a room alone

“All of humanity’s problems
stem from our inability
to sit quietly
in a room alone”
Blaise Pascal

Here’s today’s podcast with the transcript below.

When we watch a movie, read a novel or hear an account of a work incident or an historical event, its easy to slip into the childish mindset of taking one side or the other seeing the protagonists in the piece as either goodies or baddies.

While children might be excused the luxury of such a simplistic reading, a mature person appreciates that there is both good and bad in everyone.

Perhaps we bring this mindset to our reading of the scriptures. We might think of the disciples of Jesus as the New Testament ‘goodies’ and the Pharisees, the most rigidly legalistic of the Jews, as the ‘baddies’. This simplistic view ignores the fact that the Pharisees were the one who, if they were Catholic today, would be the upholders of a high moral code and adherence to liturgical law, and we forget that the disciples included the one who denied knowing Jesus, another who betrayed him into the hands of his executors, and the others who abandoned him when he most needed them heading for the hills rather than risk their own reputation and lives.

When a gospel passage begins with a reference to the Jews, we can reasonably expect that they will be the ones struggling with some aspect of Jesus’ behaviour or teaching. This is true in today’s gospel “The Jews fetched stones to stone Jesus… ,” not because of his good works, but because he was claiming to be the Messiah the One the Jewish people had long awaited.

There are almost 200 prophecies looking forward to the coming Messiah in the Old Testament. The most clear of these include that the Messiah would be: born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), from the lineage of David (Jeremiah 23:5), born in Bethlehem (Micah 5.2), rejected by his own people (Isaiah 53:3), betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9), sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12), silent before his accusers (Isaiah 53:7), pierced in his hands and feet (Zechariah 12:10), crucified with thieves (Isaiah 53:12), buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9), raised from the dead (Psalm 16:10), primary mission to save us from our sins (Luke 19:10), being put to death on a cross (Isaiah 53).

Yet even with Jesus so clearly meeting many of the expected criteria, the faithful and observant Jewish people could still not accept that all they had hoped for was being fulfilled in their midst.

Jesus invites his critics to look at the evidence of his words and behaviour to decide whether or not he is the Christ, the one who is to come. “If I am not doing my Father’s work, there is no need to believe me; but if I am doing it, then even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

At this point, when they heard him say this, they wanted to arrest him. Speaking the truth, even about oneself, is not a comfortable occupation.

But then this scripture, today’s gospel, concludes with Jesus returning to the other side of the Jordan, where the people acknowledge that “John [the baptist] gave no signs, but all they said about him was true.” So many of the Jews who had earlier heard Jesus, and had time to reflect, to weigh up the evidence, and to that Jesus was the one who was expected, the long-awaited Messiah.

At this point today’s gospel concludes: “So many of them believed in him.”

So what was it that leads a person from unbelief and scepticism, to accept that Jesus Christ is truly God-with-us.

Perhaps today’s scripture is especially timely in these lockdown days when most of what we had considered normal and routine has been taken from us.  Maybe in these unwelcome and difficult days we are being given exactly what we need, a pause for thought, a wake-up call, and opportunity for some serious thought and consideration.

As part of my lockdown discipline I have been walking a bit more than usual. As I walk, without headphones, in silence, a lot falls into place for me. But I have also taken time at other points in the day to pray, not just secular meditation but a conscious awareness that I am not alone, that I am in the presence of Jesus who is forming and feeding me and revealing his plans for me to me.

I think that simply hearing Jesus speak for the first time like the Jews at the opening of today’s gospel, is just a bit much, requiring too much of a drastic shift in our lives. But at the end of today’s reading we meet people (on the other side of the Jordan), who had heard Jesus some time earlier and were now ready to believe. They had weighted up the evidence of their experience of Jesus.

When we sit in silence, we become aware of the presence and love of Jesus who is God with us.

An Invitation:
  • Set a couple of periods of silence today, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. Before each time anticipate these minutes full of expectation to experience Jesus with you in the midst of the reality that is your life in these days.
18 Responses to "a room alone"
  1. Yes, sitting in silence. This is a powerful response . Knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus are two different things. The first belongs to the head and the second to the heart. The heart is pen in silence.

    • I have been pondering the last line of this comment for some time and have enjoyed all the potential meanings it has offered. Two are 1) the heart is a pen by which we can demonstrate knowing god 2) the heart is most open to god when we are silent.. Thank you for this unexpected gift !

