The Desert Silence of the Heart

Doug McManaman
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2014 by Douglas P. McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

An important point about this gospel is that the crowd came looking for Jesus, who was in a deserted place. It was because of that hunger and thirst that he was moved with pity. That's how you and I can win the heart of God; to go searching for him and be willing to go to a deserted place to find him.

Seekers are not satisfied with what they have, and what we have before us are the goods of this world; seekers desire something else. Out of all my students this year, the most delightful were the two atheists I had in grade nine. They are very bright; they question, they challenge - not out of arrogance, but out of a genuine desire to know, to understand, and they continued to question during the summer months. They are hungry for truth, and God is truth; these two atheists have a great hunger for God.

It is those who stop seeking that are a problem. Those who stop seeking truth, stop seeking God. And because God is not only Truth itself, but Justice and Love in all their absolute fullness, those who stop searching become indifferent to justice and indifferent to love. They settle for nothing more than a comfortable existence. They don't bother to question, to discuss, they don't argue, they just want to be left alone, and that's why evil is allowed to prevail in the world.

Jesus was not upset at having his free time interrupted, nor was he irritated at having his solitude disturbed. Rather, he recognizes their hunger, and although his disciples wanted to send them away to take care of their needs, Jesus tells his closest followers to "feed them yourselves". This is Cain and Abel all over again. The Cain that still exists in all of us said, as it were, "Who are we, our brother's keeper?" Jesus replies "Yes, you are, feed them yourselves." Of course, they cannot; they realize they are helpless in the face of such a task and with the little they have at their disposal, so he comes to their aid and works his miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes.

That's a fairly good summary of our life lived in the Person of Christ. It's about going to that deserted place to be alone with him. When we do so, others will come looking for him and they will find us alone with him. It is our task to feed them with all that Christ gives us to feed them with. But it all begins with being alone with Christ in that deserted place.

Where is the deserted place in which we find Christ? It is in the silence of the heart. That's the deserted place that few are willing to visit or enter into. When we enter into the desert silence of the heart, alone with Christ, we cannot be distracted; we are alone with him. But to be alone with him is a scary thing, because perhaps there are lots of skeletons in the closet of the heart that we cannot hide from when we are alone and aware of nothing but his gaze upon us. That fear might be keeping us away. But, if we dare to enter there, we might end up with a very pleasant surprise; we might begin to see ourselves through the eyes of him who is with us there, who watches us in the silence, and we will see ourselves from his point of view. We will see how much we are loved, how much we are forgiven, and that will be the miracle of a new awakening. We will become a new creation. But it's not going to happen unless we take a risk and go to that deserted place.

That's what prayer is. It is a descent into this region of silence, this room in the deep of the interior castle of the soul. We have to be willing to see ourselves reflected back to us in the mirror of Christ's gaze. That's what we are afraid of, because all throughout life, what has been reflected back to us through the gaze of others has always been a deficient image of ourselves: people don't like to reflect back to us the fullness of who we are, and they only see a small portion of who we are anyways, and some people don't want to see anything more than that, out of envy or jealousy or insecurity or what have you. But Christ reflects back to us our true self, and we see ourselves as he sees us. Certainly we see our sinfulness, but the sight of it is not dark and hopeless, but is illuminated in the light of his great mercy. We are surprised. We are awakened. We are raised from the dead. Life becomes a real joy. We can now forgive, because we have been forgiven. We can now love because we are loved.