This week the Saint Ignatius community is focusing on the importance of silence. Silence can take on many forms, and not all of them are on equal footing. The silence experienced on a first date is very different from the silence of a walk with your spouse of 50 years. The blessed silence of meditative or contemplative prayer is quite dissimilar to the silence of solitary confinement. The silence of an audience member hanging on every word of a great orator has nothing in common with the silence of a solitary dissenter too frightened to speak up for an unpopular belief.
In the film A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More is on trial for treason despite saying nothing publicly about the merits or demerits of Henry VIII’s new marriage. Thomas Cromwell, acting as the counsel for the crown, says that this silence of More’s is screaming to the world that he is not in favor of the divorce and the subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. In his defense the brilliant lawyer More says that conjecture has no place in a trial because verdicts need to be based only upon the law, and “the maxim of the law is that silence gives consent”. More wins the point, but because others were willing to speak against him - and perjure themselves in the process - the former Chancellor of England has his head separated from his shoulders.
So, silence can have life changing, as well as life ending, consequences. We need to choose our silences carefully, to know when it is prudent to speak, and to have the courage to follow that prudential judgment. Fittingly, we have just been focusing on a time when Jesus had to make choices about when to speak and when to remain silent, and we can learn much from how He responds to His questioners.
During those final hours between His arrest and His death there were several very important people who wanted to hear what Jesus had to say for Himself, but they were not at all satisfied with His lack of responses. His interactions with Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod are bereft of speech, and the Gospels make a point of this fact: “but He was silent and answered nothing.” Each in their own way must have been wondering the same thing that Thomas Cromwell wondered when he asked the jury, “What did that silence betoken?”
For Jesus, this silence was not a sign of fear or weakness; on the contrary, it was an indication that He was in control of the situation as He simply waited for His interlocutors to react. There is great power and authority in the silence of Jesus. It is a righteous silence, a silence aligned with that of the Divine Will. It lives within the silence of the Cosmos, within the silence of the seventh day when the Logos, the Divine Word, rested.
Our silence is called to dwell within this Divine Silence. Our solidarity with those who are forced to be silent, who have no voice, who are drowned out by the noise of a sinful world, can only be true and genuine if our silence is the silence of Christ. If our silence is to rise above the cacophony of hatred and dehumanization, then it must bind itself to the silence shared with God in prayer, the silence shared with others in friendship and love, and the silence shared in solidarity with those who must suffer in silence.