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Silence after Compline

Sunday, July 21, 2024
Chapter 42

Monastics should diligently cultivate silence at all times, but especially at night. Accordingly, this will always be the arrangement whether for fast days or for ordinary days. When there are two meals, all will sit together immediately after rising from supper. Someone should read from the Conference or the Lives of the early Church writers or at any rate something else that will benefit the hearers, but not the Heptateuch or the Books of Kings, because it will not be good for those of weak understanding to hear these writings at that hour; they should be read at other times.

On fast days there is to be a short interval between Vespers and the reading of the Conferences, as we have indicated. Then let four or five pages be read, or as many as time permits. This reading period will allow for all to come together, in case any were engaged in assigned tasks. When all have assembled, they should pray Compline; and on leaving Compline, no one will be permitted to speak further. If monastics are found to transgress this rule of silence, they must be subjected to severe punishment, except on occasions when guests require attention or the prioress or abbot wishes to give someone a command, but even this is to be done with the utmost seriousness and proper restraint.

Silence has two functions. The first effect of exterior silence is to develop a sense of interior peace. The second value of silence is that it provides the stillness that enables the ear of the heart to hear the God who is "not in the whirlwind."

The constantly blaring record player, the slammed door, the ceaseless, empty chatter in the hall, the constantly harsh voice, all break the peace of the heart and agitate the soul. Day after day, month after month of them thickens the walls of the mind until it becomes impossible to hear the talk within us that shows us our pain and opens our mind to the truths of life and the presence of God.

Silence is not enough, however. Benedict wants night to rest our spirits as well as our bodies. He wants to send us to bed with instruction on the gentle Word of God, not on the scriptural history narratives with their blood and struggles, so that the stresses of the day can be softened by the thoughts of something beyond them.

We live with noise pollution now and find silence a great burden, a frightening possibility. Muzak fills our elevators and radios are set into wrist watches and TV's blare from every room in the house from morning till night. We say we do not have the time to think but what we actually lack is the quiet to think. Yet, until we are able to have at least a little silence every day, both outside and in, both inside and out, we have no hope of coming to know either God or ourselves very well.