Silence is Important, and Detraction is a Crime


Both St. Mark and St. Matthew reveal a curious characteristic of Jesus’s mission in their Gospel narrations. On several occasions, Jesus warns those he heals to keep quiet. For instance, after Jesus heals two blind men, St. Matthew tells us, “Jesus warned them sternly, ‘see that no one knows about this’” (Mt 9:30). Scholars debate the reason for the so-called “messianic secret.” Some argue the secret serves to circumvent an inappropriate classification of Christ as a political messiah. Others hold that Jesus wants his kingdom to be kept secret now, so that his message might flourish later on. Regardless, Jesus’s command is clear: don’t speak, yet.
Instead of protecting his mission, Jesus’s command might reflect the intimacy he just shared with two saved men. In the presence of the Savior – in the presence of grace – what words suffice to capture the joy experienced by one touched by Christ? None. Only silence.
Our world could learn from Jesus’s messianic secret. Saturated by instantaneous news and viral videos, silence finds few disciples in the ambient culture. Like the men healed in the Gospels, humans naturally wish to share good news with everyone; and sometimes, bad news, too. But sometimes, one’s desire to share – and the wish to be recognized by others as the one who shared – overshadows the news itself. The ego is a powerful foe. When such news is bad or false, the damage could be worse. The Church urges journalists and others in media to exercise caution when it comes to publishing news stories. Catholics might be surprised to learn that when they unjustly reveal another’s fault or damage a person’s good name (what moral theology calls detraction), the Church requires they be punished with a canonical penalty. Christians, then, must take their cue not from the press corps, but from the Word made flesh. We must learn to cultivate silence, listen to the Savior, and behold his sacred face. Then, when we have come to know Jesus and what he’s done for us, we shall proclaim his goodness to the world, at his command.