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December 19, 2011

It is curious that Bishop Murray Chatlain chose to devote so much of his catechesis at Nothing More Beautiful Dec. 9 to silence. After all, he was talking about Scripture, which is a veritable bounty of words. Despite that, for the bishop from the North, "In my experience, God is not chatty."

God may not be chatty, but Western society surely is. We assume that the more words we pile up, the more we contribute. The more we make our views known in conversation, the more others are convinced by our point of view. Our words increase our power the more we broadcast them. However, when there are too many words, we may not hear any of them.

Chatlain drew us to another truth – the power of silence and the power of a small number of words to alter the direction of one's life. "Silence can help us to see and hear God more consistently," he said.

This is a truth particularly appropriate at Christmas. Christmas is perhaps the noisiest time of the year. There are parties and singing, busy shopping malls and an over-abundance of traffic. Camaraderie helps to make this a joyful season. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to get away from all the hub-bub.

In the Christmas story in Luke's Gospel, few words are spoken. It is easy to imagine that those present before the manger are rapt in quiet adoration. The manger was a refuge from the commotion surrounding the census and the busy Bethlehem inn.

At the manger, one could witness the Word made flesh. Not a word bellowed out incessantly across the countryside, but rather the One Word. The One Word takes us back to the time before time. The Gospel on Christmas morn reminds us, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1.1).

This was the primeval divine silence. Out of this silence came creation, a creation that reveals the Word, reveals in fact the entire Trinity. To reveal God even more fully, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth" (1.14). Here, it is God's action – the Incarnation – and not his words that speak the deepest truth. God comes not so much to speak to us, but to "dwell" among us. It is this dwelling that is the source of grace and truth.

For Hans Urs von Balthasar, "a word not based in silence becomes chatter" and "in God's life, speaking and being silent are one." Whatever God speaks contains "realms of silence" within it. It is the Holy Spirit who takes "what seems unspoken within the spoken and (fits) it into always new words that deepen and explain."

In the heart of the One Word lies an unfathomable mystery, a mystery that we can touch, but not grasp, in the divine silence. Bishop Chatlain was correct – the Word draws us into silence and, in the silence, the Word comes to be born.