The 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Every human life has a religious dimension, something in us that responds to the overwhelming presence of God. The context is different for everyone, but also there is something in common. We heard that Elijah spent the night alone on Horeb, the mountain of God and that Jesus went up into the hills by himself to pray. They seem to have felt a call to meet God, and they knew that God can only be met in solitude.
It might seem that this solitude can’t be experienced by ordinary people living outside the monastery. Somehow we think that we precede God in solitude, but actually, it is God who waits for us: he waits for Elijah to reach the mountain of God, he waits for Jesus to go up into the hills, and Jesus waits for Peter to come to him across the water. In finding God, each of these people found solitude, because true solitude is Spirit, like “the sound of a gentle breeze”. True solitude lies not in the absence of other people, but in the presence of God.
When we place our lives face to face with God, and surrender our lives to him, all at once we find ourselves in what we may call the land of solitude, and at home in it. Solitude is wherever our soul encounters God, as Elijah did on Horeb and Jesus in the hills. A sure sign that it is God whom we encounter in solitude is that the experience leaves us calm and steady. Elijah simply went out and stood at the entrance to the cave. Jesus calmly walked across the waters.
The experience of God in solitude is an individual experience, but it is not an isolating one. It leaves us radically at one with the entire human family, our own flesh and blood, descended from Adam and Eve, and each one of whom is an image of Christ, the human face of God.
There is no solitude without silence. Silence can sometimes mean keeping quiet, but always it means listening. As the psalm this morning puts it, “I will hear what the Lord God has to say”. It’s possible to have an absence of noise, but if there is no listening to what the Lord God has to say, then it does not count as silence. Or a day can be full of noise and people’s voices, and yet be a day of silence, if the sound becomes for us an echo of the presence of God, “a voice that speaks of peace”.
When we speak just about ourselves and on our own initiative, we leave the land of silence behind us. But when we repeat with our lips what the Lord God has to say to us in the depths of our hearts, then silence is not broken. Saint Paul did not break silence when speaking about the Jewish people, because he spoke from the solitude of his soul where God dwelt, and his words were charged with life. Saint Peter did not break silence because his words were a prayer: “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”.
Silence is not like a deer that disappears at the least little sound. It’s more like an eagle soaring in the air, flying high above earthquakes and fire and storms on the lake. And the way to reach the mountain of God, the land of solitude and silence, is Jesus Christ, who is himself the presence of God. He says to us what he said to Peter, “Come”.
Let us hear what the Lord has to say, and come to eat his Body and drink his Blood. That is the only food that can make us more sensitive to the presence of God, and able to hear his voice among all the noises of the earth. And when our ears can no longer hear any earthly noise, may we recognize the voice of the eternal Word saying to us, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid”.