
become the more intimate with her Creator the farther she withdraws
from all the tumult of the world. For God and His holy angels will
draw near to him who withdraws from friends and acquaintances.
It is better for a man to be obscure and to attend to his
salvation than to neglect it and work miracles. It is praiseworthy for
a religious seldom to go abroad, to flee the sight of men and have no
wish to see them.
Why wish to see what you are not permitted to have? "The world
passes away and the concupiscence thereof." Sensual craving sometimes
entices you to wander around, but when the moment is past, what do you
bring back with you save a disturbed conscience and heavy heart? A
happy going often leads to a sad return, a merry evening to a mournful
dawn. Thus, all carnal joy begins sweetly but in the end brings
remorse and death.
What can you find elsewhere that you cannot find here in your
cell? Behold heaven and earth and all the elements, for of these all
things are made. What can you see anywhere under the sun that will
remain long? Perhaps you think you will completely satisfy yourself,
but you cannot do so, for if you should see all existing things, what
would they be but an empty vision?
Raise your eyes to God in heaven and pray because of your sins
and shortcomings. Leave vanity to the vain. Set yourself to the things
which God has commanded you to do. Close the door upon yourself and
call to you Jesus, your Beloved. Remain with Him in your cell, for
nowhere else will you find such peace. If you had not left it, and had
not listened to idle gossip, you would have remained in greater peace.
But since you love, sometimes, to hear news, it is only right that you
should suffer sorrow of heart from it.
Of the love of solitude and silence
Seek a suitable time for thy meditation, and
think frequently of the mercies of God to thee. Leave curious
questions. Study such matters as bring thee sorrow for sin rather
than amusement. If thou withdraw thyself from trifling conversation
and idle goings about, as well as from novelties and gossip, thou
shalt find thy time sufficient and apt for good meditation. The
greatest saints used to avoid as far as they could the company of men,
and chose to live in secret with God.
2. One hath said, "As oft as I have gone among
men, so oft have I returned less a man." This is what we often
experience when we have been long time in conversation. For it is
easier to be altogether silent than it is not to exceed in word. It
is easier to remain hidden at home than to keep sufficient guard upon
thyself out of doors. He, therefore, that seeketh to reach that which
is hidden and spiritual, must go with Jesus "apart from the
multitude." No man safely goeth abroad who loveth not to rest at
home. No man safely talketh but he who loveth to hold his peace. No
man safely ruleth but he who loveth to be subject. No man safely
commandeth but he who loveth to obey.
3. No man safely rejoiceth but he who hath the
testimony of a good conscience within himself. The boldness of the
Saints was always full of the fear of God. Nor were they the less
earnest and humble in themselves, because they shone forth with great
virtues and grace. But the boldness of wicked men springeth from
pride and presumption, and at the last turneth to their own
confusion. Never promise thyself security in this life, howsoever
good a monk or devout a solitary thou seemest.
4. Often those who stand highest in the esteem of
men, fall the more grievously because of their over great confidence.
Wherefore it is very profitable unto many that they should not be
without inward temptation, but should be frequently assaulted, lest
they be over confident, lest they be indeed lifted up into pride, or
else lean too freely upon the consolations of the world. O how good a
conscience should that man keep, who never sought a joy that passeth
away, who never became entangled with the world! O how great peace
and quiet should he possess, who would cast off all vain care, and
think only of healthful and divine things, and build his whole hope
5. No man is worthy of heavenly consolation but
he who hath diligently exercised himself in holy compunction. If thou
wilt feel compunction within thy heart, enter into thy chamber and
shut out the tumults of the world, as it is written, Commune with your
own heart in your own chamber and be still.(1) In retirement thou
shalt find what often thou wilt lose abroad. Retirement, if thou
continue therein, groweth sweet, but if thou keep not in it, begetteth
weariness. If in the beginning of thy conversation thou dwell in it
and keep it well, it shall afterwards be to thee a dear friend, and a
most pleasant solace.
6. In silence and quiet the devout soul goeth
forward and learneth the hidden things of the Scriptures. Therein
findeth she a fountain of tears, wherein to wash and cleanse herself
each night, that she may grow the more dear to her Maker as she
dwelleth the further from all worldly distraction. To him who
withdraweth himself from his acquaintance and friends God with his
holy angels will draw nigh. It is better to be unknown and take heed
to oneself than to neglect oneself and work wonders. It is
praiseworthy for a religious man to go seldom abroad, to fly from
being seen, to have no desire to see men.
7. Why wouldest thou see what thou mayest not
have? The world passeth away and the lust thereof. The desires of
sensuality draw thee abroad, but when an hour is past, what dost thou
bring home, but a weight upon thy conscience and distraction of heart?
A merry going forth bringeth often a sorrowful return, and a merry
evening maketh a sad morning? So doth all carnal joy begin
pleasantly, but in the end it gnaweth away and destroyeth. What canst
thou see abroad which thou seest not at home? Behold the heaven and
the earth and the elements, for out of these are all things made.
8. What canst thou see anywhere which can
continue long under the sun? Thou believest perchance that thou shalt
be satisfied, but thou wilt never be able to attain unto this. If
thou shouldest see all things before thee at once, what would it be
but a vain vision? Lift up thine eyes to God on high, and pray that
thy sins and negligences may be forgiven. Leave vain things to vain
men, and mind thou the things which God hath commanded thee. Shut thy
door upon thee, and call unto thyself Jesus thy beloved. Remain with
Him in thy chamber, for thou shalt not elsewhere find so great peace.
If thou hadst not gone forth nor listened to vain talk, thou hadst
better kept thyself in good peace. But because it sometimes
delighteth thee to hear new things, thou must therefore suffer trouble