Genesis 9 : 8-15 ;

Psalm 25 (24) : 4-10 ;

I Peter 3 : 18-22 ;

Mark 1 : 12-15

 

 

Every year towards the end of the Lenten season I find myself in good health and high spirits. And so light after shedding a kilo or two!

 

The kick-off for this Lent was given on Ash Wednesday. Now we are well into the game. Saint Paul tells us, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable crown. But we do it for a crown that cannot perish” (I Cor 9 : 25). The Lenten season is a spiritual sports-meet and has only one goal: becoming a new person, someone who has died and risen with Christ.

 

The bright side of Lent is this promise of newness: becoming capable, every year, of rising up to new life, and of injecting zest and colour to the call of the Gospel, “Repent and believe in the Good News!”  

 

Let us go back to today’s gospel. The curtain rises on a fabulous scenario: the desert! Immediately after his baptism, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness for forty days (Mark 1: 12-13), which is another way of saying that Jesus chose to begin his public ministry with a silent retreat of forty days. We too, through these forty days of Lent, are going to progress with Christ in the silence of the desert. We are going to make room for God in our hearts and reap the harmony that we will find in His presence.

 

The Jewish people recite every day the “Shema Israel”, i.e. “Listen, Israel” (Deut 6: 4). The Jewish writer Chouraqui proposes a new translation to this verse. Instead of “Listen, Israel!” he suggests: “Be silent, Israel!” or “Keep quiet, Israel!” In order to listen, you must first create silence. Becoming silent is an act of love, and of respect.

 

Mother Teresa states: “The beginning of prayer is silence. If we really want to pray, we must first learn to listen, for in the silence of the heart, God speaks”. Silence helps us to break the tyranny of the ego. We will not get in touch with the deep source of our lives if our activities are so consuming and obsessive that we can not find any meaning in something deeper than our deeds. During Lent we are called to get to that inner source, that which gives meaning to our daily existence.

 

In the gospels, we are told of Christ’s quest for solitude as a way to encounter God, and often as a way to cope with busy or traumatic times. After ministering to the sick, casting out demons, multiplying the loaves and fishes, and after the death of John the Baptist, each time, Jesus sought solitude and prayer to process what he had experienced (1). He began his earthly life in the silence of Bethlehem. St. Ephrem the Syrian says, “At the annunciation by the angel, He who is the Word, entered into the womb of Mary, and became silent within her”. He asked the demons to keep quiet and told those he healed not to be loud about it (Mk 1: 34, 44). On leaving the mountain of the Transfiguration, it is silence that he imposed on the apostles - “He charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of man should have risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves” (Mk 9:9-10). On Ash Wednesday he told us, “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6: 6).

 

For Jesus the silence of the wilderness is also the great peace that comes from the victory over self. Once the temptations are over, angels come and minister to him and he lives in peace with the wild beasts (Mk 1: 13). This is an allusion to the early harmony of the Garden of Eden. As Saint Paul puts it, Christ re-establishes humankind in its primitive bliss (Rom 5: 12-19). The peace promised in Isaiah for the Messianic times to come, is commenced (Isa 9 :5).

 

Silence is one of the keys to benefitting from the Lenten Season. God reveals himself as much by his silence as by his Word. He who spoke to Moses in the fury of the thunderstorm (Ex 19: 16-25) and to Elijah in the murmur of the soft breeze (I Kgs 19: 11-15), today asks us to enter into the silence of His Christ.

 

God loves silence. See how nature, trees, flowers and grass, all grow in silence; see how the stars, the moon and the sun, all move in silence. Silence is a sublime way to touch God. God speaks to us through the silence of creation’s infinite species. More powerful than words is the sound of silence.

 

“Listen to that! That is the voice of God!

Silence of the desert in the echo of the wind as it sweeps across the dunes.

Silence of the Ocean in the whiteness of the mornings,

As the waves bend low to wake up the shore.

Silence of the forest as the timid deer drags the first lights of daybreak

Away from the meadows into the deep groves.

Silence of the mountain, when the sun gushes down its slopes in a shadow of colours.

Silence of midnight blue, sonata of the stars for the skies of the Orient.

Silence of the galaxies.

Silence of friends who know to remain silent.

Silence of the monasteries.

Silence of men.

Silence of God.

Restore in me Lord, my share of silence that so much noise wants to block from me.

Forty days to make silence!” (2)

 

“Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46).                        

 

 

(1) Gerry Turcotte, Big Things Ordinary, Thoughts in Extraordinary Times, Novalis, Toronto, 2019, pp 82-83.

 

(2) Adapted from a poem by Father Pierre Talec in “Euloge du Silence”, Homélies du Jour du Seigneur, CFRT, Paris, 21.02.88

 

 

Tiburtius Fernandez SMA, © Treasures of The Word, Homilies for Year B, St. Paul's, Bandra, Bombay, India, 2023, pp. 53-56.