Talk about silence

We’ve had that Cardinal Sarah in town, speaking after Vespers in the Cathedral, and at St Augustine’s Seminary. It was hard to get in, even to the Cathedral — long waiting lists for the tickets — but I was able to pose as another man’s wife. (She had to drop out at the last minute.) Saint Michael’s, here in Greater Parkdale, isn’t very large. When a certain Cardinal Ratzinger came, some thirty-two years ago, the churchwardens had the good sense to rent a hockey arena. We underestimate the star power of these quiet, undemonstrative clerics.

Indeed, considered as a business — and why not? — the Church Catholic has been making bad management decisions for decades now. They have, one might say, two products: “Traditional,” and “Lite.” The former is selling briskly, the latter is on the blocks. So where do they place their bets? (Guess.)

Or to put this a little less vulgarly, but only a little, most people who want Catholicism at all, want it straight up. They actually long for reverence and holiness. They want the music and chant that even pagans will buy on commercial recordings, but which they won’t hear in church. They are not afraid of Latin, and may have noticed that in this age of “multiculturalism,” it is our one common language. Without it, we divide into small ethnic cells, which die in isolation.

In my own humble but persistent opinion, we have endured more than half a century, of noisy things done to attract “the people,” which instead drove them away. When we do the opposite — make Catholicism more Catholic — the naves mysteriously fill again. I don’t understand the sales strategy.

Humiliated in Rome, as certain other “traditionalist” prelates, yet popular elsewhere, men like Cardinal Sarah remain to inspire us. He spoke here in a soft monotone — English is about his fifth or sixth language — and received rapt attention. One might almost say he went out of his way to be boring. He repeated the thesis of his recent book, The Power of Silence, in sentences consistently meditative rather than rhetorical; with no aphoristic flourishes, or anything resembling an applause line. He said nothing that should not be obvious to a formed Catholic mind, yet with a cumulative, developing power. He compels an audience to listen prayerfully.

Silence is a language that came before Latin, and remains at the heart of our Liturgy, whatever the language in which it is said or sung. We live today in the highly technical language of meaningless buzz, and from custom have become terrified of silence. It is a priest’s job to tell us: be brave.

Are we to be defined by our technological gadgetry, or defined in silence? Are we to be empty or full? Most came expecting to hear that, and were not disappointed. Silence can’t be spoken with a loud voice. It is the still and small one, of which Sarah speaks. I doubt anyone, knowing of the speaker, came expecting a pep talk.

I (and perhaps several others) could not help noticing what a good pope he would make: one who doesn’t speak unless he has something necessary to say; who is not trying to surprise us. One whose comfort is in the Sacraments and Doctrine, and not in novelties; a spokesman for Jesus Christ, and for no other cause. A man whose voice echoes twenty centuries. Even through the noise of the contemporary world, serious people are drawn to that.