The Voice of Silence
Here are excerpts of “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization”, Pope Benedict’s Message for the 46th World Communications Day, celebrated on Sunday, May 20, 2012. I encourage you to read the entire message. As always, it’s good stuff!
The photos and emphasis are mine.
Dear Brothers and Sisters…
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 languageare 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…
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)…
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… 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...
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…
From the Vatican, 24 January 2012, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales.
Our beloved Holy Father has once again presented us with a paradox, this time regarding the role and value of silence in communication. He spoke of the various religious traditions that hold silence and solitude as privileged states. Here are a couple of videos that “speak” to those traditions in two religious communities and the fruits of silence. The first is a trailer to Into Great Silence, a film about the lives of Carthusian monks in the French Alps. Click here to watch the full movie.
The second is a trailer, No Greater Love, is about the nuns at the Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in London.
Lastly, I leave you with the words of Bl. Theresa of Calcutta on how silence can lead to peace.
The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.
Lady’s Night — Flos Carmeli
Since Catholics traditionally consider Saturday to be dedicated to Our Lady, every Saturday night I would to dedicate a post to the Blessed Mother under the heading Lady’s Night. And July 16th being the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I thought it would be most appropriate to have our first Lady’s Night.
In later posts I’ll write more about my filial love for and devotion to the Blessed Virgin, particularly under her title Our Lady of Mt. Carmel as well as my membership in the Carmelite family.
In the Liturgy of the Hours, I believe that today is listed as an “Optional Memorial”. Carmelites (like myself), not only take the option but also celebrate today as a Solemnity. In the Carmelite Rite, today also has its own liturgical sequence before the Gospel: it is an ancient hymn, supposedly written by St. Simon Stock, called Flos Carmeli (Flower of Carmel).
Flower of Carmel, Tall vine blossom laden; Splendor of heaven, Childbearing yet maiden. None equals thee.
Mother so tender, Who no man didst know, On Carmel’s children Thy favors bestow. Star of the Sea.
Strong stem of Jesse, Who bore one bright flower, Be ever near us And guard us each hour, who serve thee here.
Purest of lilies, That flowers among thorns, Bring help to the true heart That in weakness turns and trusts in thee.
Strongest of armor, We trust in thy might: Under thy mantle, Hard press’d in the fight, we call to thee.
Our way uncertain, Surrounded by foes, Unfailing counsel You give to those who turn to thee.
O gentle Mother Who in Carmel reigns, Share with your servants That gladness you gained and now enjoy.
Hail, Gate of Heaven, With glory now crowned, Bring us to safety Where thy Son is found, true joy to see. Amen.
(Photo: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Carmelite House of Prayer, Oakville, CA)