Has God ever seemed silent — even absent — to you? While so much that would seem to call for his intervention is happening around you?
At an audience in Loreto, Italy in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI was asked by a youth about the silence of God. Here is her question, followed by his excellent response:
Question posed by Sara Simonetta :
“I believe in the God who has touched my heart, but I have many insecurities, questions and fears that I carry within. It is not easy to speak about God with my friends; many of them see the Church as a reality that judges youth, that opposes their desire for happiness and love. Faced with this refusal, I feel all of my solitude as a human and I would like to sense the nearness of God. Your Holiness, in this silence, where is God?”
Response of the Holy Father:
Yes, even though we are believers, we all know God’s silence. In the Psalm we just recited, there is this almost despairing cry: “Make haste to answer me, O Lord… Do not hide your face!”, and a little while ago a book of the spiritual experiences of Mother Teresa was published and what we already all knew was a little more clearly shown: with all her charity and the power of her faith, Mother Teresa suffered from God’s silence.
On the one hand, we must also bear God’s silence in order to understand our brothers who do not know God. On the other, with the Psalm we can always cry to God once again: “Answer us, show your face!” And without a doubt, in our life, if our hearts are open, we can find the important moments when God’s presence really becomes tangible even for us.
I now remember a little story that John Paul II told at the Spiritual Exercises he preached in the Vatican when he was not yet Pope. He recounted that after the war he was visited by a Russian official who was a scientist and who said to him as a scientist: “I am certain that God does not exist. Yet, if I am in the mountains, surrounded by his majestic beauty, by his grandeur, I am equally sure that the Creator does exist and that God exists.”
The beauty of creation is one of the sources where we can truly touch God’s beauty, we can see that the Creator exists and is good, which is true as Sacred Scripture says in the Creation Narrative, that is, that God conceived of this world and made it with his heart, his will, and his reason – and he found it good. We too must be good in order to have an open heart and to perceive God’s true presence. Then, hearing the Word of God in the solemn liturgical celebrations, in celebrations of faith, in the great music of faith, we feel this presence.
I remember at this moment another little story which a Bishop on his ad limina visit told me a little while ago. There was a very intelligent woman who was not a Christian. She began to listen to the great music of Bach, Handel, and Mozart. She was fascinated and said one day: “I must find the source of this beauty”, and the woman converted to Christianity, to the Catholic faith, because she had discovered that this beauty has a source, and the source is the presence of Christ in hearts, it is the revelation of Christ in this world.
Hence, great feasts of faith, of liturgical celebration, but also personal dialogue with Christ: he does not always respond, but there are times when he really responds. Then there is the friendship, the company of faith.
Now, gathered here in Loreto, we see that faith unites, friendship creates a company of travelling companions. And we sense that all this does not derive from nothing but truly has a source, that the silent God is also a God who speaks, that he reveals himself and above all, that we ourselves can be witnesses of his presence, and from our faith a light truly shines also for others.
Thus, I would say on the one hand, we must accept that God is silent in this world, but we must not be deaf to his words or blind to his appearance on so many occasions. We see the Lord’s presence, especially in creation, in the beautiful liturgy, in friendship within the Church, and full of his presence, we can also give light to others.
Thus, I come to the second part, or rather, the first part of your question: it is difficult to speak to friends today about God and perhaps even more difficult to talk about the Church, because they see in God only the limit of our freedom, a God of commandments, of prohibitions, and the Church as an institution that limits our freedom, that imposes prohibitions upon us.
Nonetheless, we must try to make the living Church visible to them, not this idea of a center of power in the Church with these labels, but the community of companions where, in spite of all life’s problems that exist for everyone, is born our joy of living.
Here, a third memory springs to mind. I was in Brazil, in Fazenda da Esperança, this great community where drug addicts are treated and rediscover hope, the joy of living in this world; and they witnessed what the actual discovery that God exists meant for their recovery from despair. They thus understood that their life has meaning and they rediscovered the joy of being in this world, the joy of facing the problems of human life. Therefore, in every human heart, despite all the problems that exist, is a thirst for God, and when God disappears, the sun that gives light and joy also disappears.
This thirst for the infinite that is in our hearts is also demonstrated even in the reality of drugs: the human being wants to extend the quality of life, to have more than life, to have the infinite, but drugs are a lie, they are a fraud, because they do not extend life but destroy it.
The great thirst that speaks to us of God and sets us on the path that leads to him is true, but we must help one another. Christ came to create a network of communion in the world, where all together we might carry one another, and thus help one another together to find the ways that lead to life and to understand that the Commandments of God are not limits to our freedom but the paths that guide us to the other, towards the fullness of life.
Let us pray to the Lord to help us understand his presence, to be full of his Revelation, his joy, to help one another to go forward in the company of faith and with Christ to increasingly find the true Face of God, and hence, true life.
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