Thought for the Day - 11/07/2014 - Catherine Pepinster

If you believe newspaper headlines, Lord Patten, the former chairman of the BBC Trust, is to become the Pope’s right-hand man. The truth is more prosaic: Lord Patten is going to chair a committee that will look at the Vatican’s media strategy. And key to that, says the Vatican, is improving its digital channels.

Yet Pope Francis already has a Pope App, and 14 million followers on Twitter, not to mention the Vatican’s use of Facebook and You Tube. They’re already adding significantly to the bombardment we’re under from all kinds of media, 24/7.

The Vatican’s media strategy announcement was made on the same day it was revealed that around half of Britain’s managers work the equivalent of an extra day of unpaid overtime a week. According to a management study, much of the blame for the boundaries between home and the office dissolving, is down to smartphone technology. Emails, tweets and all kinds of communication are hammering away at us, making it impossible to relax, to think, or to meditate. Some of us may even want that kind of distraction, because it means we don’t have to face up to deeper or tougher issues.

While I understand why the Vatican believes it needs to be as effective as it can be as a communicator, it seems to me that what the Church is best placed to offer people today is the opposite of the twittersphere: it is silence. Silence has become the most precious commodity in our noisy world of often senseless chatter. Churches are that rare thing today: places where you can sit in silence, almost listen to the sound of the lack of noise.

There’s a long tradition of silence in Christianity, from the moments of silent prayers during services, to retreats where people spend days in complete silence, focusing instead on prayer. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus goes out into the desert for 40 days and nights to pray alone. Anyone who’s ever been in the desert will know its rich silence when you’re alone, so unlike normal life today.

But in the Christian tradition silence is not advocated for silence’s sake. St Benedict devoted a whole chapter of his rule for monks on keeping silent. Cultivating an inner stillness and silence, he advised, was a way to listen to God and experience his presence.
Benedict wrote his rule in the sixth century of the Christian Era. But his urging to get rid of the noise both outside you and inside your head, and be attentive to what is most important, is as wise today as it was then. For silence can bring a peacefulness that is all too elusive in a world of full of digital chatter.

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