Reflecting on Silence (with John Paul 2)

“We must confess that we all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored: in theology, so as to exploit fully its own sapiential and spiritual soul; in prayer, so that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to cover it with a veil (cf. Ex 34:33), and that our gatherings may make room for God’s presence and avoid self – celebration; in preaching, so as not to delude ourselves that it is enough to heap word upon word to attract people to the experience of God; in commitment, so that we will refuse to be locked in a struggle without love and forgiveness. This is what man needs today; he is often unable to be silent for fear of meeting himself, of feeling the emptiness that asks itself about meaning; man who deafens himself with noise. All, believers and non – believers alike, need to learn a silence that allows the Other to speak when and how he wishes, and allows us to understand his words.” From Orientale Lumen written by St John Paul II.

Poland is filled with episodes that occurred the way they had occurred, because the people were strong in their faith. A clear example of this was when Pope John Paul 2’s efforts lead to the fall of communism and to destruction of such an oppressive tyranny, which worked tirelessly against the fundamental rights of the people, to end in Poland. This did not happen only through speeches and mass meetings, the fall of communism brought about by prayer. The revolution occurred not only by the cries and road noise but also took place in silence, in chapels and churches in Poland and the Polish Pope’s private chapel, in Rome.

At the beginning of this reflection we have read part of the apostolic letter the Pope wrote on 2 May, 1995 which bears the name of the Orientale Lumen. The Polish Pope begins his message on silence by mentioning how crucial silence is in Christian theology. A theologian who always struck me with his intelligence is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who is known as the Pope who loved silence, so much so that he often said how much he loves walking in silence within the Vatican Gardens. Once the much loved Pope Emeritus said this on silence: “In silence, we will be able to better hear and understand ourselves; ideas take life and acquire more depths ….. profound reflection help us to find out the connection between events to seemingly unconnected. This requires that we develop a suitable environment, a kind of eco-system which manages to maintain the balance between silence, words and sounds.”

As the Pope Emeritus said we must successfully strike a balance. For any balance to occur, there must be two forces who from both sides help to create a balance via the forces they exert. In Christian life, both forces are the work which is done by every man; be it at school, university, job etc. and on the other hand there should be silence. Some of you might ask then who is keeping the measurement scale sound? The scale is held firmly by man, who aided by God, recognizes that there needs to be a balance between them.

In the second part of his message the Pope writes about silence and prayer; for this part I would like to share with you a reflection made by Blessed Colomba Marmion: “Once you feel the attraction to remain in the silence of adoration in God’s presence, you must give yourself entirely to the Holy Spirit and remain there in pure faith. If God gives you no feeling, no sentiment, no distinct thought, just be there before Him in silent love. During such moments He operates insensibly in the soul and does more for her perfection than she could in a lifetime by her own thoughts.”

The society of today needs to hear words like: “we need to keep silent so that we let the other speak like He wants and let us understand his words.” Let us together acknowledge that God will not come to the world with force in a word of noise, on the contrary God knocks in silence, so let us let him call us. May we never forget that in the desert of silence humanity finds the oasis of faith so that we can be sustained for the rest of our lives.

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