The third Lenten reflection: Fr. Stanko Mabić, OFM talks on the desert, quietness and silence

date: 09.03.2021.

''We are in the time of the Lent. When we read the liturgical readings, when we reflect, we encounter various meditations that mention the word DESERT. I decided to share my reflection on the desert with you. This word, whenever we hear it, has some exotic connotation within it. We would like to go to that desert, for a tourist trip, well equipped with lots of refreshing drinks and camera, perhaps in an air-conditioned car and spent a couple of days there. However, there are few who decide to go to the Lent where they would live for many years'', said Fr. Stanko Mabić, at the beginning of the third Lenten reflection.

In this Lenten time, parish of Medjugorje and the Information Centre Mir Medjugorje are preparing Lenten reflections on Wednesday. We broadcast these reflections on Wednesdays after the evening prayer programme and they are given by our Franciscans Fr. Marinko Šakota, Fr. Stanko Mabić and Fr. Ante Vučković.

Fr. Stanko Mabić said in his reflection that whenever he reads biblical texts on St. John the Baptist who spent 15 years in the desert, or on some others, the first association for him is quietness.  

''Quietness and man is all alone, no one around him. During the night, he does not hear anything, not even his voice, nor of the other people. But this quietness in the desert is not always the silence. Quietness can be condition for silence, but silence takes place in one’s heart. It is something different. The silence we long for is not in the desert, not even in the monasteries. We can even go to those monasteries where monks are silent most of the time, or some other place, yes the desert or the silence are in our hearts. We encounter God in the silence of our hearts. The desert leads us to silence; and silence leads us to the most profound intimacy with God. The desert, silence and solitude do not have to be geographical destinations like Sahara, or desert of Judaea or Egypt…it is not about the place, it is the  state of silence in our mind, in our heart, says Fr. Stanko Mabić and gives us the example of St.  Anthony the Great, father of monasticism, who spent all of his life in the desert and said: „The one who goes to the desert to maintain peace with God is freed from three wars, the war of listening, the war of watching and the war of speaking. There is only one war left – the war of the heart.“

''The war is in our hearts, meaning the solitude is not enough, it is not enough to go the desert where there is silence around us, but we need to try to accomplish silence in our hearts. This is our main battlefield, this is where the war is held, but the outer silence is necessary to conquer in the war for silence in our hearts. So, the solitude and outer silence is not enough. We need to allow the rays of the Gospel to shine on our interior with rays of the unconditional love, with silent rays of God’s presence, for God dwells in the silence of our hearts. To live in the desert does not just mean to be without people, but to live with God and for God. Those who live with God are never alone, even when they are alone. The heart that dwells in the silence is the heart filled with love at the same time. Heavenly Father expects his children in their hearts, not at some far and distant places, whether it was the desert, the sea or city market”, says Fr. Stanko and refers again to the Holy Bible emphasising how not a single prophet met God unless he was in the solitude and quietness, often in the desert.

''The experience of God is inseparable from the experience of the desert. The great things start in the desert, in the silence and solitude. Let us take the image of creation of the world. Let us try to imagine how that happened to be. In the first pages of the Holy Bible we read how the might wind was sweeping over the waters, with darkness over the abyss (Gen 1,4). Whenever I reflect on this, I sense this must have happened in the perfect quietness. God said only a word: „Let there be!“ and it happens – darkness is separated from the light”, says Fr. Stanko Mabić, and after this image of creation, he mentions other biblical examples of silence and the desert calling God a friend of silence.

When God sent his Son to the world, when the Son of God was born, the silence was all over too. He was born outside of Bethlehem, in a cave, in the middle of the night. God sent Abraham to the promised land with milk and honey, to Judaea, and this region is a desert for most of its part. When God took his people out of Egyptian slavery, for that is where a person is cleansed, the Word of God came to John the Baptist who was in the desert for more than 15 years, and was preparing his heart. Fr. Stanko speaks on how Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, but we know she heard him, we do not know she saw him, in order for her to hear him, there had to be silence in her heart, around her and in her thoughts. This same angel said to Zechariah that his wife would give a birth to a child. But Zechariah did not just hear the voice of an angel.

''He heard many voices in his heart and those voices arose doubt in him, his faith was small. That is why the angel told him: now you will be speechless and unable to talk for nine months (Lk 1, 20). At first it seemed that the angel punished him, but he did not. The angel rewarded him and gave him grace. Nine months of a desert, nine months of silence and in that time, unable to speak, I am certain he reflected each day on those words God sent him through the angel Gabriel'', said Fr. Stanko Stanko Mabić in his reflection and then shared the example of St. Joseph, Mary’s spouse.

''The Bible does not mention a single word he said. He was silent, living in solitude and quietness. He must have been predestined from the birth to be the one who would care for God’s Son. This Joseph is called „righteous“ (Mt 1,19). He would have never been called like that if he spent his time in entertainment. However, he was silent and hard-working, his workshop was his desert where he praised the Lord in his deeds, and it was in that silence he heard the voice of an angel. It was in his dream: „Joseph, take a child and his mother…“ (Mt 2, 13) God spoke to him because his heart was listening in the silence and he was able to answer. If there was noise in his heart, various other thoughts, there would be also arguments and he would not be able to listen straightaway'', said Fr. Stanko and explained how Jesus, while he waited for condemnation in Pilate’s court, he was silent for most of the time. Why was he silent? The silence is a part of proclamation of the Kingdom of God. The entire Jewish and Roman elite was there, all chief priests and scribes, Pontius Pilate, he could have talked, but he was silent.  Not only that he talked on the outer, he was silent in his heart too. This is not the silence that withholds revenge, hatred, mumbling, but it is the silence that loves. This silence is capable to say more than spoken word. Then Fr. Stanko gave the examples of St. Paul and St. Francis who were able to hear the voice of Jesus only when there was no more noise in their hearts.  

''So, the desert, solitude, silence are all necessary for us to be able to enter in our interior, to face what is within is. The important part of the encounter with God is in us, in our inner chamber of our spirit, genuine prayer is also encounter with God. There are different chambers in our hearts, where we wish to meet God in silence. Jesus says: Go to your inner room (Mt 6:6), in silence, in solitude, but there are so many rooms within us. We have entertainment room, shopping room, activity room, anxious worrying room, but there is room for silence too…that is the room where our Lord dwells. We ought to avoid many rooms and come to the deepest part of our heart where we would find the room of silence. We ought to get to that room, for the Lord is waiting for us there, in that silence, there we would find our Lord. It is there where man would come before his God, wanting to have the intimate relationship in love with Him.

We are not able to penetrate into the most intimate parts of God’s mystery with words, but only in silence and quietness. We ought to enter within ourselves by opening our space to God’s presence, for God indeed hears our hearts, not our words. Some people are not good with words at all, but that is not what God cares about. He hears our hearts. Moses said to the Lord: I am slow of speech and tongue. (Exodus 4:10). This is not important for God at all. If we, in slow speech, begin to say all those things we heard from God in silence, everyone would listen to us.  If we have great rhetorical ability, and there is no God in our hearts, we would not touch anyone. St. Therese used to say: „Inner prayer that takes place in silence, in the desert of our hearts is not about much reflection, but about much love“, said Fr. Stanko Mabić who ended his reflection with the words of Jewish king Solomon when he prayed for wisdom: ''Lord, grant your servant hearing heart, a heart that can be silent and hear your word”.

The entire Lenten reflection of Fr. Stanko Mabić with the theme of the desert, watch HERE.