In 1941, the great Christian author, C.S. Lewis, wrote a weekly column for The Guardian newspaper. His column took the form of letters from a senior devil to an apprentice devil on how to tempt a young man in his 30s, to win his soul for the devil. The senior devil’s name was Screwtape, and the apprentice, Wormwood, and the young man was called The Patient. God was referred to as The Enemy. And Our Father Below? The devil. The letters are a combination of humour and insight into reality.
In letter 22, Screwtape writes that he is disgusted that the Patient has fallen in love with a beautiful woman whose house is full of two things, music and silence, which he detests. He tells Wormwood that they have to fill the world with noise, because noise protects us from conscience and God-given desires! He says they’ve made great strides in this, but more research is necessary.
Think of how noise has increased in our world since 1941: TV, the computer, devices. The plan is genius in its simplicity, and is working. How is your life filled with noise? How often do you go to the silence, to hear God’s voice and His desires, to reflect on reality? Do we find the moments of silence at Mass refreshing, or do we need to go to our phones to be stimulated with some activity right until Mass starts? I myself need silence and love it, but still avoid it. It’s because it’s hard. I have to let go of trying to achieve.
Today, we have our outdoor Sunday Brunch, but it’s not about noise, so that we distract ourselves; it’s about encountering the mystery of another person, getting to know them and paying attention to them, and giving of ourselves. However, to do that well, we need to encounter God and ourselves first.
The First Reading and the Gospel today are about how God comes to us, and how He cuts through the noise. In the Gospel, Jesus sends the disciples into a boat to cross Lake Galilee, and, “After he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (Mt 14:23). Jesus shows us that the human person needs silence to encounter God the Father. This is where He roots Himself in His identity as the Son. Yet we know that He didn’t isolate Himself from His disciples because He indicated that He would meet them later, and eventually goes to them in the midst of the storm. The Fathers of the Church said that the waves indicate the instability of the world, the wind indicates our trials, and the ship indicates the Church. And while the wind and waves are battering the boat, Jesus comes strongly yet peacefully walking on water.
Jesus comes to us right now, He’s looking for us! Our minds are usually filled with so many thoughts and, as we know, it’s common to come to Mass distracted: angry over something that just happened, or we’re tired, etc. One of the theological truths of this event is that Jesus is in command of the forces of nature, and so He’s greater than our problems. Can we hear His words to us, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (14:27)? What happens to our emotions when we listen to these words?
The context for the First Reading is that the Prophet Elijah was overwhelmed, depressed, and hungry. Queen Jezebel sent word that she would try to kill him. In his fear, he flees into the wilderness and prays for death. While on Mount Horeb, there is wind, an earthquake, and fire, and each time, the text says that the Lord was not in any of them—that’s interesting, because, in other passages of the Old Testament, God does come in wind, earthquakes, and fire. However, now He reveals Himself in another way: “After the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kgs 19:12-13). Elijah perceives God in the silence, and so covers his face, because the Jewish people believed you couldn’t see God face to face and live. The important reality is that he responds to the silence.
So, there are two responses to silence: avoidance and reception.
1) The 17th century Catholic philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “I have often said that all the misfortune of men comes from a single thing, which is not to know how to remain in quiet, in a room” (Pensées, 139) He says that we distract ourselves, talk too much, engage in arguments, and even make bad business decisions all because we’re looking for something and because we’re not happy by ourselves.
A long time ago, I realized that, because I was unsure about and unconfident in who I was, I couldn’t be alone; I always needed others. However, when I was with them, I was always ‘taking’ from them. I needed their attention, affirmation, etc., so I was like a black hole sucking life out of people, and therefore they avoided me—that’s the first response, avoidance.
2) The second response is reception, and it starts by being alone with God. At first, silence is hard, but give it time, because Jesus is filling us up. Today, in our moments of silence we listen to Jesus’ words, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,’ and something changes within: Our identity is reaffirmed as God’s sons and daughters; He fills us with His peace and strength.
I see in so many of you that you love differently after you finish your quiet time praying in the church or in the chapel; the quality of your love is better.
As I said, we have our Sabbath Summer outdoor brunch, which is about communion with others! Jesus’ life was a mix of being alone and being with others! So, the goal today is that we fill ourselves up now with the Holy Spirit, and then give Him to others. Everyone should meet at least one person for the first time. Don’t just look for food, but interact with people by name! We need everyone present so that we can strengthen the bonds of our community.
We may not always want to be silent or with others, but we need both. Moreover, life is always better with both, and God comes through both.