Choosing the better part

Choosing the better part

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Silence and Hearing


In a few pages, Guardini takes us ever deeper into the mystery of the interplay of silence, speech and hearing.  It is not uncommon, Guardini notes, to observe people at Mass with the eyes fixed on the missal during the proclamation of the readings.  This may be done with the sincerest desire not to miss a word.  Yet, in providing this opportunity to read along, as it were, many parishes undermine the spiritual act of listening attentively to the sacred word in its spoken form.  The Divine Word is more than what is typeset on the page but something that can only reach to the depths of a person's heart through hearing.  There is a vitality in the spoken word that elicits the deepest emotions and produces faith.  The partial attention that comes through reading not only prevents a deeper comprehension but also makes what is to be communicated incomplete.  There is, states Guardini, a spiritual/corporal nature of God's Word that is akin to the Sacraments.  The Word was made flesh and the "same mystery continues in the living word of the liturgical proclamation!"
Such hearing requires silence; not just in the Church but in the mind and heart.  We must seek to overcome the spiritual, intellectual and emotional noise within us to hear the word of God not simply through the filter of our own minds but as God desires us to hear it.  We must seek the kind of stillness that is the fruit of purity of heart and that comes through the ascetical life.   
SILENCE AND speech are interdependent and together form that nameless unit which supports our spiritual life. But there is another element essential here: hearing.
Let us imagine for a moment a Dialogue Mass; Epistle and Gospel, indeed, a substantial part of the Mass is read aloud in English. What do those believers who love the liturgy and wish to participate in it as fully as possible do? They take their missals in hand and read along with the reader. They mean well, they are eager not to miss a word; yet how odd the whole situation isl There stands the reader, continuing the service which the deacon once performed. Solemnly he reads the sacred words, and the believers he is addressing read with him! Can this be a genuine form of the spiritual act? Obviously not. Something has been destroyed. Solemn reading requires listening, not simultaneous reading. Otherwise why read aloud at all? Our bookish upbringing is to blame for this unnaturalness. Most deplorably, it encourages people to read when they should listen. As a result, the fairytale has died and poetry has lost its power; for its resonant, wise, fervent, and festive language is meant to be heard, not read. In Holy Mass, moreover, it is a question not only of beautiful and solemn words, but of the divine word.
Perhaps at this point someone may protest: “But these are mere aesthetic details which matter very little. The main thing is that the believers receive and understand the word of God–whether by reading or hearing is of no import.” As a matter of fact, this question is vital. In silent reading that frail and powerful reality called “word” is incomplete.
It remains unfinished, entangled in print, corporal; vital parts are still lacking. The hurrying eye brings fleeting images to the imagination; the intelligence gains but a hazy “comprehension,” and the result is of small worth. What has been lost belongs to the essence of the liturgical event. No longer does the sacred word unfold in its full spiritual-corporal reality and soar through space to the listener, to be heard and received into his life. Would it be a loss if men ceased to convey their most fervent thoughts in living speech, and instead communicated with each other only in writing? Definitely. All the bodily vitality of the ringing word would vanish. In the realm of faith also the loss would be shattering. After all, Christ Himself spoke of hearing. He never said: “He who has eyes to read, read!” (Matt. 11 :15). This is no attempt to devaluate the written word, which in its place is good and necessary. However, it must not crowd out what is better, more necessary and beautiful: hearing, from which, as St. Paul tells us, springs faith (Rom. 10:14).
Faith can, of course, be kindled from the written text, but the gospel, the “glad tidings,” gains its full power only when it is heard. Members of a reading age, we have forgotten this, and so thoroughly that it is difficult for us to realize what we have lost. The whole word is not the printed, but the spoken, in which alone truth stands free. Only words formed by the human voice have the delicacy and power necessary to stir the depths of emotion, the seat of the spirit, the full sensitiveness of the conscience. Like the sacraments God’s word is spiritual-corporal; like them it is meant to nourish the spirit in flesh-and-blood man, to work in him as power. To do this it must be whole. This consideration takes us still deeper. The saving God who came to us was the eternal Word. But that Word did not come in a blaze of spiritual illumination or as something suddenly appearing in a book. He “was made flesh,” flesh that could be seen, heard, grasped with hands, as St. John so graphically insists in the opening lines of his first epistle. The same mystery continues in the living word of liturgical proclamation, and it is all-important that the connection remain vital.
The word of God is meant to be heard, and hearing requires silence.
To be sure that the point is clear, let us put it this way: how may proper hearing be prevented? I could say something to a man sitting out of earshot, for example. Then I should have to speak louder in order to establish the physical connection. Or I could speak loudly enough, but if his attention is elsewhere, my remarks will go unheeded. Then I must appeal to him to listen. Perhaps he does listen, notes what I say, follows the line of thought, tries his best, yet fails to understand. Something in him remains closed. He hears my reasons, follows them intellectually and psychologically; he would understand at once if they applied to someone else. In regard to himself, he fails to see the connection because his pride will not admit the truth; perhaps a secret voice warns him that, were he to admit it, he would have to change things in his life that he is unwilling to change. The more examples we consider, the more clearly we realize that hearing too exists on many levels, and we begin to suspect its importance when the Speaker is God. Not for nothing did our Lord say: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
To have ears to hear requires grace, for God’s word can be heard only by him whose ears God has opened. He does this when He pleases, and the prayer for truth is directed at that divine pleasure. But it also requires something that we ourselves desire and are capable of: being inwardly “present”; listening from the vital core of our being; unfolding ourselves to that which comes from beyond, to the sacred word. All this is possible only when we are inwardly still. In stillness alone can we really hear. When we come in from the outside our ears are filled with the racket of the city, the words of those who have accompanied us, the laboring and quarrelling of our own thoughts, the disquiet of our hearts’ wishes and worries, hurts and joys. How are we possibly to hear what God is saying? That we listen at all is something; not everyone does! It is even better when we pay attention and make a real effort to understand what is being said. But all this is not yet that attentive stillness in which God’s word can take root. This must be established before the service begins, if possible in the silence on the way to church, still better in a brief period of composure the evening before.
Romano Guardini
Meditations Before Mass

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