February 2012 — The central concern of Pope Benedict is the “new evangelization,” the sharing of the “Good News” about Jesus Christ. But how to go about it? Perhaps, he says, by starting with silence…
Silence can be what we need most of all in our noisy world, Pope Benedict said recently. In fact, silence may be the best way to evangelize, to communicate the grandeur and glory of Christ, whose divine nature transcends the power of all words to express.
The Pope expressed his thoughts on silence in a remarkable letter issued on January 24, entitled “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization.” The letter was released at the Vatican press office by Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, for World Communications Day 2012.
“When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary,” the Pope wrote in the message, which will be read in Catholic churches around the world on May 20, 2012.
Silence, he said, is “often more eloquent than a hasty answer” because it “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.”
The Pope says silence has been a key part of Christian life from the earliest times. He points to the “eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift,” which is seen “in the silence of the cross,” when, after Christ’s death “there is a great silence over the earth.”
Silent contemplation also “immerses us in the source of that Love, who directs us towards our neighbors 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,” he wrote.
“Joy, anxiety and suffering can all be communicated in silence — indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression,” he said.
Benedict has made clear that evangelization, sharing the “Good News” about Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, is the chief purpose of his pontificate. That is why he has written three large volumes about Jesus, two already published, and one about to be published. It is a “Christo-centric” pontificate, a pontificate centered on Christ.
And that is why, just a few days ago, on January 27 in Rome, meeting with the officials and staff of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Benedict, in a talk on Tradition, Ecumenism, and Vatican II, said we must return to tradition even as we engage the modern world. The talk revealed his concerns for the faith today, and offers profound insight into his mind and thinking.
“As we know,” Benedict said on that occasion, “in vast areas of the earth, faith is in danger of being put out, as a flame that finds no more fuel. We find ourselves before a profound crisis of faith, before a loss of the religious sense, that is the greatest challenge for today’s Church.”
So Benedict is quite clear: the faith today is in danger. In many places it is dying.
And he is equally clear about his focus, and the focus of the Church. “The renewal of the faith,” he said, “must thus be the priority in the effort of the entire Church in our day.”
This brings us to the great question of our time: how can we preach Christ in the 21st century, in a largely “post-Christian” world, in a world where relativism and secularism have seemingly conquered entire nations once won for Christ?
For a thousand years, Christians attempted to build a civilization centered on Christ, and the result was Christendom. In Christendom, Christ was central to human life, the faith influenced laws and customs, art and music — it is enough to think of the great cathedrals or the music of Bach. And yet, that world has passed away, or is passing away.
So the issue becomes: how can we bear witness to Christ, the bearer of truth, or rather, the one who is Truth itself, in an age that has rejected that truth?
Benedict’s answer: by deepening our own faith.
By deepening our own conviction of the truths of the faith.
By living out the faith, in a totally authentic way, not based on past glories, now housed in museums, but on the present experience of God and His Spirit in our lives.
By going deep into silence where the soul can hear words that cannot be heard in time and space. By contemplation of the mystery of God.
Amid scandals of all types, Benedict turns our gaze back to the one source of our life and hope — our one source of “reality” in the deepest sense — Christ.
And as he does this, he attempts to provide the structures in space and time, in this world, for the Church to live. And this is why he does the things we report on in this issue: creates cardinals; establishes “ordinariates” like the ordinariate he has established for Anglicans wishing to become Catholics; authorizes the use of the old liturgy while attempting to reform the new. He is attempting to “keep up the house” of the faith in a time of leaks in the roof, drafts in the walls, cracks in the foundation stones. Let us do our part, often in silence, to help him in this task.