1st Sunday of Lent – Year B
Fr. David Reitzel
Preached: Feb 25 2018
In biblical language, the wilderness refers to any place that has not yet been tamed by the hand of humanity. The wilderness is a place where animals still roam free and threaten any human who enters. The wilderness is a place without protection from the elements: the wind, the rain and the sun. The wilderness is a pace where food and water must be fought for rather than purchased. When Jesus was driven by the spirit into the wilderness for 40 days, he entered a wild place.
But why? Why leave the comforts of the city and the security of civilization. Was there something in the wilderness that he was looking for? It is hard to imagine that someone would look for anything in in such a desolate place, but that my friends is where Jesus is different. When Jesus walked into the desert he was looking for what only the desert could provide, nothing.
You see, the city provided everything. If you needed it, it was there. But the wilderness provided nothing and that nothing provided a quiet space, a space that lacked the distractions of civilisation. Through the conditions were harsh, the wilderness provided silence and that is exactly what Jesus was looking for.
This May for our diocese we will have three young men ordained to the priesthood. It is a law of the Church that each man preparing for priesthood must go on a retreat before their ordination. These young men will go to retreat houses, convents, or monasteries to make their retreat. They choose these places, not for what they provide, but for what they don’t provide. In these places there is no TV or internet, no cell phones or tablets. These places are like fortresses of quiet that keep the noise of the world outside so that those inside can enter into silence.
But what is so great about silence? Why does Jesus seek it before he begins his public ministry, and why do seminarians seek it before they begin their priestly ministry? Cardinal Robert Sarah, a cardinal from Guinea Africa, who works in the Vatican just wrote a book called, “The Power of Silence” and in it he provides an answer, “Without silence, God disappears in the noise. And this noise becomes all the more obsessive because God is absent. Unless the world rediscovers silence, it is lost. The earth then rushes into nothingness.” Without silence, God disappears.
Cardinal Sarah is not just talking about audible noise. He is referring to the hundred and one distractions that each of us has at our fingertips at each moment of the day. The news feed we can check, the profile we can update, the video we can watch. These noises compete for our attention and if we constantly give into them, then the voice of God, which is always soft and quiet, can go unheard. Without silence God disappears in the noise.
Jesus knew this was possible even in his comparatively simple day, so to encounter God his Father in prayer Jesus ran to the silence of the wilderness. The seminarians know this and so they seek God in the silence of their retreats. And we need to understand this so we can find places and moments that become our silent wilderness.
My friends we have entered into Lent, a time were we imitate Jesus by 40 days of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. All too often the emphasis of Lent is on fasting. We ask each other “what did you give up?” But Lent entails more than giving up.
In Lent our goal is to end it closer to God than when we began, and this cannot happen without a good dose of prayer, times of silence spent with our Lord. Sometimes our prayer can include spoken words, sometimes it can be quiet listening on the presence of God. Whatever it is, we need to find those quiet times and places so that God might be heard.
So may I recommend a practice this Lent? It includes fasting and prayer. First fast from sleep. Wake up 15 min early while the house is still quiet. Then use that time and that quiet to enter into silent prayer with God. If you’re married, do it as a couple. Find an image and maybe a candle to help you focus your attention. Use whatever helps.
In the Bible the wilderness is not a comfortable place, but it is a place that provided Jesus with the silence he needed to hear his father. For us, the wilderness of Lent may not be pleasant either but we do it for the same reason. May we accept the sufferings that comes this Lent in order that we might be able to find the silence in which we can hear God’s voice