  2. Hearing your words Fr John is both comforting and reassuring as it is easy to become overwhelmed when deprived of physical human contact. Your example helps me to prioritise and focus on Jesus and to let go and allow God to take the reins in my life. Once again heartfelt thanks for being there every morning.

  3. Another prophecy, especially as we head into Holy Week: “ The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.”
    ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭34:19-20‬ ‭NIV‬‬

  4. Amen thank you Father John i am spending a lot extra time now in Prayers and trying to hear Gods speaking to me your words of inspiration really helps God Bless

  5. Thank you again Father for your reassuring message and I thank God for these sunny days. With the sun shining and the birds chirping I feel I can cope knowing that God is always present.

  6. A very good commentary Father John. I will pass it on to my friends on facebook. Sitting in silence is indeed a time to reflect on what is really important in our lives. I am hoping your words from Isaiah will inspire others to believe that Jesus is God.

  7. This morning’s reflection has conjured up for me life-changing memories from days gone by.

    As a Third Form student at Sacred Heart College, I was fortunate to experience the meaning of Retreat … The Sisters of St Joseph encouraged us to be silent, to experience aloneness, to engage as a class in a contemplative day in the Chapel. A Redemptorist Priest spoke to us on numerous occasions during the course of the day and lead us in prayer, readings from Scripture, reflection, singing hymns, praying the rosary and offering us all a concluding sacred blessing and guidance – Benediction. Time was scheduled to write in our Journals and to walk in nature. We were invited to remain silent in our homes for the remainder of the day.
    This was an annual event for all students at each level in the College.

    Finding beauty in solitude helped me to know myself better and to embrace my introvert-ness and spiritual reality.

    I realize that being gifted with the opportunities ‘to live in a room on my own’ in my youth has been incorporated in the repertoire of my life experiences.
    When my late husband died 15 years ago now, I was blessed whilst in the depths of loss and grief with a gentle realization that within me was the capacity to find beauty, healing and the ‘light’ in solitude, in a room alone. +


  8. I started this lockdown telling people that I was by myself, as the days unfold I know this to be untrue, as God is very much in my bubble!
    It is when we sit quietly that we really know that God is always there.

  9. I wonder if others, like me, struggle to find the balance between the need to know what’s going in this pandemic and for my mental health’s sake, minimising exposure to the dislocating impact of the overwhelming frightening narrative of deaths and widespread incompetence and the expectation that in truth things are in fact even worse This is torture for someone like me because I am not in a position to do anything about it. In this place of total weakness I am buoyed by the fact that I have no where to go other than my Lord Jesus and I know he has been waiting for this moment.

  10. Thank you Father, your reflection today reminds us that we are never alone and reinforces for us God’s promise, “Be strong. Be brave. Be fearless. You are never alone.” – Joshua 1:9.

  11. Thanks John, yes I am blessed to love sitting alone. However I am asking myself “ am I really alone?” I know Jesus, God, the Spirit are with me . Yet truth to tell so are all my family, community, friends, those I am concerned about, indeed all people at this time. So actually I am far from alone and I feel invited to let all these people go for a while and listen to my heart alone.

  12. Thank you, John, and all those above with their thoughtful and helpful comments. I have been uplifted, firstly by Mass live-streamed at 9.00 am each morning from chchcatholic.nz and then by “Food for Faith.” I have “two takes” on one set of readings – enough to inspire and encourage me through the day. I have so much to be grateful for and as the book titles says – “Gratefulness: the Heart of Prayer.”

  13. Yes, I think this time is a pause for thought- for reflection. After the first day, which I found a little stressful because of what it represented, I found I grew more and more peaceful. I can now acceept things about myself I once avoided, I can “tune in” to God more quickly, and I count my blessings more. I too have taken up walking more and find it uplifting to have so many people wave, call-out a cheery greeting or just smile. God indeed works in many ways His wonders to perform.

  14. I can relate to Jane,s comment re being alone in my bubble…not!!!…my thoughts exactly……Thank you Fr. John you say just what needs to be said which leaves us plenty to ponder!

  15. Your podcast John is a powerful way of communicating the message. It connects with us through two senses. A double helping of food for thought is so good.

  16. At the end of the day and alone again for a few moments away from WhatsApp and other daily internet connections with family and Friends I can be with Christ through your words of wisdom Fr John and the thoughtful comments of others in this beautiful group of Christians. Thank you

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