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The Second Commandment and Religious Communication

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J

Our present meditation is still on the Second Commandment of the Decalogue on religious communication. You might ask yourselves what does this mean? It means that God wants us first of all to articulate our thoughts and desires to Him in prayer. And not only as we’ve seen, though of course also, but not only, by the internal movements of our mind and will directed towards God. God wants us to also communicate with Him with our bodily, sensibly perceptible, what we call vocal prayer. But the focus of our reflections is the third stage. God wants us also to communicate with others about Him. In other words He wants us to communicate not only to Him in prayer but about Him in our religious communication with others. Our purpose then will be to look at the following aspects of this immense and I should add, widely neglected aspect, to put it very mildly, of the Second Commandment of the Decalogue.

The overall title is religious communication. The four categories are conversation, correspondence, publication and the media.

First then, conversation.  Most people, I’m sure we’d be surprised to associate conversation with the Second Commandment of the Decalogue. But conversation is more closely related to this commandment than I’m afraid many of us, including myself realize. Certainly, the Second Commandment has a prohibition forbidding us to ever use the name of God in vain. But dare I say, in the name of God, the Second Commandment does not forbid us to use the name of God. When we use the name of God, to repeat, in speaking to Him, that’s prayer. But we should also use the name of God in speaking about Him. And the masters of the spiritual life over the centuries and with prolonged formal, explicit emphasis, my own father in God, St. Ignatius to cultivate the art of spiritual conversation. We are forever talking to other people and in their absence what do we do, we talk to ourselves. So what is spiritual conversation? It is conversation with other people indeed. What about the things of God? About things that are sacred about our faith? About our own religious experience? About the things that pertain to our Lord, to our Lady, the saints, the Church, the Holy Eucharist, prayer, acts of piety, stories that relate to what is holy. I believe most people’s conversation most of the time is in technical language is profane conversation about the things of this world. I hope you agree. Hours on end, lost in animated conversation, about what? That’s a good question. About what? Except about the one Being on whom everything else depends. Some practical suggestions. There is such a thing as being prepared for conversation. You don’t just walk into a conversation. Now of course, we don’t come with a book or two under your arm and a pad and notes, let’s see here on page seven. There’s also such a thing as cultivating the art of mastering a conversation. And the one who masters a conversation is not believe me the one that does most of the talking. A judicious question. A short comment. But we are talking about spiritual conversation. This is an art and some people never learn it. Of course, of course, from the depths of the heart as Christ tells us, the mouth speaks. We are going to be only as adept in spiritual conversation as you are interiorally united with God.

Area number two: Correspondence.  St. Paul is the great master of religious letter writing. His epistles, as we call them have set the pace for an apostolate that has become one of the most effective channels of grace in the history of Christianity. A single letter which we write can change another person’s life. Back again for a moment to St. Ignatius. We are told by his biographers he would sometimes rewrite a letter seven times to make sure he was saying exactly what he thought the soul to whom he was writing needed.

Not all people have the same freedom to write letters. Not everyone has the same facility. But everyone who believes in Christ and writes letters should be aware of the power of the written word to bring souls closer to the Savior and literally work miracles of grace in people’s lives. It does not really matter how much or how many letters are written and surely it does not matter on how long they are. Sometimes when I open the letter I first count the pages I look at the clock. What is important is that what we write will breathe the spirit of piety. That we write about the things of God. But I’m not used to it. Start getting used to it. And that our correspondence is consciously intended to bring those to whom we write closer to Jesus Christ. Otherwise - and here I’m quoting for the third time my father in God, otherwise he says, don’t write the letter. You’re wasting your time and your wasting the time of the person to whom you are writing. One short comment. Make sure that your letters close with a conclusion, like, sincerely yours in Christ; sincerely in our Lord, or simply in our Lady, or in the love of the Sacred Heart, and I close my letters that way also to my Jewish friends, why not?

Publication.  Remember we are reflecting on the Second Commandment of the Decalogue. We are drawing out some of the mysterious implications of our responsibility – hear it – to use the name of God. The prohibition is not to abuse the precept is to use the name of God. Our Lord tells us in the Gospels that the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. How true. How pathetically true. The science of printing and therefore of publication was discovered in the second half of the fifteenth century. What happened? The children of this world, immediately by the beginning of the sixteenth century a new form of Christianity came into existence to challenge the Catholic Church. And its bedrock premise was that all of God’s revelation is contained in the bible, in the written word, for fifteen centuries nobody would dream of saying that. And what happened? Then this new form of Christianity, alien to Catholicism proceeded to publish books and pamphlets, ... and popular catechisms. Up to fifty years before the first Catholic catechism was published. How happy I am to report of my fellow Jesuit St. Peter Canisius. In other words it took the children of light generations to wake up. The very same is happening today, the same thing. We then must say it is no option, an obligation for us who believe in Jesus Christ and the Church He founded on the rock of Peter. We have a duty to publish which means, to make public. That’s what publish means. To make publicly known the height and depth and riches of the treasures decreed to the world by Jesus Christ. I’m not finished yet with this publication. We do not normally associate the contemplative or monastic life of consecrated religious with publication. If we don’t we better, we better wake up. For a thousand years before the discovery of print and moveable type how were the treasures of Christian wisdom preserved and passed on from one generation to the next? How? By the laborious zeal of monks in cloistered monasteries they spent hours each day, months, sometimes years in transcribing a single, what we now call book. And painfully but I should add beautifully transcribing the writings of St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Basil, St. Benedict, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Justin Martyr, St Irenaeus of Lyons. Except for their dedicated labors – all contemplative monks – we would no longer have what is now over four hundred volumes of the fathers of the Church. Along with Sacred Scripture these writings are the patrimony of Christian doctrine and spirituality which has nourished the faithful and will continue to nourish the faithful until the end of time. Oh what examinations of conscience, which is my intention in this meditation, we should all make.

Finally, the media.  For the first time in counciliar history the Second Vatican Council issued a formal decree, no mere descriptive document – a decree – entitled Inter Mirifica. The title means among the marvels. What does this formal document of the whole hierarchy of the Catholic Church under the bishop of Rome tell us? It tells us that among the marvels of God’s providence we now have the media of communication to evangelize and catechize the world on a scale and with an influence never before known since the time of Christ. The key to the use of the media to spread the Gospel of Christ, is a deep faith, a great love of souls and a strong life of prayer, especially contemplative prayer among those who will exploit this power means of saving and sanctifying souls and bringing them closer to the heart of Christ. I don’t believe in all my years of giving retreats I once took the occasion of seeing what I want to share with you now. It is surely not coincidental but very providential that the single, most powerful network of promoting the Catholic faith using the modern media of communications is directed by a contemplative community of nuns who concentrate on the adoration of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. And having in God’s mysterious ways been part of that enterprise, I assure you the Vicar of Christ does not doubt, that the most cloistered contemplatives remain cloistered can reach out to the whole world and proclaim Christ now as was never possible in all the previous history of Christianity.

Christ our Lord told us that, if we profess Him before men on earth He will profess us before His heavenly father. This is both a privilege and a challenge. As we approach the beginning of the twenty-first century our Holy Father, the first pope in history to exploit to the limits the modern media of communication. By readiness to His profession our Holy Father is a Carmelite under vows. A man of deep prayer who I am told by those, well, who take care of His household, he will spend hours at night before the Blessed Sacrament. He anticipates the twenty-first century as the most glorious in the history of Christianity. But on one condition. That we live out the Second Commandment and proclaim the name of God who became man to a Christ-less world that needs the Savior as never before. Amen.

Copyright © 1992 by Catholic Faith

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