||This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.
It seems like just yesterday that I was writing to you about Christmas and about the depth, the richness of our hymn “Silent Night.” We just observed Palm Sunday, and were listening, at the beginning of Holy Week, to the story of Our Lord’s suffering and death.
Dominated by sounds of violent hatred
We meditate upon that night when He was condemned to death. That night was anything but a silent night. That night was dominated by the sounds of violent hatred for Jesus Christ.
Violent hatred is always noisy. We see that in the unrest around the world (including many of the protests in our own country) which have taken up the sounds, not of silence, but of violent hatred. And yet, there were some crucial silent elements in that very noisy, violent night which led to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Silence turned on its head
Consider the thoughts and hidden actions of Judas as he carried out his betrayal plan — those took place in silence and darkness. I have written a lot about how silence unveils the mysteries of goodness, truth, and love. I’ve reflected on the notion of silence as a veil.
However, as with any good thing, silence also can be turned on its head by the devil. Silence can become the place where violence and hatred are plotted: in the tortuous workings of human minds and human hearts.
God created silence to reveal mystery and glory; the devil, of course, does everything he can to abuse God’s creation. And so, silence can also become the place where evil is unveiled. But that, too, is a very good thing, because human beings need to face up to the truth about evil and about Satan. And they don’t want to do that.
Pontius Pilate had his moment of silence, too. What his wife had told him frightened him very much, and he was hesitant to do what the people wanted. But rather than follow his own conviction, and his own rightful fear, he did what politicians often do: he looked at the results of the poll. In that the results of the poll were, “Let him be crucified,” he went along.
And what did he think as he washed his hands? Did he really think that that made any difference? Or was it some kind of a politically correct cover-up in his own mind?
Jesus’ thoughts on the cross
And then of course, we can meditate upon the silence which enveloped the thoughts of Jesus as He died. We know that He spoke his “seven last words,” but what were His thoughts on that cross? What did Jesus think, having just cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
What was taking place beneath the silence? While the moment of the Savior’s death must have been one of tremendous silence here on earth, a moment of speechless agonizing grief, we know now that in that moment, Jesus descended to the dead to rescue all the great saints of the Old Testament, who were imprisoned in the place of the dead.
What was that moment like? Surely a moment of silent rejoicing, as Christ entered as the liberator of that great company of prophets and saints from the Old Testament. Imagine how happy St. Abraham, St. Isaac, St. Jacob, and St. David were to see Jesus. Imagine the joy of St. Deborah and St. Esther. Just imagine how happy they were that their liberator was at hand. But as far as this world was concerned, that mystery was veiled in silence.
Unveilings of mystery
And, as we consider the unveilings of mystery seen in moments of silence, it is interesting also to meditate upon the other unveilings in the Passion account — meditations that require our own silence.
We hear that the high priest tore his garments. In so doing, he unveiled his own evil heart, so that everybody could see how evil evil is, when creation is turned against God. There was nothing left to be hidden with regard to the human heart. “His blood be upon us and our children,” the crowds cried out, their twisted minds no longer leaving anything to doubt. The unveiling of evil accomplishes a good: it shows us how evil evil is.
And of course, so importantly, we have the veil in the temple torn in two, at the moment of Christ’s death. The gateway to the sanctuary was opened by the tearing open of the veil. We learn in the Letter to the Hebrews that the veil spoken of in that story is the flesh of Jesus (Heb 10:20).
In having the veil, which is His flesh, torn in two, the mystery and the glory of Heaven were revealed. And silence is necessary to contemplate the torn garments of the high priest revealing evil and the torn veil in the temple revealing God’s glory.
I would suggest to you that so many of the important moments in the Scriptures required silence — as in Judas, as in Pilate, as in Jesus. And I would also submit that silence is so important, so that those veils can be lifted and we can see the true evil and hatred and violence of evil, and so that we can see the truth and the beauty and the goodness of the mystery of Christ.
As much as we can, let’s try to have a silent Holy Week so that our Easter Joy may be all the more explosive. Thank you for reading this. Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!