I watched the Netflix movie The Two Popes recently and, I must say, I was not impressed. Aside from it being unhelpful fiction, a profound spiritual lesson was distorted. Towards the end, Benedict XVI, played by Anthony Hopkins, explains to Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio why he desires to retire. God has abandoned him. Benedict feels nothing in prayer. He asks, he pleads, and "Silence!" is all he receives in return. This abandonment the pope takes as a sign that God no longer is with him and no longer desires him to lead the Church. He must resign.
Again, this is fiction. Benedict never had this conversation with Bergoglio and there is no way to know if Benedict ever experienced this silence. But if he did experience the absence of God, then this would not have been his reaction, in my opinion. Why? Because most saints and most mature souls in the spiritual life experience this silence. When they experience it, as Christ did on the cross ("My God, My God...") they remain united to God. Though they feel or hear nothing, they are assured of his love and presence. "Certitude is drawn from the darkness," says Saint Angela of Foligno.
This is sometimes called 'the Prayer of Quiet' or the 'Prayer of Faith.' Others label it 'the Dark Night of the Soul.' This prayer is always an invitation from God: a reward, not a punishment. It is God's desire to conform the soul more closely to himself. And it leads to fruit, either in the life of the soul or the life of the Church. Saint John of the Cross calls it "silent music."
The explanation given by the actor who played Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs implies God's rejection of him when, in fact, silence would have been a sign of God's great love. If we ever experience this nothingness I hope we would know better than the fictional pope did.