SILENCE AND PRAYER
Fourth Sunday of Lent (C)
My dear encountered couples:
Do you ever hear yourself or someone close to you wishing for some quiet silent time, wishing for some time when there will be nothing to do and nothing said? I think most of us say that we want times like this, but if it does happen, and if it goes on for very long, we will do anything to overcome it.
Silence is not easy for most of us to deal with. And for the most part we don’t have to – we can pick up the telephone; we can use skype or FaceTime or chat in the internet; we can watch news or soap operas on TV; we can get into the car and go someplace – a mall or some other place with people and activity.
There are many forms of silence – other than the simple absence of noise or sound. There’s the silence we experience when there is an emptiness, someone is missing; there’s the silence of being abandoned or lonely or rejected or let down. There’s the silence of being very much alone in some decision to be made. There’s the silence that comes from being misunderstood. When all the noise and activity and commotion of life is quieted – we are alone with our silence.
Today in our gospel we hear Jesus offer a very brief description of discipleship, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
Jesus talks about hearing his voice. Jesus is talking about being quiet, being silent, and trying to listen to what he might be saying. But, quite honestly, I don’t think many of us find that easy to do – and I don’t think many of us are comfortable with that kind of silence needed to listen and hear what the Lord might be saying. What happens when there is a kind of silence in our lives?
I think most of us look almost immediately for a distraction – something else to think about, something to occupy our mind and thoughts. So we go to the computer, we surf the internet, or watch news on TV, or pick up the phone or head for the car. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” I’m really not too sure many of us find that easy.
In our first reading we heard of those who opposed what they heard from the disciples; and we heard of the Gentiles who would listen and come to be baptized. Many of these Gentiles lived in silence – they had no vision of life; they had no understanding of God or life. There was a silence and they were ready to hear something and ready to respond.
There are silent times in our lives, but very often our first inclination is to fill that time with distraction, or noise or activity. How often do we find ourselves quietly sitting and reflecting, “What is happening to me here? What is God asking of me? Is there something God is saying to me in this situation? Where does God want me to turn? What does God want me to do?”
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.” Are we ready to hear the voice of the shepherd, or are we too ready to turn to some distraction or noise?
Jesus says, “I know them.” He knows each one of us. He knows what is happening. He knows the silence we are facing and perhaps avoiding. Why not try asking the Lord, “Lord, what are you saying in this? Where do I turn? How do I deal with this as you would have me deal with it?”
We are continuing our celebration of the Easter season. We proclaim the Lord’s resurrection and continued presence to us. Can we put that faith into practice? Can we allow the Lord to be present to us in our silent times and in our experiences? Or will we always give in to the temptation to distraction? Those silent kinds of experience are calling us to deal with what is happening, to sit with it, to be with it, to move forward with it, and to allow the Lord to be part of it.
It is not only important, but imperative, that every day we pray and listen for Christ. We must talk to our heavenly Father and take time to be quiet in his presence in case he wants to say something to us his children. We must become open to the Holy Spirit so we can sense what it is he really wants us to do. This whole business of our being sheep involves not only our listening for Christ to speak to us, but being attuned to God our Father and the Holy Spirit. If we don’t take time to pray, to get in touch with God, we are not going to hear God’s voice.
It helps to read something spiritual every day, something with high morals and ideals, something inspiring and strengthening. To face difficult times, we usually need special strength. This strength can come to us through uplifting thoughts and ideas that we pick up by reading. Even if it is only a short reading from a “Meditation for the Day” booklet, it can be just what we need to get us through difficult times during the day.
“But Father, I don’t have time for that. I listen to a priest’s homily on Sunday. I even take time to read the little spiritual blurb on the back of the bulletin while waiting for Mass to begin. But I just don’t have time during the week for reading anything. Once I get into my day’s work, the day is gone before I know it.”
Let me tell you what I’ve found. I’ve found that I can get much more done, quicker and better, when I pray and do a little uplifting reading than when I don’t. It is like somebody is helping me, even doing some of the work for me. Praying and reading every day, or not doing it, could be compared to a sheep that stays near its master in contrast to one who wanders away.
The sheep that wanders out of earshot of its shepherd could also end up without his care. It might find itself eating bad grass, poison weeds, drinking polluted water. Who will defend it from wolves, save it when it falls or gets too near the edge of a cliff? That sheep is us when we don’t pray, when we don’t read good things. We wander out of earshot of the care of God.
We make time for the Lord in the Eucharist. Hopefully, we can also make time in silence and in prayer. “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus said. “I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one shall snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus is often talking to us. Do we hear him?