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November 22, 2010

Perhaps it seems strange that in a document on the Word of God (Page 5), Pope Benedict would place a special emphasis on silence. Silence, after all, is the absence of words, is it not? Is it possible to find God's word in silence?

The pope says, "God's silence prolongs his earlier words. In moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence. Hence, in the dynamic of Christian revelation, silence appears as an important expression of the Word of God."

Our society is not lacking in words. Words pour forth from TV screens, the Internet, newspapers, books and a million reports. In today's avalanche of words, words lose their power. There are so many words that they wash over us, failing to penetrate deeper than a passing awareness.

Can words still move the heart or stir us to deeper convictions? Through love or friendship they can. But even there, we are prone to superficiality. Love can only be made real if we step out of the buzzing, furious torrent of activity and encounter each other with a silent smile.

There, outside the frenzy, words can regain the depth of their meaning and power. Only there can we encounter the Word of God. We are in danger of treating God's words like other words - rushing through Scripture, replacing quality with quantity, hurrying through the liturgy so we can run off to our next activity.

But the pope says, Be still, be silent. "God's silence prolongs his earlier words." Our silence can also prolong God's words. "Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word, and, inseparably, woman of silence."

Pope Benedict says liturgy requires silence. The music needs to stop; the speaking should pause. We cannot celebrate and live God's word if it has not found a home in us, a home built on the foundation of silent pondering.

This is especially true for the laity, we who are called to permeate society with the spirit of the Gospel. We cannot give what we do not have. If we jam our lives with activity and fail to reflect on God's word, we are like noisy gongs or clanging cymbals.

The pope recommends the practice of lectio divina (Page 5). He even describes the steps in such sacred reading. To know what a Bible verse or story is saying to me, I need to take time with it, question it and let it speak to me. Lectio divina can lead one to encounter Christ, to let his word sing in my heart and then to move me to faith-filled action.

In reading the Gospels, we may fail to notice all of the times Jesus stopped to pray. The Incarnate Word still needed to seek out the Father's will and to encounter him apart from the crowds.

What then of us, we whose hearts are distorted and whose minds confused? How much more do we need to hear God's word in silence?