Homily, Lenten Sunday 1B
You might be aware already that during the time I spent preparing for the priesthood, for four years I was a student in Rome. Being in Rome, you tend to run into people from lots of different places throughout the world. During our time overseas, a friend of mine once met a Ukrainian priest. Now at various times in the history of that country, it was illegal to practice the Catholic faith, and priests could be killed if they could be identified. Because of the persecutions, this Ukrainian priest was not in the habit of wearing his collar and black clerical attire. He did, however, consistently wear a pin on the front of his jacket that simply read, “10 minutes.” Inevitably, people who met him would ask about this pin and what it meant. He would start by just giving some statistics about how insignificant the length of 10 minutes can seem, out of a day or out of a week. Ten minutes is less than 1% of the 24 hours in a day, and it is less than 0.1% of an entire week.
After giving these statistics and perhaps others, he would present them with a challenge or a sort of experiment. He would challenge them to spend just 10 minutes of the upcoming week in complete silence, to shut off their phone and computer and TVs and iPods and iPads, and to just sit for 10 minutes straight, in silence. He challenged them to do this every week and eventually every day. At the end of his conversation with them, he would give them his phone number and ask them to report back—if they wished—or to contact him with any questions.
Now, even though in his first conversation with them, he would never mention God or suggest praying during their 10 minutes of silence, those who would take up his challenge and call him to talk about their experience would often end up talking and asking about God and about prayer. Through these simple conversations and the challenge to spend just 10 minutes in silence, he was able to guide many people to grow in their faith and spirituality, and he even helped several people eventually discern and enter the priesthood or a religious vocation. How much difference can 10 minutes make? Quite a lot, actually, depending on how you use them.
If you’ve ever been to Broomtree Retreat Center, you’ve probably seen the motto, “In the silence, God speaks.” I’ve been reflecting lately on just how noisy our world is today, when you consider what life was like before the constant notifications on our cell phones, before the population boom, before the industrial revolution. Probably the loudest thing that people on earth would hear would be the occasional thunderstorm. Imagine Jesus out in the desert for 40 days, or the silence that would have prevailed upon the earth after the 40 days of the flood with Noah. For many of us, to be out in the desert like Jesus, beyond the hunger we would feel for not eating during that time, even more noticeable for us would be the deafening silence that Jesus experienced.
But in our world of noise, we risk losing touch with the deepest desires of our hearts and the most important questions of life, losing touch with the simple beauty and awesomeness of existence. Silence amplifies our interior life. It brings up within us questions that we might easily ignore while living on the surface level of life. Lent can be for us a privileged time to foster that silence and prayer, to be able to face those questions of life and death in the presence of God. But how much genuine silence do we really have each day, or each week? When was the last time we even had 10 minutes? God is challenging each one of us today to make it a priority, to give Him room and opportunity to speak in the silence of our hearts and minds. 10 minutes. What difference could it make, for you?