Father J. Ronald KnottA voice shall sound in your ears, when you would turn to the right or left, saying, “This is the way; walk in it!” Isaiah 30:21
It seems that there are a lot of confused people out there. When I talk to people who do not know what to do or where to turn, it’s as if they are describing their situation as something like picking up multiple radio stations all at once:
“Do this! Don’t do that. Here is what I think. That is what I heard. Here’s the truth. That’s a lie. This is what you should believe. Vote this way, not that way. Go here. Don’t go there!”
As I listen to them, it’s almost as if they are so overwhelmed with so much noise coming from the outside that, there is no room for them to hear that small, wise voice within their own hearts — that voice that the Prophet Isaiah wrote about in the quote above.
Not only is it hard to listen, it seems that people are getting louder and louder trying to outshout other voices vying for attention. The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) said a long time ago, “In the past, one desired to acquire fame and to be talked about. That is not sufficient anymore because the market has grown too big. Today nothing less than screaming will do.”
One of my real concerns about the “new evangelization” is that those most entrusted with it seem to believe that it is mostly about “informing” people.
Pope Benedict XVI, by choosing “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization” as the theme for last year’s World Communication Day made a very valuable point “especially to those engaged in the task of evangelization.” He said, “Learning to communicate is learning to listen and contemplate as well as to speak.”
Pope Benedict XVI went on to say, “By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself. We avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas. In this way space is created for mutual listening and deeper human relationships become possible.”
At a time when fewer and fewer people are listening to the church, maybe his advice is more appropriate than “doubling down” on more and more blogs, pastoral letters, tweets, clarifications and official statements. As the Book of Ecclesiastes puts it, “There is an appointed time for everything … a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Maybe St. Francis Assisi said it best when he said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary!”
My intuition is telling me that Pope Benedict XVI is right — the “church” talks too much. When we talk too much, the force of our words are weakened. My sense is that what people really want from the “church” right now is for us to listen for a while, a “little less talk and a lot more action.”