Today, the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers and journalists, Pope Benedict XVI released, as is traditional, his Message for the 46th Annual World Communications Day (which actually takes place on May 20, 2012). These annual messages are an invaluable gift from the Holy Father, as he gives us a chance to learn from his great wisdom about how to make good use of the various means of social communication that so dominate modern culture. Last year’s message was on the theme of authenticity in social communications. This year, the Holy Father takes up the theme of the interplay of “silence and word.”
Here are the key insights I gleaned from Pope Benedict’s remarks:
1. True communication between human persons involves an interplay of word and silence. When one of these is missing, communication breaks down.
2. In the absence of silence, words rich in context cannot exist. “In silence, 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. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible.”
3. Silence is the more necessary amid the “surcharge of stimuli” from modern electronic media. “Deeper reflection [in silence] helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds.”
4. The environment of social communications today is characterized by questioning, thus reflecting the restless hearts of human beings hungry for answers to the ultimate questions. Quoting his own message from the year before, Pope Benedict stresses: “When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals.” Amid all this questioning, silence is necessary in order to discern what questions are relevant and what their most appropriate answers might be.
5. Many types of websites, applications, and social networks can be amenable to authentic questioning and the silence that must accompany it. How positive a view this is of the Internet’s potential! “In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives” (emphasis added).
6. The richest fruit of silence is the contemplative encounter with God, who often speaks to us in stillness, especially in the silent figure of Christ on the Cross. The peace and friendship that we find in this encounter with Christ is the ultimate goal of all social communications. “Silent contemplation immerses us in the source of that Love who directs us towards our neighbours so that we may feel their suffering and offer them the light of Christ, his message of life and his saving gift of the fullness of love.”