Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. For the Second Sunday of Lent each year, the Church puts before us the story of the Transfiguration where Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain and when they saw Jesus transfigured by a divine light that revealed his identity as Son of God. Yet it wasn’t only what they saw that they remembered but what they heard. It was this that grabbed my attention in the Gospel account from Matthew. There the voice of the Father was heard to say: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him’. This is what God asks of us. To listen to him. We mightn’t have a mystical experience as intense as Peter, James and John but we can listen to the words of Jesus that are recorded in the Gospels and listen prayerfully to his voice deep in our conscience and heart.
Listening to the voice of God doesn’t happen easily. It takes effort and prayer on our part for God does not shout louder in order to compete to be heard. That is why Lent is an opportunity to listen to the Word of God and to be still in order to hear what God wants to communicate to us individually and collectively.
We live in a noisy world. There are so many loud voices that compete for our attention. The result of all this is that we can be so easily distracted that we are not able to be fully present to someone in the same room, let alone to God. And the first person I accuse of this is myself! Smartphones, TVs, radios, laptops, videogames – all these devices are good in themselves. However, the truth is that we have become so absorbed in them that we are losing the ability to be present to each other and especially to listen respectfully to what another person might be trying to tell us. The same is true for our relationship and friendship with God. He is always present to us, but we are seldom present to Him.
Another feature of our noisy world is how uncomfortable we have become with silence. The philosopher Blaise Paschal once wrote that ‘all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone’. He wrote these words before radios, TVs and other devices were invented. In this time of Lent we enter the desert with Jesus who remained in silence for 40 days as he listened to the voice of the Father and prepared for his mission. For when we welcome silence, we are not afraid to face ourselves and to be alone with God who always moves us from being distracted from the real to welcoming it and not being afraid to face up to whatever is true.
It is there in the silence of our hearts and conscience that we can face ourselves and be alone with God, listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Here is where we listen to the gentle voice of Jesus whose words in the Gospels ring as true and beautiful in our soul for ‘those who belong to me, listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me’.
This is why the words of Jesus Christ are like the words of no other teacher, historical figure of spiritual guru. As inspiring as these others may be, their words are always voices from outside us whereas the words of Jesus are confirmed by the presence of his Spirit within.
This Lent, may we welcome silence and even seek it out. Be still and know that I am God. Rest in silence and listen to his voice in the Scriptures and the vice of God within. Let us fast from noise and not be afraid to be alone. Not that we are ever alone for in the words of St Ambrose: ‘We are never less alone than when alone’. For when we are alone, the Lord is always there with us, assuring us of his presence, love and action. Our first task is not to speak to him but listen with the ears of the heart.