Sin: Speech and Talk, Silence


Sin: Speech and Talk, Silence and Dumbness

This series of excerpts from Romano Guardini's great "Meditations Before Mass" provides a lot of food for thought.

Meditations Before Mass Romano Guardini "Silence and the Word"

But truth can be recognized only from silence. The constant talker will never, or at least rarely, grasp truth. Of course even he must experience some truths, otherwise he could not exist. He does notice certain facts, observe certain relations, draw conclusions and make plans. But he does not yet possess genuine truth, which comes into being only when the essence of an object, the significance of a relation, and what is valid and eternal in this world reveal themselves. This requires the spaciousness, freedom, and pure receptiveness of that inner "clean-swept room" which silence alone can create. The constant talker knows no such room within himself; hence he cannot know truth. Truth, and consequently the reality of speech, depends upon the speaker's ability to speak and to be silent in turn.
The heart incapable of storing anything, of withdrawing into itself, cannot thrive. Like a field that must constantly produce, it is soon impoverished.
Just as there exists a perverted variety of speech, "talk," there exists also a perverted silence, dumbness. Dumbness is just as bad as garrulity. It occurs when silence, sealed in the dungeon of a heart that has no outlet, becomes cramped and oppressive.
Consequently, even for the sake of speech we must practice silence. To a large extent the liturgy consists of words which we address to and receive from God. They must not degenerate to mere talk, which is the fate of all words, even the profoundest and holiest, when they are spoken improperly.

There is such a storehouse of wisdom in a few simple phrases. I particularly liked, Truth, and consequently the reality of speech, depends upon the speaker's ability to speak and to be silent in turn. " I'm not sure I fully understand it, but I believe that there are two parts to what Guardini is saying. Truth is dynamic. That is, because of its nature it requires a direct interaction from us. If we are completely silent all of them time, we cannot begin to internalize truth. It seems to fully understand it, we must converse with it in a serious fashion. However, the second half of this I understand thoroughly. If one's mouth is constantly running, there can be no pause no space in which to hear the truth. If we are constantly speaking, we cannot hear. And perhaps that is why some of us are constantly talking--hearing the truth is hard. As much as we may love Jesus and want to please Him, we don't really want to know the truth about ourselves--we suspect that it would be too ugly and too hard.

We may be right. But it seems to me that when you face the crucifix, you are facing the ugliest and hardest truth about yourself that there is. Even if you don't feel it, even if you only pay lip-service to it. The truth revealed to us in the crucifix is that we all contributed to this. That is sin is not a potential, it is a reality, and it is a destructive, ugly, hard reality that means real pain for real people. Disobedience is not a matter lightly undertaken because it is a nail in the hand of Christ. Speaking poorly of our neighbors and friends is a hammer blow. Christ didn't lecture at us from the Cross telling us the meaning of the spectacle before us, rather he prayed for us and worked for us, all the while that we stared and did nothing. Yes--that is the truth and the hard reality. In the suffering of Jesus Christ , we did not exhibit merely the potential for cruelty; rather, we stood by and at the last moment offered Him a vinegar-soaked rag. That is the hard truth exhibited in every crucifix. It is, I suspect, the reason why some protestant sects have nothing corresponding to a crucifix. The truth is far too difficult to look upon--we can talk about utter depravity, but we can't face the consequences of our talk.

The truth is also that our cruelty is like the cruelty of children. Jesus Himself said it, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." We don't recognize that actions have eternal consequences. We don't realize that "a little sin" has a great echo. Like a shockwave in a tectonic plate under the ocean, we precipitate a ripple in the water, which, when it approaches shore becomes a tsunami of destruction. It may not seem so bad to look at our Playboys and other such magazines. Surely the swimsuit issue of Sport's Illustrated would be okay. It isn't so terrible to get a little tipsy and then drive ourselves home. Surely eating three times more than any normal person possibly could isn't so terrible an act. But every sin, every straying from the perfection of the life God would have us lead is a dire and dangerous thing. Small deviations from expectations gradually lead us to become more daring. From Playboy we may slip into depersonalizing our spouse or perhaps even adultery. From tipsy we move to drunk, to having killed some innocent because of our gross irresponsibility and sin. Venial sins are only venial when they are repudiated and confessed. Within them is the capacity to so warp our image of self and God that we move gradually into mortal sin without recognizing it. As with Church Doctrine--we dissent from some small teaching, something seemingly insignificant, for which we can bring enormous evidence to support our position--suddenly we find that we can accept no teaching because we "have broken the Authority" with which the Church teaches. Church teachings become simply a smorgasbord of suggestions about how we might lead better lives. So too with sin--one small step begins to unbind the authority of Conscience. Soon, we are lost, not knowing how we got there.

But we are never lost. Jesus is always there. Look at a crucifix in time of temptation. Place yourself not at the foot of the cross, but as one of those who is binding the Lord to it. Hold the hammer in your hand and feel its weight. Bring it down upon a nail. One moment of that, one turn of the thought of what you are doing, and if you are not our good friend Alex from A Clockwork Orange the wave of revulsion you feel may be enough to dissuade you from the action. Realizing the enormity of sin is one step toward avoiding near occasions of sin. The next time we think about sinning, this exercise, and a momentary consideration of how our sin extends beyond ourselves, may provide strong persuasion to refrain from our considered act.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 9, 2002 8:20 AM.

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