As Pope Benedict XVI prepared in early July to retreat outside of Rome for the summer, he highlighted the critical importance for modern Christians of actively seeking silence. It is only in silence that Christians can hear God’s voice, and become aware of others’ needs and of the beauty of nature, he said. 

Here are some key passages of his words, delivered in a homily during a visit to Sulmona in central Italy to mark the eighth centenary of the birth of St. Celestine V, a hermit known as Pietro del Morrone who resigned the papacy five months after being elected: 

Silence became the element that characterized his daily life. And it is precisely in external silence, but above all in internal silence, that he succeeded in perceiving God’s voice, a voice that was able to guide his life.  

Here is a first aspect that is important for us: We live in a society in which every space, every moment seems to need to be “filled” with initiatives, with activities, with sounds; often there is not even time to listen or dialogue. Dear brothers and sisters! Let us not be afraid to make silence outside and inside ourselves, if we want to be able not only to perceive the voice of God but also the voice of the person next to us, and the voices of others. 

But it is also important to underline a second element: The discovery of the Lord that Pietro Angelerio made is not a result of an effort, but is made possible with God’s own grace, which preceded it. That what he had, that what he was, did not come from himself: It was given to him, it was grace, and it was therefore also a responsibility before God and others. Even if our own life is very different, the same thing goes for us: Everything essential in our existence was given to us without our provision. The fact that I live does not depend on me, the fact that there were persons who introduced me into life, who taught me what it means to love and be loved, who transmitted the Faith to me and opened my eyes to God: All this is grace and is not “done by me.” By ourselves, we could not have been able to do anything unless it had not been given to us: God always anticipates us and in every single life there are things that are beautiful and good that we easily can recognize as his grace, like rays of light of his goodness. 

For this we must be attentive, always keeping open our “interior eyes,” those of our heart. And if we learn to know God in his infinite goodness, we will then be able to see, with amazement, in our life — like the saints — the signs of that God, who is always near to us, who is always good with us, who tells us: “Have faith in me!” 

In interior silence, in the perception of the presence of the Lord, Pietro del Morrone additionally matured an experience of the beauty of creation, the work of the hands of God: He was able to grasp its profound meaning, he respected its signs and rhythms, he used it for what is essential to life. ... 

I exhort all to feel responsible for their own future as well as that of others, including respecting and serving as custodian of creation, the fruit and sign of God’s love.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor