Thursday, July 05, 2007

Speaking out and keeping silent

In Chapter 4 of Book 2 of his Treatise on Pastoral Care, Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote:

That the Rector should be discreet in keeping silence, profitable in speech.

A spiritual guide should be silent when discretion requires and speak when words are of service. Otherwise you may say what you should not or be silent when you should speak. Indiscreet speech may lead people into error and an imprudent silence may leave in error those who could have been taught. Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of their people. As the voice of truth tells us (John 10:12), such leaders are not zealous pastors who protect their flocks, rather they are like mercenaries who flee by taking refuge in silence when the wolf appears.

The Lord reproaches them through the prophet: "They are dumb dogs that cannot bark." On another occasion he complains: "You did not advance against the foe or set up a wall in front of the house of Israel, so that you might stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord" (Ezekiel 8:5). To advance against the foe involves a bold resistance to the powers of this world in defense of the flock. To stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord means to oppose the wicked enemy out of love for what is right.

When a pastor has been afraid to assert what is right, has that shepherd not turned back and fled by remaining silent? Whereas if you intervene on behalf of the flock, you set up a wall against the enemy in front of the house of Israel. Therefore, the Lord again says to his unfaithful people: "Your prophets saw false and foolish visions and did not point out your wickedness, that you might repent of your sins" (Lamentations 2:14). The name of the prophet is sometimes given in the sacred writings to teachers who both declare the present to be fleeting and reveal what is to come. The word of God accuses them of seeing false visions because they are afraid to reproach people for their faults and thereby lull the evildoer with an empty promise of safety. Because they fear reproach, they keep silent and fail to point out the sinner's wrongdoing.

The word of reproach is a key that unlocks a door, because reproach reveals a fault of which the evildoer is often unaware. That is why Paul says: "A bishop must be able to encourage people in sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9). For the same reason God tells us through Malachi: "The lips of the priest are to preserve knowledge, and people shall look to the priest for the law, for the priest is the messenger of the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 2:7). Finally, that is also the reason why the Lord warns us through Isaiah: "Cry out and be not still; raise your voice in a trumpet call."

All who are ordained priest undertake the task of preaching, so that with a loud cry they may go on ahead of the terrible judge who fellow's. If, then, a priest does not know how to preach, what kind of cry can such a dumb herald utter? It was to bring this home that the Holy Spirit descended in the form of tongues on the first pastors (Acts 2:3), for the Spirit causes those who are thus filled, to speak out spontaneously.

You can read the whole Liber Regulæ Pastoralis here.

No comments: