1st Sunday of Lent (Fr. Francis)
Some time ago a businessman went to a psychologist. He told him that he was very stressed with all the work he was doing and suffered from very high blood pressure because of tension. The psychologist assured him that he could help the business man if he did exactly as he was told. The businessman agreed. So he was told to take 2 periods of 20 minutes a day, one in the morning, and the other in the evening, to stop all work and activity and just be quiet by himself.
He was to report back after a month. This he did and told the psychologist that he was no better. ‘What did you do?’ he was asked. ‘Well, I did as you said. I did the 2 twenty minutes of silence daily, did no work or activity. I just listened to very quiet music to calm me’. ‘Ah’, replied the psychologist, ‘I asked you to be totally silent and that meant no music.’ ‘But’ replied the businessman, ‘If I kept completely silent I couldn’t live with myself’. ‘Well’, replied the other, ‘if you can’t live with yourself how you can expect others to live with you!’
In the gospel today the Spirit drives Jesus into the desert. The desert is a place both of testing and encounter with God. It is a place of silence. There are no signposts. There are no distractions available. There, our human needs are barely met. The harshness of the situation makes us fight for life. Our will is weakened and we are tempted to give in to the possibility of some relief. Faced with the harshness of the desert, the Israelites were tempted to go back to their oppression in Egypt. But the desert with its profound silence is a privileged place to encounter God.
Most people find silence very difficult. Because if we stay silent we might become aware of something we’re not comfortable or happy with. Perhaps past and present failings or sins would come to mind and most of us want to avoid that. Is it not a very human and understandable response.
How are we ever going to discover who we really are if we don’t have some silence in our lives to become aware – not only of our sinful inclinations – but, more importantly, of our good qualities?
In the gospel passage today Jesus is tempted by Satan. He is with the wild beasts and the angels looked after him. I think this is a great reality in all our lives. There are both wild beasts and also angels in each of our lives. By wild beasts we mean temptations that can be so strong that they almost overwhelm us – the temptation to take revenge on someone who hurt us, the temptation to indulge in wrong activity, to take drugs etc. These temptations can be so strong at times that like the wild beasts they can drag us along almost out of control of ourselves. For sure, there are wild beasts in all of us.
But the good news is that, like Jesus, the angels are with us too to help us face and overcome our inner wild beasts just as they did Jesus. It may be someone whom God puts in our path to help us in a time of great trial. In all this the Holy Spirit working through these so-called angels is there with us as he was with Jesus.
Jesus knows how we are tempted as he went through it all before us even if the details may differ. And He who is God loves us as we struggle, even when we fail and try to begin again. That is the Good News Jesus came to proclaim to us. God is a God whose love is not determined in the slightest way by our virtue or our failings. It is always there for us, constant, faithful, unconditional, passionate.
But how will we become aware of our wild beasts and angels if we don’t take time to be alone with ourselves. The more we become aware of our struggles and the wild beasts of our sinful inclinations, then we will call upon God’s help which is readily available. But if we don’t take time out for silent reflection from time to time, if not daily, then we run the risk of not knowing ourselves face on. And if we come to know ourselves and realize that we are weak, but still loved by God, should we not also be open to the reality that others are also weak and we should be slow to judge them. Sometimes there failings and struggles are but a mirror of our own.
It is not easy to turn off the ‘sound’ and seek the silence but if you do, I assure you that it will have been worth the effort.
Fr. A. Francis HGN