Our capacity for God

October 16, 2012

Not too long ago my nieces and nephews invited me to go on a camping trip with them and their parents. Though I enjoy nature, I remember my classmates in the seminary used to call me the “city boy.” I love the comfort of my own pillows in the air-conditioned room with the convenience of TV, computer and cell phone. But at the time, I was curious as to what it would be like for a city boy like me to go on a camping trip with a group of even more city people. 

We arrived at the camping area in Big Bend National Park late in the afternoon, but early enough to be able to set up our tents while the sun was still out. Then we cooked dinner and enjoyed our meal. But we did not know what to do after that. Back in the city if we had that kind of free time, we would probably go out to a movie, listen to music and play video games together. We did not even have electricity where we were and the cell phones were out range. We decided to go to sleep early.

I wanted to sleep well the first night to recharge, so I stayed alone in my own tent. But I could not get myself to sleep on the hard ground without my pillows and blanket. I wished I had my computer with Internet access or at least that my phone would have enough battery charge so I could play the games in it. I missed the city lights and the many things I could have done back in Houston. I felt so uncomfortable and irritable. At some point during the night in my misery, I was given a moment of grace. I came to realize how dependent I was on the noises of the city, especially of technology, and how restless my soul was. I remembered once reading in the seminary Francis Cardinal Van Thuan who said, “the world is afraid of silence because it exposes their emptiness and loneliness. But for those who love silence, they will discover a new beautiful world of deep intimacy with the Trinitarian God that the world cannot see” (Path of Hope 89). Ah, flooded in God’s grace, I discovered that I was actually irritated and afraid to confront my own miserable, restless self. I experienced a deep yearning in my soul, long shut out by the noises of the world, for an encounter with Lord. And in the gradual coming to peace, I felt asleep.

In the middle of the night, a bright light awakened me. It was the rays of the full moon directly above me, shining through the nets of my uncovered tent. The moon was so bright amidst so many radiant stars. Fascinated by its rare beauty, I crawled out of my tent. In the deep silence of the cool breezy night, every mountain and tree around me was covered in the golden light of the moon. Before me was the breathtaking splendor of the starry night accented by the brightly shining moon. As I was admiring the beauty of God’s creation, a thought came to me: “Dat, look at the beauty around you. Even the brightest moon and the most beautiful star in the universe cannot in any way compare to a single person in the world. For they do not have the capacity to respond in love and to engage in intimate relationship with God and with others the way we could.” In the instance of grace, I felt a deep sense of gratitude. I experienced a loving invitation to renew my time for silence and intimate encounter with the Lord.

In our world full of noises and technology, it is not easy to stay in silence. Pope Benedict XVI once commented, “Some people are no longer able to stay long in silence… Most young people seem to fill every empty moment with music and images, almost afraid to feel, in fact, this void.” I have a deep conviction that if we can help each other to grow in the capacity for prayerful silence in the midst this noisy world, we will together grow in holiness, our family will be strengthened and connected in a deep way, and many young people will be able to hear God’s compelling and gentle voice inviting them to serve in priestly and religious life. Mother Teresa once said, “In silence God listens to us; in silence He speaks to our souls. In silence we are granted the privilege of listening to His voice.” †

Father Dat Hoang is Archdiocesan Director of Vocations.