Again and again, I return to Pope Saint John Paul II’s magnificent Apostolic Letter 2 May 1995, Orientale Lumen. When it was promulgated twenty–three years ago, its luminous doctrine pierced my heart and compelled me to a prayer of adoration and silence. I often put it into the hands of men at the beginning of the monastic journey. I have referred to it in every retreat that I have been called upon to preach. Orientale Lumen treats of tradition, of monasticism, of spiritual fatherhood, of the sacramental economy, of the sacred liturgy, of the adorable face of Christ, and of the adoring silence of which we all have need lest, Pope Saint John Paul II says, we “delude ourselves that it is enough to heap word upon word to attract people to the experience of God”. Here, then, is the magnificent portion of the text in which Pope Saint John Paul II summons the Church to enter the silence distilled by adoration in spirit and in truth.
Christ, A Tabernacle of Glory
There is a tabernacle of glory, which is the most holy person of Jesus the Lord, where the divine and the human meet in an embrace that can never be separated. The Word became flesh, like us in everything except sin. He pours divinity into the sick heart of humanity, and imbuing it with the Father’s Spirit enables it to become God through grace.
God Loves Man in the Mystery of the Son
But if this has revealed the Son to us, then it is given us to approach the mystery of the Father, principle of communion in love. The Most Holy Trinity appears to us then as a community of love: to know such a God means to feel the urgent need for him to speak to the world, to communicate himself; and the history of salvation is nothing but the history of God’s love for the creature he has loved and chosen, wanting it to be “according to the icon of the Icon” – as the insight of the Eastern Fathers expresses it – that is, molded in the image of the Image, which is the Son, brought to perfect communion by the sanctifier, the Spirit of love. Even when man sins, this God seeks him and loves him, so that the relationship may not be broken off and love may continue to flow. And God loves man in the mystery of the Son, who let himself be put to death on the Cross by a world that did not recognize him, but has been raised up again by the Father as an eternal guarantee that no one can destroy love, for anyone who shares in it is touched by God’s glory: it is this man transformed by love whom the disciples contemplated on Tabor, the man whom we are all called to be.
A Mystery Enveloped in Silence
Nevertheless this mystery is continuously veiled, enveloped in silence, lest an idol be created in place of God. Only in a progressive purification of the knowledge of communion, will man and God meet and recognize in an eternal embrace their unending connaturality of love.
A Solemn and Humble Liturgical Doxology
Thus is born what is called the apophatism of the Christian East: the more man grows in the knowledge of God, the more he perceives him as an inaccessible mystery, whose essence cannot be grasped. This should not be confused with an obscure mysticism in which man loses himself in enigmatic, impersonal realities. On the contrary, the Christians of the East turn to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, living persons tenderly present, to whom they utter a solemn and humble, majestic and simple liturgical doxology. But they perceive that one draws close to this presence above all by letting oneself be taught an adoring silence, for at the culmination of the knowledge and experience of God is his absolute transcendence. This is reached through the prayerful assimilation of scripture and the liturgy more than by systematic meditation.
Adoration: a Theological Method
In the humble acceptance of the creature’s limits before the infinite transcendence of a God who never ceases to reveal himself as God – Love, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the joy of the Holy Spirit, I see expressed the attitude of prayer and the theological method which the East prefers and continues to offer all believers in Christ.
What Man Needs Today: Silence
We must confess that we all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored: in theology, so as to exploit fully its own sapiential and spiritual soul; in prayer, so that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to cover it with a veil (cf. Ex 34:33), and that our gatherings may make room for God’s presence and avoid self – celebration; in preaching, so as not to delude ourselves that it is enough to heap word upon word to attract people to the experience of God; in commitment, so that we will refuse to be locked in a struggle without love and forgiveness. This is what man needs today; he is often unable to be silent for fear of meeting himself, of feeling the emptiness that asks itself about meaning; man who deafens himself with noise. All, believers and non – believers alike, need to learn a silence that allows the Other to speak when and how he wishes, and allows us to understand his words. (Orientale Lumen, 15 and 16)