“As the Cross of Christ demonstrates, God also speaks by his silence.
“The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word…
“God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence.”
—Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 21; Verbum Domini was Pope Benedict’s post-Synodal Exhortation, issued to summarize the results of the Bishops’ Synod on Sacred Scripture (held in Rome in October 2008) issued on September 30, 2010
Like A Mist
A quiet time in Rome, the end of February. A time of silence.
This evening in a completely empty and silent Vatican, I had the rare experience of running into a little child inside the city.
He was walking with his father near the back of the basilica. The child’s mother, a member of the basilica choir, was at choir practice, and the father and the little boy, whose name is Giuseppe, took the opportunity to walk outside. Here is a photo of them, which I took with my Iphone (apologies for the poor quality, but the main point is the presence of the father and child, like a sign of something we need to understand, and not the quality of the photo).
Outside the Vatican walls, Piazza San Pietro itself also was quiet, beneath a luminous crescent moon which hung like an exclamation point over the facade of St. Peter’s, directly above the cupola, a gemstone of shining whiteness against the black February sky…
Above the Square, in the Apostolic Palace, where Pope Benedict lives, the lights in the Pope’s window were on — he is working.
The Vatican is quiet this week because the entire city is engaged in a week-long period of Lenten Spiritual Exercises. Ordinary activity has slowed dramatically, following the bustle of the consistory.
The exercises are being preached by an African cardinal named Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, 72, a man well known in Rome, and throughout the world, for his courage in the face of political power, and for his thoughtful biblical scholarship. He is a fighter for a “culture of life” in a world that seems ever more bent on embracing a “culture of death.”
He is man whose face shines with the intensity of his inner integrity, as this photo shows:
Monsengwo is regarded by many as the pre-eminent active African Church leader. He is the first African ever to have received a doctorate in exegesis from the Pontifical Biblical Institute (he studied both in the Biblical Institute in Rome and in Jerusalem).
He is, I was told today by someone who knows him, one of the most fluent of all the Church’s cardinals in Latin; he also is an expert in biblical Greek.
Cardinal Monsengwo is the archbishop of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country that has been torn by civil war for many years.
I saw Mosengwo briefly, yesterday and today, by chance, and exchanged greetings with him.
He had just come each time from preaching to the Curia, and I was struck by the air of spiritual intensity in his expression, at once fiery, yet also serene, as if he were filled with fire of the Holy Spirit.
He said he did not wish to speak at all about the Exercises he is preaching, but I felt from his appearance, and an acknowledgment that he is tired, that he is drawing upon all of his considerable intellectual and spiritual energy to carry out his task of preaching before the Pope and the Curia.
Monsengwo has vocally defended human rights, both in Congo and the rest of Africa.
He views the human being through the Christian concept of mankind — a concept that is under attack today, as I discuss below.
He once said: “Peace goes hand in hand with justice, justice with right, right with truth… Without truth, it is difficult to ensure justice and to speak of rights… ‘In truth there is peace’ (Benedict XVI)…
“Christ is our peace, He made peace, He proclaimed peace, so that all Jews and pagans could be made one people. Not by leaving each other with their privileges and their rights, but in abolishing exclusion, in pulling down the wall of cultural and social separation, in destroying the hatred which He crucified upon the cross with his body. Jews and Gentiles are no longer foreigners, or strangers, but close friends…
“In this way, He created a new man, to reconcile them both to God and to give them access to the Father through the Spirit. It is in doing away with all these barriers, exclusion, discriminatory laws in faith and society, and especially in killing hatred that one reconciles men and peace is made.” (October 13, 2009, Synod for Africa)
Reading these words, and seeking to understand the precise character of the struggle for the faith today — for truth today, in our “post-Christian” world — I visited a Vatican monsignor and asked him what he thought the key issues are which we face.
And he made the same point Monsengwo once made: that one of the issues is the truth about man. What is man? What is good for man? What is a way of life for man, true life?
The monsignor told me that the Vatican, and Church leaders in general around the world, note with some concern that many governments today are increasingly in agreement on two matters: “gender” and “reproductive health.”
“It is less a fully articulated ideology, or a precise program, than an acquiescence in the use of language in a specific, new sense,” the monsignor said. “At the United Nations, in conferences of international bodies, in scholarly and legal symposia, there is a general consensus, increasingly accepted, that these terms have a meaning that is not a traditional one.”
And what is the new meaning?
“The new meaning is that gender is fluid, there is no longer a ‘male’ and a ‘female’ gender into which humanity is divided, but a series of ‘genders’ which flow into one another, and have differing characteristics, and different needs, socially and legally, which must be recognized and respected.
“And ‘reproductive health’ means the health of a woman in having access to every form of birth control, and control over pregnancies, including abortion, as a fundamental human right.
“The sense is that traditional definitions of gender and the health of women in regard to their fertility, the Church’s traditional understanding of the nature of men and women, and of protecting human life, are primitive, part of the infancy of the race, to be left behind.”
And then the monsignor added: “It seems so strange to me, that this should happen in every part of the world, in every country, not just in the West, where it began, but now in India, in China, in Russia, everywhere.
“It almost seems like a spiritual force which has, quietly but effectively, transformed our understanding of the family, or rather, brought us to consider the traditional family itself as something to be left behind, to be rejected as a negative remnant of the past, in order to bring about a supposed ‘better,’ ‘family-free’ human future.
“In this process, there seems something almost more than human, something supernatural. I think it may in fact be diabolical.
