APRIL 2021 RECOLLECTION MATERIAL: Communication: Mission and Challenge
Once we have finished the reflection on Fr. General’s document on poverty, we now begin our monthly recollections with the guide theme for this year: “Creators of Spaces for Dialogue with the Contemporary World and Culture.” We will dedicate this first reflection to the theme of communication as mission and challenge.
Today we live in an era of communication. The new technologies permit us to surpass the distances in order to communicate with one another, in such a way that everyday our world is becoming more “a global village.” Nevertheless and rather paradoxically, in the midst of the era of communications, there exists more than ever, the phenomenon of non- communication and solitude. In our own communities we feel its impact since we feel obliged to confront the challenge to know the prudent and moderate use of the means of communication, as well as that of social networks. Today we are invited not to forget our real community and our commitments to it, avoiding excessive reference to a “virtual community,” that scatters and distracts. God communicates everyday with his word and invites us to listen to it and that we listen to each other.
That is why, if we wish to dialogue with the contemporary world, the requisite and the indispensable challenge is the communication towards the interior of our own selves, towards the interior of our own communities, in order to later be able to communicate and dialogue with the world.
Return to yourself
St. Augustine reminds us that Christ is: “The Word of God is never silent, even though he is not always heard” (s. 51, 17). On this day of recollection, we are invited to observe silence in our interior that we may be able to listen to the Word of God who desires to communicate with us. For this let us ask the help of the holy Spirit:
Enlighten us, Lord, with the fire of your Spirit; he who is your love poured into our hearts, may he inflame us with your love, and make us grateful for all your gifts and benefits. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (en. Ps. 71:3 [paraphrased]).
Your voice is my joy
With heart well disposed, without haste, I read the following words from the Letter to the Hebrews, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them.
1 In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; 2 in these last days, he spoke to us through a Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, 3 who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
1 Therefore, we must attend all the more to what we have heard, so that we may not be carried away. 2 For if the word announced through angels proved firm, and every transgression and disobedience received its just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? Announced originally through the Lord, it is confirmed for us by those who had heard. 4 God added his testimony by signs, wonders, various acts of power, and distribution of the gifts of the Holy Spirit according to his will.
The Firmament of the Scriptures
The text of the Letter to the Hebrews that concerns us today, presents to us a God who speaks to us and carries out his plan of salvation through communication. We deal with a God who not only had spoken and had communicated in ancient times through the prophets “in many occasions and in varied ways” (1:1), but also is the God who in these last days has spoken through his Son (1:1) who is his own Word (Jn. 1:1). And this Son, as the “refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being” (1:3), communicates the greatness and the being of God, and at the same time reveals himself as Almighty God, because he maintains the universe by his “powerful word” (1:3). In some way, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, in the first verses of his letter, invites us to consider that in Christ everything is communication from the Father.
Not only that. Christ, the Word of the Father, does what he communicates, thus sustaining the universe. According to the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, God has created everything by his Word (Gen 1:3ff; Col. 1:16) and his creative work has not ended on the sixth day (Gen. 2:2). Everything is sustained and maintained in its proper being, essence and existence by the Word of God. As St. Augustine points out: “If God withdraws his governance from the world it would not subsist in time even just for the wink of an eye” (Gen. Litt. 4:12, 22).
On the other hand, in the second chapter, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews exhorts us to pay attention to what has just been heard. And he recalls the covenant of the Old Testament, whose message could be summarized in the Jewish people’s profession of faith, which begins with the word “Shema” (Dt. 6:4), i.e., “Hear”-; it begins with an invitation to listen, accept, in order later to be able to dialogue.
The Letter to the Hebrews adds, even though the Old Testament communication had its grandeur, though transitory, its manner of speaking cannot be parallel with the communication given in the New Testament “announced by the Lord, later confirmed by those who heard it” (2:3). This communication is ratified by the action of the Blessed Trinity itself, because it is the Father who does the miracles (2:4), and the Holy Spirit is communicated by means of his gifts (2:4).
Finally, the text invites us to enter into salvific dynamics of communication: open the ears of the heart, listen, accept, allow ourselves to be transformed by the Word.
When St. Augustine comments on the text that we meditate on today, he points out that God spoke to us only once in the Son, that in him he has already said everything, because in him is contained the whole creation and all things.
God spoke only once, he has only one Word, the only Begotten. In that Word are contained all things, because by his word all things were made. He has only one Word, in which all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (en. Ps. 61:19).
A footnote on this Augustinian thought is the known phrase of St. John of the Cross in his book: Ascent to Mt. Carmel (2, 22,4): “I have spoken for you all things in my Word, who is my Son and I have nothing else which I can reveal or respond to you more than that, focus your eyes only on him; because in him I have put everything for you expressed and revealed, and in him you shall find even more than what you ask or desire.”
