Almost everything about life in the modern world encourages a certain shallowness—shallowness in relationships, in thought, and in interior reflection of any sort. From morning until night, we are assaulted by a stream of images and impressions, many of which are seeking to manipulate us for certain ends.
Quantity is valued over quality, and if we can do something faster, cheaper, and with fewer demands on our time and attention, we will. We substitute the richness of face-to-face contact with texting and an endless stream of ephemeral social media interactions. We demand fast and free shipping on the millions of products available to us. We purchase robots to vacuum our floors and install devices that enable us to control every device in our homes with verbal commands.
In short, we are taught by the marketplace to believe that we are entitled to everything we desire immediately and with the least amount of effort and at the lowest cost. After all, as thousands of commercials proclaim, “you deserve it.”
I want to make myself clear: I do not say all this disparage every aspect of modern life. Modernity, with all its benefits, has in some real ways enhanced our lives. I do not propose we reject every aspect of modern life. Not only would complete withdrawal be inadvisable, but it would also be nearly impossible. Like it or not, we are all ensnared in the modern way of being to various degrees. We are all consumers. It is the air we breathe.
But while I do not counsel a complete rejection of consumerist modernity, I likewise do not advise a completely uncritical embrace of it. We would do well to assess the dangers of our market-driven way of life, for they are very real.
One of the most prominent dangers we face is importing the consumerist mentality into our spiritual lives. We can easily come to believe the sanctity can be unlocked quickly and easily with a hack, a shortcut, or even a purchase—that holiness can be had without any kind of sacrifice. After all, everything else can.
Moreover, our shallow, impression-driven way of life is inimical to any real prayer life. Thousands of saints and sages testify that authentic contact with the Divine cannot be found in noise, activity, or much speaking, but only in stillness and quietness. “What we need most in order to make progress,” says St. John of the Cross, “is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.”
Silence. This is the real remedy to modernity. I can think of no better antidote to the cult of unlimited choice than this. Silence teaches patience, and patience gives birth to prayer. Silence quells our restlessness and puts us in touch with eternal values.
This silence, however, is not something you stumble into or experience accidentally. It is something you must intentionally cultivate. Each day, we should strive to find moments to pause and reflect; to remove ourselves from the steam of impressions and advertisements which only stir within us restlessness and discontent. We must seek times to be quiet before the Lord in adoration and thanksgiving, for in these moments of quiet communion lie true healing and purification.
Above all, we must remember that holiness cannot be bought. Unlike so many things available to us, it requires real effort, real sacrifice, and real desire. In other words, holiness demands the cross. And there are no shortcuts.
“The greatest things are accomplished in silence—not in the clamor and display of superficial eventfulness, but in the deep clarity of inner vision; in the almost imperceptible start of decision, in quiet overcoming and hidden sacrifice.” – Cardinal Robert Sarah
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