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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Silence, Judgment and Freedom

Contemplative prayer flows from and leads to worship of the Living God, and somewhere in this great moment, we learn to live. Christian prayer, when offered in this context, is never an escape from the voice of our conscience but a coming to terms, a necessary change of heart, a surrender to the power of God. This unfolds in Revelations 8:1 when silence is observed in heaven: "When the Lamb broke open the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about a half an hour" (NAB).

This celestial silence is alway before us, and it would be reductionistic to presume that it is only a mystery of the future. We are meant to anticipate its mystery now. Contemplative prayer lives in the thanksgiving and adoration of the Eucharist. After receiving Holy Communion, we should keep a brief a period of silence that is open to this heavenly silence. We should also allow the silence of Eucharistic Adoration to take us into this same great stillness. If someone discovers this silence after pondering the Bible, it is because the Word of God is the pathway that leads into it. The holiness of the saints is filled with this same silence for the silence of heaven searches out and finds the Lamb who was slain only to humble itself before what He reveals. The silence of St. John is occasioned by the opening of the seventh seal. The Seventh Seal, as did the seventh day of creation, represents the final seal of God's plan. Before the coming of Christ, we could not know the ultimate destiny of the heavens and the earth. The Lamb who offered Himself for us reveals the definitive judgment of God. His wounds concern the world and sin, humanity and its integrity, man and woman before God, the Blood from above that falls on all that is below, and the failure of what is below to respond to what has come from above. The silence of heaven is not empty or meaningless. It is receptive and responsive, and this receptivity to the Word overthrows all the powers of hostility to God in the world below, turning them upside down, purifying the world of them for the sake of new life. Trumpet blast after trumpet blast fills the silence in St. John's Apocalypse. The seventh seal is followed by seven angels blowing seven trumpets: an image of the Eternal Sabbath, a culmination of God's plan, a judgment, a blessing, and the definitive decision in which lives the completion of His saving work. In the end, as it is now, it will be on earth as it is in heaven. This should make us tremble: for what ought to be already is whether we are aware of it or not. We live as if this were not so unto our own peril. The great silence and the sound of trumpet are not a remote realities to be avoided by cleverness or luck. They are to be sought, longed for, hoped for. Whether by the Rosary or Lectio Divina, spiritual exercises or a sudden grace that seizes our hearts, contemplative prayer takes us into this moment, and the liturgy of the Church teaches us to remain there. The worship of the Church takes us out of the work-a-day world, out of the exigencies of the moment, out of the limits of time and into the solemn moment where heaven adores the Lamb. We may not be aware of it but that stillness that haunts every moment of our lives and serves as the forgotten backdrop of our existence. There is great jubilation and thanksgiving before the Lamb because His risen humanity surrounded by the saints is a sign that our sinfulness does not get the last word about where we stand with the Father. Liturgy, our service for the Church and the world, makes that joy known on earth. This great work of prayer enters into the sanctuary not made by hands because it lives in the Body of Christ. The Risen Lord stands before the Father on our behalf because He has loved us to the end and this is why only He can unseal the final judgment on our existence. To enter into the throng of heaven is a super moment of supreme love, a completely humbling instance of eternity in which the truth of our hearts is laid bare as the heart of Love Himself definitively bares Himself to us. The proper response to this definitive moment of God's work is reverence and awe in adoration, bowed and prostrate. Let the lips quiver and the tears flow, for until now we have not yet lived. We have avoided life in a sea of contradictions, afraid of the truth, fearful of who God is and who we are in His presence. His judgment is ever before us, and we, until this moment indifferent, have not let it into our hearts as we know we should. So, let it in! Open wide the doors to Christ ... there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. Fear is useless ... only trust and confidence in Him can save us. Now is the time to repent and to reconcile, for the silence in which we find ourselves, that very silence into which lead every humble prayer and hopeful cry of petition, is a silence that resounds with truth telling, soul saving and peace establishing trumpet blasts from heaven. And before this fullness of love and life, nothing is ever the same again. Yet to have this so close but to continue on as if nothing were to change, as if everything would continue on as it always has, this is to cling to a perilous illusion, a dehumanizing myth. It will not stand. In the vigilant humble silence that angelic trumpet blasts fill, all illusion is unmasked and the sense of security into which we lulled ourselves is dispelled. Here, we find ourselves deciding on our role in the great drama of life, the true story that the heavens tell, the primal story from which all stories worth telling are taken: God's saving plan. Cain or Abel? Abraham or Lot? Moses or Pharaoh? Myth, magic thinking and resistance to the voice of God mark the storyline of Pharaoh. Faith, obedience and holiness open the path of Moses and the Prophets. Myths of men appeal to the imagination and stir hubris, but cannot bear the weight of our existence. Faith in God challenges the heart and offers the only firm ground on which freedom is found. We hear His voice for the Word became flesh and dwells among us. Our created silence rings with His great uncreated canticle and this changes everything, even the doubts and questions we face. His fire blazes and the bush of creation is not consumed: will we take off our shoes and listen to His voice? In that silence, not to be changed, to be indifferent to the call of truth, this is already to be plagued with scorching hail, burning sea, torched rivers, and darkened skies. Yet relief is swift if we contritely confess our sins and offer acts of penance in thanksgiving for the mercy of God. The image of Revelations 8 unveil the crisis and hope of our lives: prayers and petitions rise up to heaven while a hot censer of coals is hurled to earth. Thundering angelic trumpet blasts over earth fill the silence of heaven. Catastrophe and salvation together in invincible movement, unavoidable certainty, that final reckoning, that eternal setting things straight. Injustice shall not continue as it has: we may be saved from it or perish with it. Grace makes this great self-defining act possible, even if our choice is not to choose, and we live or die with the consequences of our free decision because our liberty before God is taken serious by all of heaven. How I hope that you and I will always choose God, and find each other in Him! Whatever we decide, the heaven sent plagues that liberated the People of God from Egypt will liberate the Church from the arrogant. Christ is the New Adam, the New Moses: pillars of fire on land and sea will open a way forward now as they did for Moses - no demonic undercurrent, no earthly power, not even heaven can stop Him. Enslavement, oppression and manipulation will be confronted by the justice of the Most High until the Children of God, safe from every abuse and self-contradiction, are free at last to worship Him and to live life to the full.

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