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No Photos! No Videos! Silence!

Fr. Francis Ongkingco


Fr. Francis OngkingcoUpon entering the majestic and awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel in Rome, one’s celestial reverie is abruptly interrupted by a nearby security officer whose static voice crackles through a megaphone: No Photos! No Videos! Silence! And to further emphasize this admonition, he hushes the entire chapel with a profound and prolonged “SHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

The intense, packed crowd of people, like canned sardines with heads heavenwards in ecstasy, immediately but reluctantly complies with the stern guard’s reminder. Some intentionally delay switching off their smartphones before hiding them hoping to take one last picture before the Final Judgment. Others try to appear compliant but secretly continue snapping photos or recording videos of the heavenly host who are the only passive witnesses staring down at their earthly guilt for not complying with chapel regulations.

Before such a rare moment of gazing at and indulging on such a priceless artwork, it is understandable how the crowd would naturally want to steal a secret remembrance of one of the world’s greatest artistic treasures. After all, today’s technology allows one to easily snitch a digital proof of one’s experience of something so important and extraordinary.

Taking photos of art items and crafts isn’t really the issue. They say it is more of the bright flash—multiplied by the number of tourists—that can damage a painting’s original colors. Videos on the other hand, can be rather distracting and can cause one to inadvertently stumble into other tourists. Silence! Oh, this is very important. Not only to hear the guides explain certain things about the place but also to remind everyone that in the first place, they are inside God’s Temple.

After attending the World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, I was struck by something that Pope Francis frequently reminded the participants to practice: silence. In most of his homilies, he would ask everyone to pause in silence and talk to Jesus in their hearts about the things he had just reflected upon. It was only later on that I connected this Papal pastoral gesture, so characteristic of Pope Francis, to the reminders that the tourists received inside the Sistine Chapel.

From an artistic point of view, silence in the form of contemplation is essential for one to truly appreciate any work of art. Thus, we cannot allow anything to get between the dialogue of our senses and the object we are striving to understand and appreciate.

Without this “silent attitude” one may see the artwork but may not allow its beauty to embrace us and communicate unique sentiments that enrich the spirit.

Today, the silent and contemplative stance is not easy to achieve. Perhaps, this is the main reason why we are reminded to put down our cameras, smartphones, and other digital recording devices and allow our spirit to be drawn and focused on the reality we are engaging and contemplating.

If we disregard this reminder what occurs is that after taking a shot or a video, one concentrates more on examining the results and judging its value as a keepsake, a selfie, an Instagram photo and other possibilities to perhaps gain more likes from. One is really interacting with his gadget and a secondary representation of the artwork. Thus, he disconnects himself from the reality that he ought to engage with and be enriched by.

Likewise, we can understand why Pope Francis encourages us to often nurture the habit of silence. Our intimate relationship with God cannot be captured or video recorded by any camera. Much less can the deeper underpinnings of conversion and holiness be casually published in a blog or a random hashtag. In other words, it is only in our souls that this relationship can be properly captured, nurtured, and made fruitful. How can we even discover and nurture these when we easily allow material things to distract us from the spiritual treasures reserved for us by God?

This ‘silent attitude’ is especially needed in those intense and intimate moments when God artistically displays His transforming grace for us and within us. It is here that He attempts to capture us. Example of these are the Holy Mass, within the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in our daily intimate prayers, the Holy Rosary, and other pious practices.
It is worth the effort and sacrifice in these grace-filled moments to hearken to the words: No Photos! No Videos! Silence!!!

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