In silence we find God, we discover who we are and we equip ourselves for a meaningful life, Cardinal Robert Cardinal Sarah of Guinea said March 12 to an overflow crowd of 1,200. Photo by Michael Swan

Cardinal Sarah delivers a quiet message at St. Michael's Cathedral

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  • March 13, 2018
One of the Church’s most outspoken leaders urged a rapt audience in St. Michael’s Cathedral to embrace silence and be alert to the danger of filling their days with constant news and distraction.

In silence we find God, we discover who we are and we equip ourselves for a meaningful life, Cardinal Robert Cardinal Sarah of Guinea said March 12 to an overflow crowd of 1,200.

“An awesome task is given to us, a difficult task,” said the African cardinal. “Every one of us is given the task to live freely, to live with dignity.”

His lecture had originally been scheduled for St. Basil’s Church on the campus of the University of St. Michael’s College, but the free, online tickets were quickly snapped up and it became apparent the church was too small to meet the demand.

The leader of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship has built a huge and loyal following with three books Christ's New Homeland — Africa; God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith, and most recently The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise

Sarah has also made news with pronouncements on liturgy which have not always agreed with Pope Francis. At a 2016 liturgical conference in England he encouraged priests to celebrate Mass ad orientem (with their backs to the assembly), prompting a clarification from the Vatican’s press office. In 2017 his office released a commentary on Pope Francis’ motu proprio in which Sarah seemed to dispute the Pope’s decision to remove the authority over liturgical translations from Sarah’s office and restore it to conferences of bishops. Sarah was subsequently corrected by Pope Francis himself in a public letter to the cardinal.



But Monday night’s lecture left the liturgy wars aside and concentrated on the message of the cardinal’s most recent book on the importance of silence in our spiritual lives. He laid out precisely how a Christian can acquire the freedom, dignity and will to discover a deeper life in Christ. The one tool at every Christian’s disposal must be silence, Sarah said.

“When we retreat from the noise of the world in silence, we gain a new perspective on the noise of the world,” he said. “To retreat into silence is to come to know ourselves, to know our dignity.”

Silence is the space that allows God into our lives, said the cardinal.

“If we give ourselves to ephemeral and insignificant things we will understand ourselves as ephemeral and insignificant. If we give ourselves to beautiful and eternal things we will understand ourselves as beautiful and eternal,” he said.

The evening began with vespers led by Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins, with a pair of seminarians destined for ordination in May at his side, all in Lenten purple.

Though university students were a minority in the crowd, Sarah had prepared his remarks for a youthful audience. He challenged students to abandon their smartphones and other distractions and discover prayer and contemplation in silence.

He quoted Pope Francis, who in a 2013 homily said, “A sonorous thread of silence: this is how the Lord draws near, with that sound of silence that belongs to love.”

“How can we be silent together in a way that can be fruitful for our common life?” Sarah asked. “For a Christian it is liturgy.”

Marvels of technology have made it more difficult to know and to learn the value of silence. Sarah urged his audience to keep technology in its proper place.

“Technology is only ever a means. Technological development is never an end in itself. Technology does not satisfy our deepest desires,” he said.

“I challenge all of you, think differently about what it means to relax and unwind,” he said. “Let us not destruct ourselves. Let us seek silence, for in silence we come to know God and to know ourselves.”

Former firefighter John Neary came to the cathedral in his wheelchair, anxious to deepen his understanding of the faith.

“Be silent. Sit there and appreciate everything that God has given to us,” Neary said was the key take-away from Sarah’s lecture.

Mary Githumbi was already familiar with Sarah’s message, having readThe Power of Silence. She was grateful for what he said about the discipline necessary to discover silence.

For secular Discalced Carmelite and homeschooling mother of nine Joanne Brydson, hearing Cardinal Sarah live was “something I would not miss.”

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