In her essay The Church and the Fiction Writer, Flannery O’Connor lays out an argument for why it is okay for Catholic novelists to abide by the laws of fiction and write stories that are compelling, dramatic, maybe even grotesque. The reason is because the laws of drama cannot be subverted in order to achieve a false and undeserved conclusion. Grace perfects nature, it does not dispense with it. Christ appeared within the laws of human nature to redeem it, not destroy it.

Here is what she wrote:

We lost our innocence in the Fall and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence.’

There is a lesson here for the spiritual life: Our participation in Christ’s redemption is a ‘slow participation,’ like O’Connor says, and we cannot subvert that process to pretend we’re in a state of holiness when we’re not. That is a mock and sentimental faith, not one that has undergone the slow process of purification and divinisation.

It’s important to take this idea of a ‘slow participation’ to heart as Melbourne opens up from the world’s longest lockdown. As the sacraments become more frequently available and the habits of life are reacquainted with, it’s important not to simply return to the speed and busyness and chaos modern life was marked by prior to lockdown.

The experience of lockdown is one of a slower existence; a cloistered, cramped and claustrophobic existence at times, absolutely, but also a slower one. It has been pointed out by many writers of wisdom that one of the great ailments of modern life is the speed at which we live. There are so many demands and obligations on us, so much to keep us busy, that we live a deeply distracted and fragmented existence. One of our most pressing needs of modern existence is to rediscover the contemplative centre around which our life should revolve: the person of Jesus Christ.

Gathered here are five quotes from spiritual masters on the themes of silence, slowness, and simplicity. As Melbourne opens up, spend some time in reflection on these wise words. Opening up might be necessary, but slowing down remains even more necessary.

Romano Guardini, from The Lord:

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. Spiritual conception happens when the heart is quickened by love, and the free will stirs to action. The silent forces are the strong forces. Let us turn now to the stillest event of all, stillest because it came from the remoteness beyond the noise of any possible intrusion – from God.’

Thomas Merton, from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.’

Pope John Paul II, from Evangelium Vitae

We need first of all to foster, in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a ‘wonder’ (cf. Ps 139:14). It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image. This outlook does not give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at death’s door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity’ (§83).

Cardinal Robert Sarah, from The Power of Silence:

Today, in a highly technological, busy world, how can we find silence? Noise wearies us, and we get the feeling that silence has become an unreachable oasis. How many people are obliged to work in a chaos that distresses and dehumanises them? Cities have become noisy furnaces in which even nights are not spared the assault of noise. Without noise, postmodern man falls into a dull, insistent, uneasiness. He is accustomed to permanent background noise, which sickens yet reassures him. Without noise, man is feverish, lost. Noise gives him security, like a drug on which he has become dependent. With its festive appearance, noise is a whirlwind that avoids facing itself … Mankind must join a sort of resistance movement. What will become of our world if it does not look for intervals of silence? Interior rest and harmony can flow only from silence. Without it, life does not exist. The greatest mysteries of the world are born and unfold in silence.’

Dietrich von Hildebrand, from Transformation in Christ:

The more our life is permeated by God, the simpler it becomes. This simplicity is defined by the inward unity which our life assumes because we no longer seek for any but one end: God. No longer do we judge things from different points of view, from that of our temporal interests, for example, or of the interests of others, or of our consideration for public opinion, and in addition to these, from that of our consideration for God’s will, as though all these points of view were on a level with each other. One supreme point of view governs our entire life and in subordination to that point of view all else is judged and settled.’