The power of Silence?
In the opening passage of his Rule, St Benedict counsels the would be disciple:
"Hearken, my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thy heart willingly to hear..."
The first reading at mass today (Isaiah 35:4-7) also contains an exhortation:
"Say to all faint hearts, 'Courage!' Do not be afraid."
In the Gospel (Mk. 7:31-37) we are presented with the healing of the deaf man. Unable to hear or speak, his friends had seemingly delivered him to Jesus. It was these same friends who made the request of Jesus to 'lay hands on him'. Whilst we are not told when, how, or, by what means the man himself communicated his consent, we are informed that Jesus "took him aside, in private, away from the crowd..." For those free of disability in speech or hearing, the true plight of the man is perhaps difficult to grasp. However, a little imagination- not to say reflection- soon furnishes the detail.
Within a society dependent upon an oral tradition, he was unable to participate. Within a religious community which declared the call of the people of Israel, he was unable to hear or recite the word of God. Even discounting the judaic perception of disability as the outworking of some form of Divine Judgment, this man lacked the tools for life and social participation. In such a world, he seemingly had nothing to offer. A double impediment; unable to either speak or hear. Dependent upon the mercy of his friends.
When questioned by reporters regarding the Vigano Testament, Pope Francis has provided no formal response; save an invitation that individual judgment be exercised. The ensuing silence has been deafening. It was only a matter of time before a comparison was made between the seemingly relaxed and loquacious Holy Father on the one hand and the reticence which is now said to mark his present interaction with the media. This, in turn, has generated assertions of culpability and allegations of attempted deflection from inquiry. There is a superficial attraction to this perspective.
However, to use the words of St Benedict, do the 'precepts of the master' demand of us a different response? In his 'The Power of Silence' Robert Cardinal Sarah speaks of the 'noise of the world' and observes:
"[T]he modern world transforms the person who listens into an inferior human being. With fatal arrogance, modernity exalts the man who is drunk with images and noisy slogans, whilst killing the interior man..."
Likewise, the Carmelite Rule cautions:
"Be careful not to indulge in a great deal of talk for ...sin will not be wanting where there is much talk..."
The need for clear communication from the Holy See on the scandals of the past weeks is too obvious to require statement. So too is our duty to ensure that we do not unwittingly contribute to the noise of the world, clamouring for condemnation. Irrespective of where the truth lies, or, what may in due course be revealed, premature judgment is to be avoided.
There have been too many occasions in recent years when within the Church, lives have been ruined by unsubstantiated allegation, suspicion and speculation. Gossip and calumny, have entered into the daily life of the Church and received a warm welcome. This is not a recent phenomenon. But in our present times of relativism and declarations of rights and entitlements detached from responsibilities, tongues have been loosened and keyboard warriors have entered into view; operating social networking sites with self-professed authority. By this means, condemnation has been normalised; offering those who are falsely implicated and wrongly accused no meaningful means of redress. This is itself, a form of corruption.
In the words of Isaiah, what is required now is 'courage'. It takes courage to stand up for those whose popularity has waned. It also takes courage to resist the demands of injustice. Silence provides both the method and means by which such courage might be demonstrated. Away from the crowd. In the words of the psalmist:
"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers..."