Seeking the Quiet

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:9.11-13; Ps 84; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

JESUS made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night, he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’

 LAST Tuesday night, after the Mass, I was about to get into my car to go home when I noticed for the first time, there was nobody around. The street and the sports facilities across the church were empty. And the first hint of that was silence. So on this 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, let us reflect on the meaning and place of silence in our spiritual life, especially, during this time of difficulties brought by the Stage 4 restrictions.

I understand, with all the technologies around us, we are so used to the constant chatter. And we are increasingly becoming uncomfortable when suddenly everything is silent—some even having that sense of being oppressed and overwhelmed by the silence to the point we want to shout! And we bring this seeming aversion to silence in our religious or spiritual life.

When I was growing up in our little village in the Philippines, I was already hearing from my parish priest and among parish leaders about the call of Vatican II for the full, conscious, and active participation of the people in the liturgy. And that is good. But you know what? While they advocated this principle of Vatican II, they, at the same time, were comfortable and even cherished silence whenever they enter the house of the Church. For them, silence too is part of being fully engaged, it is part of their conscious and active participation in the Church. And they passed that to us young ones.

However, today, it seems silence is seen as an antithesis to the call for full, conscious, and active participation. It often comes to mean that the laity—you—had to be constantly stimulated into sound and action. The enemy came to be seen as silence because it is almost tantamount to boredom; if there is silence in the liturgy, many would think we have lost the people—like a “dead air” in broadcasting term. And we modern people do not want “dead air”. So we tend to overemphasise fellowship. Do not get me wrong, I am all for fellowship—the theology of Vatican II is a theology of communion, koinonia, of fellowship. But fellowship like silence has its proper place whether in the liturgy, in the space or environment, or the general life of the Church.

If we overemphasise fellowship, there is the danger to lose the sense of the sacred; then we tend to overlook the sacred places where we are supposed to meet, listen and be in communion with God. In our first reading, Elijah came to know that the Lord is not to be found in the earthquake, the fire, or any other pyrotechnics or “special effects” but on the quietest of noises—the Lord was there “in the sound of a gentle breeze.”

When we are faced with turmoil and difficulty—like this COVID-19 pandemic, social restrictions, and isolation, we too need to ignore the pyrotechnics of the situation and seek a moment of quiet. That is where we will find the Lord. It may take time and sacrifice, but the Lord will reveal himself. It is not by chance that in waiting rooms, libraries, and places of worship we are asked to mute or turn off our phones. Not everyone is meant to be a part of the conversation. When we receive a call in a meeting or noisy room, it is pointless to stay inside and try to hear what the caller is saying. We excuse yourselves and go to a quiet spot to continue the conversation. To have a real conversation with Our Lord we have to do the same thing. It requires solitude and silence, especially in the house of the Church.

In today’s Gospel, the disciples were sent by Our Lord into what soon became stormy waters. Peter took a risk and stepped out of the boat and into the storm because he believed Our Lord was there and would help him. But as the wind starts to howl—because of the disquiet around him, he faltered and began to sink. And yet, despite the howling wind, despite the noise, Jesus is there, saying: ‘Courage! Do not be afraid.’

So brothers and sisters, when we face challenges, maybe our first response is not to create more noise or shout back, but to keep quiet. When life seems overwhelming—when we face storms in our lives—that is the time to seek some silence and solitude to help us take shelter from the interior storms as well. Yes, Stage 4 is and will be difficult for all of us. But instead of focusing on the pyrotechnics of the situation, seek the quiet… listen… listen… Do you hear Him? He is saying to you now: ‘Courage! Do not be afraid.’

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