On Silence and the Word

A Commentary on Pope Benedict’s Message to Communicators

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, JAN. 24, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Today, on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, all those who work in the fields of communication can pray and reflect upon their vocation to be communicators. 

It is a challenge being a communicator in this modern world, trying to rapidly sift through an onslaught of real-time information in order to provide readers, viewers or listeners with a story of interest and importance. As a result, it becomes far too easy to forget that the objective of any communicator should not be merely to communicate information, but truth. 

And here lies the dilemma. The constant assault of information that modern means of communication put upon the human consciousness fills the interior life with noise; yet, it is only in interior silence that the soul can be disposed to hearing the truth that God speaks to the heart of every person. How, then, can Catholic communicators transmit the truth to a public whose interior life has become inundated with a sheer cacophony of information? 

Pope Benedict, in his letter of preparation for the 46th World Day of Communications, calls us to reflect upon the relationship between silence and the word, without which there cannot be a lasting and meaningful communication of the truth. These two aspects, silence and word, must be «kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved.» 

In order to communicate silence, moreover, communicators must learn to establish a discipline of silence within themselves. 

«In silence,» says the Holy Father, «we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others, and we choose how to express ourselves.» Silence also promotes a certain generosity, one which permits the one to whom we are communicating to speak freely. It is in this freedom where a truly enriching dialogue between persons can take place. «If God speaks to us even in silence, we in turn discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God.»

The widespread use of search engines and social networking sites indicates a hunger for truth, a constant search for answers. The challenge of communicators, therefore, is to use words and images to inspire their audience to silent contemplation, for it is through this that «the eternal Word, through whom the world was created, becomes ever more powerfully present and we become aware of the plan of salvation that God is accomplishing throughout our history by word and deed.»

It is through listening and contemplation that meaningful communication of ideas is made possible. By therefore following the example of the Scriptures, where God often spoke most powerfully and poignantly through silence, we can find what is necessary to transmit effectively and with generosity the truth which we ourselves have received.

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Ann Schneible is a member of ZENIT’s Rome Bureau.

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