We live in a loud, fast-paced world, one of constantly “breaking news,” in which crisis and urgency are the predominant mode. Instant communication and quick responses are expected, even demanded.
At the national level, there is hardly any reporting at all by the media before there is a rush to analyze, comment, and demand a reaction and plan of action from public officials.
At the personal level, someone will often express irritation at not hearing back from me within the day, or even within minutes. “I sent you a text! Did you get it?” If I do not answer a text quickly enough I may get another one that simply says “Father …?” An email may begin with a subject like this: “** Second Attempt **” if the previous email went unanswered for even a day.
In many companies, voice mail has been discontinued because it’s “too slow.” Many younger people seldom answer their phones let alone initiate phone calls. Communication is more commonly accomplished through instant messages, texts, and tweets. This results in a clipped quality to conversations that limits thoughtful discussion.
Yes, we are in a big hurry. But back to my question: Have you noticed that God doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry? God could easily solve everything instantly with a mere snap of His fingers; one word and it would be fixed. He does not do this, however, and He has His reasons. Perhaps it is important for us to live some of our questions in order to appreciate their depths. Perhaps the problems we want solved are themselves part of a deeper solution that God is working to make us humbler, wiser, and /or stronger.
Beyond puzzling, God’s slow pace can also be dismaying. Why does God allow the wicked to inflict so much damage for so long? Why does He allow error and heresy to go unchecked? Why does He permit sinners to remain unpunished and uncorrected?
The Church too is often rather slow to respond or act. We will go on for decades, even centuries, pondering and reflecting while the world rushes forward at light speed into error, darkness, and confusion. We often want the Church to have quick answers and effective responses to all of this; we want the Church to turn on a dime but that’s like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around.
Though at times imponderable, God’s delay is sinless. The Church’s delay, however, may be admixed with sin, sloth, and resistance. This does not mean that all the delay of the Church is sinful. Especially in today’s world of quick, often rash reaction, there is still the need for careful, thoughtful, prayerful deliberation. Our faith doesn’t reduce easily to sound bites. The Gospel does not fit on a bumper sticker. The Church should not be reduced to a fire department, but she should keep her identity as a careful medical practice. The urgent should not eclipse the important.
Yes, all of this has been a hard lesson for me to learn. I am impatient by nature; I tap my foot incessantly in meetings, thinking, let’s get to work already! I am a bit like the impatient field hand in the Gospel (Mat 13:24ff), who wanted to tear out the weeds from amongst the wheat. The Lord cautioned against doing so might because it might harm the wheat. He said that they should be allowed to grow together until the harvest; the day of judgement will come, but not yet.
Indeed, rash actions can cause harm, even if unintentionally. Quick or draconian measures to eliminate error and sin may harm the saints and ration the Spirit. Conflicts have their place. They can call the question and sharpen the distinction between the good and the wicked; darkness can allow the light shine even more gloriously.
But Father, but Father! What about the many souls who are lost and confused in the silence while the Church delays, reflecting and pondering? I know, I know; I have no simple answer, except to point back to God. While the Church’s delay may be prudent or imprudent, in these hurried times of instant communication and demanded answers, God’s sinless delay and lengthy silences still shine before us and challenge our often-rash instincts.
God takes His time. The Jewish people were 400 years in slavery and 40 years in the desert. From then it was 1800 years to the Christ, who spent thirty of His thirty-three years in seclusion and silence.
Yes, for reasons of His own, God is not in a big hurry. For my part, I must learn this hard lesson and be careful to enter into the silence of God through prayer. Having prayed in that silence I must emerge to patiently, teaching and preaching the faith that God has revealed. I can do no more, but I can do no less.
Cardinal Robert Sarah’s words are a fitting conclusion to this hard lesson for us modern compulsives:
Silence is of capital importance because it enables the Church to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, imitating his thirty silent years of Nazareth….and his intimate dialogue with the Father in the solitude and silence of the desert….
Light makes no noise. If we want to approach this luminous source, we must assume an attitude of contemplation and silence….The true nature of the Church is not found in what she does but in what she testifies. Christ asked us to be light. He ordered us not to conquer the world, but to show men the way, the truth and the life.
I know well that God’s silence constantly runs into man’s impatience…[but] nowadays man fosters a kind of compulsive relationship with time. One day we will understand everything. Until then it is necessary to seek without making noise.
Who can understand God?…As with all questions connected with God, there is a stage when the search can go no farther. The only thing to do is to raise our eyes, to stretch out our hands toward God, and to pray in silence while awaiting the dawn…. [Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence, pp. 219-221]