“What is occurring seems aimed at eliminating throughout all nations and cultures the traditional concept of the human family. In this sense, the battle for the faith in our time has a strongly anthropological characteristic. And, sad to say, it seems to be a battle we are losing.
“It is as if there were a mist, a spiritual mist, which has drifted over our minds, and hearts, and caused us to grow drowsy, and to accept these new definitions, and new understandings, without any protest, or outcry, so that we lose things that are very precious to us without even a struggle.”
Do we want this future?
Can we not pass through the “mists,” and come out again into the full sunlight?
Can we awaken from our sleep, and resume the fight for the truth of our faith, handed down to us by the Apostles, and by all the many witnesses to Christ who have gone before us?
This is the issue we face. It is, I think, a choice between two ways, two cultures: a culture of death, of sterile pleasures, without a real future, and a culture of life, of family, of children, like little Giuseppe, with a real future.
So these quiet days of Lent’s beginning in Rome seem an appropriate time for a meditation, in silence, on these questions, on such choices.
Here is the complete text of Pope Benedict’s message for this year’s “World Communications Day,” where he speaks of silence as an essential element of the new evangelization.
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI FOR THE 46th WORLD COMMUNICATIONS DAY
Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization
[World Communications Day will be Sunday, 20 May, 2012; this message was released on January 24, a month ago]
By Pope Benedict XVI
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As we draw near to World Communications Day 2012, I would like to share with you some reflections concerning an aspect of the human process of communication which, despite its importance, is often overlooked and which, at the present time, it would seem especially necessary to recall. It concerns the relationship between silence and word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved.
When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.
Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.
In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves.
By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible.
It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other.
Joy, anxiety, and suffering can all be communicated in silence – indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression.
Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved.
When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of “eco-system” that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds.
The process of communication nowadays is largely fuelled by questions in search of answers. Search engines and social networks have become the starting point of communication for many people who are seeking advice, ideas, information and answers. In our time, the internet is becoming ever more a forum for questions and answers – indeed, people today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware.
If we are to recognize and focus upon the truly important questions, then silence is a precious commodity that enables us to exercise proper discernment in the face of the surcharge of stimuli and data that we receive.
Amid the complexity and diversity of the world of communications, however, many people find themselves confronted with the ultimate questions of human existence: Who am I? What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope?
It is important to affirm those who ask these questions, and to open up the possibility of a profound dialogue, by means of words and interchange, but also through the call to silent reflection, something that is often more eloquent than a hasty answer and permits seekers to reach into the depths of their being and open themselves to the path towards knowledge that God has inscribed in human hearts.
Ultimately, this constant flow of questions demonstrates the restlessness of human beings, ceaselessly searching for truths, of greater or lesser import, that can offer meaning and hope to their lives. Men and women cannot rest content with a superficial and unquestioning exchange of skeptical opinions and experiences of life – all of us are in search of truth and we share this profound yearning today more than ever: “When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals” (Message for the 2011 World Day of Communications).
Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God.
In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives.
It is hardly surprising that different religious traditions consider solitude and silence as privileged states which help people to rediscover themselves and that Truth which gives meaning to all things.
The God of biblical revelation speaks also without words: “As the Cross of Christ demonstrates, God also speaks by his silence. The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word… God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence” (Verbum Domini, 21).
The eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift, speaks in the silence of the Cross.
After Christ’s death there is a great silence over the earth, and on Holy Saturday, when “the King sleeps and God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages” (cf. Office of Readings, Holy Saturday), God’s voice resounds, filled with love for humanity.
If God speaks to us even in silence, we in turn discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God.
“We need that silence which becomes contemplation, which introduces us into God’s silence and brings us to the point where the Word, the redeeming Word, is born” (Homily, Eucharistic Celebration with Members of the International Theological Commission, 6 October 2006).
In speaking of God’s grandeur, our language will always prove inadequate and must make space for silent contemplation. Out of such contemplation springs forth, with all its inner power, the urgent sense of mission, the compelling obligation “to communicate that which we have seen and heard” so that all may be in communion with God (1 Jn 1:3).
Silent contemplation immerses us in the source of that Love who directs us towards our neighbours so that we may feel their suffering and offer them the light of Christ, his message of life and his saving gift of the fullness of love.
In silent contemplation, then, the eternal Word, through whom the world was created, becomes ever more powerfully present and we become aware of the plan of salvation that God is accomplishing throughout our history by word and deed.
As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, divine revelation is fulfilled by “deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them” (Dei Verbum, 2).
This plan of salvation culminates in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the mediator and the fullness of all revelation.
He has made known to us the true face of God the Father and by his Cross and Resurrection has brought us from the slavery of sin and death to the freedom of the children of God.
The fundamental question of the meaning of human existence finds in the mystery of Christ an answer capable of bringing peace to the restless human heart.
The Church’s mission springs from this mystery; and it is this mystery which impels Christians to become heralds of hope and salvation, witnesses of that love which promotes human dignity and builds justice and peace.
Word and silence: learning to communicate is learning to listen and contemplate as well as speak.
This is especially important for those engaged in the task of evangelization: both silence and word are essential elements, integral to the Church’s work of communication for the sake of a renewed proclamation of Christ in today’s world. To Mary, whose silence “listens to the Word and causes it to blossom” (Private Prayer at the Holy House, Loreto, 1 September 2007), I entrust all the work of evangelization which the Church undertakes through the means of social communication.
From the Vatican, 24 January 2012, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales.