'Silence is a gift': Cardinal Dolan recalls Christmas Eve spent alone

In a Christmas interview, Cardinal Timothy Dolan talked to TODAY's Matt Lauer about the spirit of the season, and reflected on holidays past in a special essay for

It was my first Christmas as archbishop of Milwaukee, back in 2002, and Christmas Eve found me all by myself.

I got back to my house about 7 p.m. after a huge Christmas Eve mass at a nearby parish, and had five hours before the solemn Midnight Mass at the cathedral.

And I was alone, tempted to feel a bit sorry for myself. Isn’t this the night we’re all supposed to be with family and friends? I microwaved some chicken noodle soup Sister Laverne had left me...and decided to be quiet!

Patrick Semansky / Today
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, delivers remarks at the conference's annual fall meeting.

I went into my little cozy chapel and sat in the comfortable rocking chair. Then I lit the candles on the altar, illuminated the little tree, and took out the Bible. Glancing at the crib scene, I slowly read the story of the birth of Jesus from St. Luke’s gospel. And then, I was quiet. I prayed. I thought of past Christmases and smiled. I recalled people for whom I had promised a memento. But mostly, I was quiet.

They don’t call it "Silent Night" for nothing!

It was one of the most memorable and meaningful Christmas Eves I have ever had.

Silence is a gift we crave, a present we need, as our hectic days long for a place where no one can reach us.

The great medieval philosopher, Meister Eckhart, wrote that "The language God speaks is silence."

But, you don’t need convincing, do you? Our lives are noisy, high decibel, unrelenting cacophony. We long for those moments when "all is calm, all is bright."

I remember an early lesson. I must have been seven or eight, and was finally coaxed to bed that Christmas Eve so that "Santa Claus could come." Like most other kids, it was hard to sleep. Besides, in our little house, I would hear the commotion — the gift wrapping and assembling of toys — in the nearby living room.

When I thought the coast was clear, and mom and dad had gone to sleep, I snuck in to get a preview of what Santa had left for next morning. There sat mom and dad, close together on the couch, lights — except for those on the tree — all out. The two of them just smiling peacefully, eyes closed, silent, enjoying being quiet near each other, the presents all ready for us kids the next morning.

How weird!

Why aren’t they talking? Why don’t they have TV or some records on? That’s what I wondered as I snuck back to bed.

Now I know. They wanted silence. It’s a great Christmas gift!

A blessed, quiet Christmas! A "silent night, holy night."