For his part, the Bishop of Hippo emphasizes that God no longer speaks through lightning and blast of trumpets, but that he meets every human being in his heart, in his intimacy, where Christ is the Interior Teacher:
God spoke to the apostles, he spoke to all the saints although not by means of a deafening cloud, but in the heart, where he is the teacher. Thus the Psalmist says: I will listen to what the Lord says within me, because he is going to announce peace to his people (en. Ps. 61:18).
And he continues underlining two important things that God says in this Psalm: that God, yes, he is almighty, but also, at the same time, he is merciful. That God has the power, and in you, Lord, is mercy. Are these the two things: the power and the mercy? Yes, these are. Try to understand the power of God; try to understand his mercy. In these two realities are contained almost all of Scripture (en. Ps.61:20).
These are two attributes of God that mutually complement each other, and determine the relationship of the human being with God, since we have to trust in him, but never forgetting his justice and power. In fact, the human being must face the temptation and the trial as an element by which God communicates to man what is his own being, that he may know himself, but also that he may trust more in God, and know God and Christ as a very merciful Savior:
Because the devil is given permission to tempt, but with limitations: ‘you will give us tears to drink –says a psalm- but with measure’. fear not, therefore, that the tempter is permitted to do something great: you count on a most merciful Savior (en. Ps 61:20).
He who has known this reality, the power and the mercy of God, becomes both a messenger of his power and doer of his mercy. In fact, St. Augustine ends this enarratio 61 by presenting an astrologer he had converted, and he asked his faithful to love him and to care for him; and he asked them to introduce him to the other members of the community, not only to see if he had a true conversion, but also in order that he may feel welcomed and he can communicate with the other brothers in the community.
Therefore, I must recommend him to your care and to your heart. Look at him there: love him from the heart, and let your eyes guard him. Look at him here, know him, and wherever he goes, present him to the other brothers who are not here; this same diligence is mercy, and thus he who was a seducer let him not separate his heart and turn the other way. You take care of him; let him not hide his life from you nor his conduct, that your testimony confirm to me that he has really converted to the Lord (en. Ps. 61:23).
The Gold of Egypt
In this section of our monthly recollection, we will bring in as proof a work of art that permits us to enter into dialogue with the world and the culture. For our Father St. Augustine (ep.137, 3, 12), as well as for other Fathers of the Church, the pagan culture was like the gold that the Hebrew people took out of Egypt in their Exodus (Ex. 12:35). The culture of the world in which we live, even though it was not specifically Christian, has a value, because it is a reflection of the grandeur, of the beauty, of the goodness or of the truth of God.
On this occasion, we comment on a frame by Bartolome Esteban Murillo: “Two Women by the Window.” It was painted around 1670 and is presently kept in the National Gallery of Art in Washington (U.S.A.). In it is seen a young woman leaning at a window sill, while looking amused and smiling at something in the street. Behind her was another woman, a little older, hiding a laughter behind her headdress. Some experts believe that it deals with a prostitute and her pimp. They focus on the pronounced neckline of the young woman and the red ribbon she displays. A current saying is audible: “A maiden who frequently looks out of the window sells cheap.”
Independently of these elements, the painting of Murillo reflects an attitude moved by curiosity: of always looking to what is outside, towards what is happening in the exterior. One of the great dangers of the new windows of the present world, which are the social networks and the means of communication, is that they simply become indiscreet windows, where persons look out of curiosity, to pass the time and remain in trifles, without ever seeking a communication that is profound, humane and authentic.
The means of communication we rely on at present can be instruments of great value and useful for our communication, for our formation and for our work, as we had verified throughout the pandemic. Nevertheless, it is necessary to be conscious and critical, in order not to fall into superficiality, vanity and dispersion. Only when we have learnt to look inwards and be dissected by Christ can we truly turn our eyes outwards without danger that this looking out would make us lose the direction and the meaning of our life.
From the Word to Action
– God has communicated throughout the history of salvation in diverse ways and many times. How is your communication with your brothers in the community? How can you make it more profound? How much time do you dedicate to it?
– Nowadays, we are tempted, like the women in the painting of Murillo, to let ourselves be carried away by superficiality and vanity. How do you use the different social networks? Have they become an obstacle in your communication? In your community, is each religious focused in his cellphone, in his “virtual communities” or is there value in putting them aside in communitarian moments to listen to the brothers?
– God has created all things through Christ, his Word. What can you create in the bosom of your community by means of your word? What in it must you avoid destroying with your words?
Let no one say: Why go to Church? Those who daily go there do not practice what they hear. But they do hear, and that is already something; with that they can realize what they hear and put it into practice; you, on the other hand, how much do you neglect to practice in your effort not to go and listen?
Grant, O Lord, that we will always be able to listen to your word and put it into action in our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord (en. Ps. 57, 23).