Vere tu es Deus absconditus

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Nineteenth Sunday of the Year A

1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Psalm 84, 9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:23-33

Christ in Solitude

Today's Gospel begins with the absence of Jesus. It takes place after the miraculous multiplication of the loaves prefiguring the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus has withdrawn into solitude on the mountain. It is night. There, hidden from the eyes of His apostles, He prays to His "Father who sees what is done in secret" (Mt 6:6). "He went up by Himself on to the hill-side, to pray there; twilight had come, and He remained there alone" (Mt 14:23). In two brief sentences, Saint Matthew twice emphasizes the aloneness of Jesus. This would indicate that we are to attend to the solitude of Our Lord. It is, in some way, an invitation to enter into the prayer of Christ in solitude.

A Stormy Night

Mysteriously, Jesus is away from His apostles and, at the same time, present to them. Not only is it night; it is a stormy night. "The ship was already half-way across the sea, hard put to it by the waves, for the wind was against them" (Mt 14:24). Jesus is present to His apostles in the storm-tossed boat because He is present to His Father, who "probes us and knows us, who knows when we sit and when we stand, who discerns all our thoughts from afar" (cf. Ps 138: 1-2). Jesus is present to the Father for whom "the night shines clear as the day itself; light and dark are one" (Ps 138:12).

Linger over the mystery of Jesus' absence: an absence that is presence; a presence that, in the dark night of faith, we experience as absence. Jesus' presence to the Father renders Him wholly present to us. Yielding Himself to the Father in a movement of adoring love, Jesus yields Himself to us in a movement of compassion. There is no artificial separation here between contemplation and action, between presence to the Father and presence to Peter's fragile bark tossed on stormy seas.

The Hidden God

The Christ of today's Gospel is hidden on the mountain with the Father; the Ascended Christ is hidden with the Father in glory; the Eucharistic Christ (Gesù sacramentato, in Italian) is hidden beneath the sacramental veils. Christ is the Deus absconditus: "Verily thou art a hidden God, the God of Israel the Saviour" (Is 45:15).

With Us As He Promised

Jesus comes to the apostles in the fourth watch of the night; their boat, by this time, is many furlongs from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind is against them. In just the same way, Our Lord comes to us in our stormy nights; He comes to us without leaving the Father, just as He goes to the Father without leaving us (cf. Jn 16:28), for He is with us as He promised, even to the end of time (Mt 28:20).

The Word proceeding from above,
Yet leaving not the Father's side,
Went forth upon His work of love,
And reached at length life's eventide.

(Verbum supernum prodiens, Lauds of Corpus Christi)

The Voice of the Lord

The passage of the Lord, His "visitation" of the Church and of our souls is characterized not by a great and strong wind, nor by an earthquake, nor by a fire, but by "a still small voice" (1 K 19:12). This is the voice that says, "Take heart, it is I; have no fear" (Mt 14:27). And again, this is the voice that says, "Why didst thou hesitate, man of little faith?" (Mt 14:31).

He Is With Me

Saint Bernard says: "When the Bridegroom comes to me, as He sometimes does, He never signals His presence by any token, neither by voice nor by vision nor by the sound of His step. By no such movement do I become aware of Him, nor does He penetrate my being through the senses. Only, by the movement of the heart, as I have said, do I come to realize that He is with me" (Sermons on the Song of Songs, 74).

Peace

What is that movement of the heart, by which we detect the passage of the Lord and become aware of His presence? It is, first of all, interior peace, the effect of the voice of Jesus saying: "Take courage, it is I myself; do not be afraid" (Mt 14:27). It is a pull of the heart that compels us to draw near to Christ in spite of the dark night, which obscures our vision, and in spite of the rolling waves, which threaten to pull us back and drag us down.

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Mystical Arrival

We recognize the arrival of Christ by the prayer that, from deep inside, wells up. It is Saint Peter's prayer: "Lord, save me" (Mt 14:30). Today's 2nd Mode Benedictus Antiphon gives full expression to the prayer of Peter: the text rises and falls in urgent supplication over the words, Domine, salvum me fac. It is sung lectio divina.

When the hidden Christ begins to reveal himself, the eyes of our soul are drawn to His Holy Face. Even in the dark night of faith we look to Him and become radiant ourselves (cf. Ps 33:5) because in seeing the Face of Jesus, we see the Father. We discern the presence of Christ in the hand stretched out to catch us, in the strong hand that keeps us from going under.

Adoration

Today's Gospel begins by showing us the hidden Christ; it ends in adoration. "And they that were in the boat adored Him -- et adoraverunt eum -- saying: Indeed thou art the Son of God" (Mt 14:33). Hearing today's Gospel invites us to consider Eucharistic adoration as the form of prayer that perhaps best expresses faith in the paradox of the hidden God who is present, in the present God who is hidden.

Hid With Christ in God

Eucharistic adoration is a communion with the hidden Christ. Adoro te devote, latens Deitas. "You have died," says the Apostle, "and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:3-4). Eucharistic adoration is, at the same time, a compassionate presence to the Church and to every man in his night. It is fascinating that Robert Hugh Benson in his 1907 novel, Lord of the World, sets the Second Coming of Christ in the context of Eucharistic adoration. Christ in all His glory emerges from the monstrance holding the Host.

Come, Let Us Adore

Wrapped in the solitude of His prayer to the Father, Jesus is not absent. Though hidden, He is present to us. He prays for us on the mountain. He comes to us in our night. He calms the stormy seas. He comes to His Church. Adoring, let us say, "Thou art indeed the Son of God" (Mt 14:33).

1 Comments

Thank you, Fr. Mark for this wonderful and informative article and blog!

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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