A Discussion Among the Deaf

Dialogue first comes into being where there is not only speech but also listening. Moreover, such listening must be the medium of an encounter; this encounter is the condition of an inner contact which leads to mutual comprehension. Reciprocal understanding, finally, deepens and transforms the being of the interlocutors . . . To listen means to know and to acknowledge another and to allow him to step into the realm of one’s own “I.” . . . Thus, after the act of listening, I am another man, my own being is enriched and deepened because it is united with the being of the other and, through it, with the being of the world . . . When we speak of dialogue in the proper sense, what we mean is an utterance wherein something of being itself -indeed, the person himself- becomes speech. This touches the very being of man as such, purifying and intensifying his potency to be who he is . . . Men are capable of reciprocal comprehension because, far from being wholly separate islands of being, they communicate in the same truth. The greater their inner contact with the only reality which unites them, namely, the truth, the greater their capacity to meet on common ground. Dialogue without this interior obedient listening to the truth would be nothing more than a discussion among the deaf.

— Pope Benedict XVI,
Benedictus (Excerpted from
The Nature and Mission of Theology)

When I read that, I couldn’t help thinking about where we are politically, in America, where there is no dialogue, only endless talking-past or talking-at. Endless lip-flapping; sound and fury signifying nothing. Or signifying a nationwide neurosis, perhaps.

I especially like this line:

The greater their inner contact with the only reality which unites them, namely, the truth, the greater their capacity to meet on common ground.

I don’t know how one makes ‘inner contact’ with reality and truth -and enlarges their capacity for it- without prayer and meditation. I don’t mean people cannot know what is true without a habit of prayer; they can and do. But it seems to me that without some time each day spent in quiet -in prayer, contemplation, meditation- we will not get past certain natural limitations (those dams and blockages formed by our life experiences, for instance) preventing us making “greater contact” with truth, thus inhibiting our ability to develop that “greater capacity to meet on common ground.”

“Truth” is under siege by what Benedict so perfectly identified as the “dictatorship of relativism”. That dictatorship holds sway over so many unsuspecting souls, because relativism is easier to embrace (and safer) in a politically correct era; relativism (and “relative truth”) has become the social and business expedient for an overly-rushed and harassed world. More importantly, it has become a spiritual expedient for too many, and that keeps a soul treading in the shallows, unwilling to cast out into the deep in whole-hearted trust. It all leads to stagnation. People become afraid to make a move, or utter a word, because their relative views may offend someone else’s relative views, and since no one will admit to knowing the truth, anyway, thinking and speaking become disengaged and insulated, and a man’s “truth” can become extremely distorted, unproductive, empty and sad.

The anchor of communication and camaraderie should be truth. If it is not deployed, but instead left unused, then public discourse and private conversation, alike, will find itself adrift; borne on ceaseless currents carrying them where they may not want to go.

As both silence and robust dialogue have gone missing in our modern lives, prayer seems complex and mysterious to a world that believes nothing can be so easy as a dialogue between two beings reaching out in love – speaking and listening in turn, and in truth.

As Benedict said at one of his World Youth Days – I think in Cologne –

“We have to let God’s love break through the hard crust of our indifference, our spiritual weariness, our blind conformity to the spirit of this age. Only then can we let it ignite our imagination and shape our deepest desires. That is why prayer is so important: daily prayer, private prayer in the quiet of our hearts and before the Blessed Sacrament, and liturgical prayer in the heart of the Church.

I haven’t slept, so I am making even less sense than usual.

Increasingly, though, it seems to me a little bit of Benedict’s clarity in the morning is a very sane way to start the day.


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