Lent, a time of listening in the desert

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”

1 Samuel 3, 9

 Lent, a time of listening in the desert

The young boy Samuel lay down in the temple of the Lord. Eli, his master, now old, was not with him: Samuel was alone. Perhaps he was wondering what would become of him now that his master could no longer see well and his strength was diminishing. Perhaps he was wondering to whom he would go in the future, he who had been given to the Lord, when still a child.

In this solitude, Samuel listened to the voice of the Lord pronouncing his name. Once and again. “Samuel did not yet know the Lord,” says the text, and he said twice to Eli, “Here I am as you called me”.

It is striking that this young man, who had lived his entire life in the temple, who “served the Lord by Eli’s side”, still did not know the Lord.

Interesting detail, it is possible for us baptized and consecrated having lived a whole life in the temple of the Lord and yet like Samuel we may not know the Lord.

The attitude of the young Samuel is an attitude of readiness in the service of the Lord: he gets up and runs “to where Eli was”.

Like Mary, visited by the Angel, who does not hesitate to set out to meet her cousin Elizabeth, Samuel is always ready and available to the Other: “Here I am, as you called me.”

And the Lord calls him a third time. And for the third time Samuel gets up and goes to Eli. As a good master, Eli understands that his task has already finished: he has taken the young Samuel to meet the Lord, his true Master, and with the simplicity of the great he tells him to put himself, from now on, in His hands: Go back to sleep. And if you are called again, you will answer: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!”.

And the Lord, for the fourth time, calls Samuel. This time, however, the text says that “the Lord appeared” or, according to other translations, “came and stood by”: Samuel’s solitude is already a solitude inhabited by God, and the young man could receive the announcement of his mission: “Speak, your servant is listening”.

What does this text tell us? How may it help us to live this season of Lent that the Lord is still giving us in this new year?

At least two suggestions.

First, Solitude.

Let us have no illusions: solitude is very romantic when we choose it, but it becomes hard, terribly hard, when times and ways are chosen by the Lord. Let us look at our brothers who have died alone in Covid hospitals, the thousands of young people who died in the seas and the deserts, far from everything and everyone, the marginalized who live on the streets: there is nothing romantic about their loneliness. In this solitude, however, the Lord “comes and stands by”.

Let us ask God, this Lent, to teach us to recognize His Presence in this solitude, which can be that of old age, illness, incomprehension; that He may purify us so that we can recognize His Voice when things are not going as we like; that He may educate us little by little to the definitive encounter with him through detachment:

If you desire to discover peace and consolation for your soul and to serve God truly, do not find your satisfaction in what you have left behind, because in that which now concerns you, you may be as impeded as you were before, or even more.  But leave as well all these other things and attend to one thing alone that brings all these with it (namely, holy solitude, together with prayer and spiritual and divine reading), and persevere there in forgetfulness of all things.  For if these things are not incumbent on you, you will be more pleasing to God in knowing how to guard and perfect yourself than by gaining all other things together; “what profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of one’s soul?” (Mt. 16:26) (Saint John of the Cross, Saying of light and love, 79)

Second, Listening.

At Baptism, we received the “seed” of listening, our ears were opened: Ephphatha! We have the capacity to hear the voice of God, but it may have weakened over the years, and not only because of outside noises; but, and above all, because of those who are inside us: worries, doubts, self-sufficiency, perhaps a little distrust… Let us ask God, this Lent, to restore in us the freshness of listening received in our Baptism, may He help us to be in his presence like young Samuel, like children, in an attitude of wonder, like the one who needs everything because his whole life depends on another:

O Lord, my God, who will seek you with simple and pure love, and not find that you are all one can desire, for you show yourself first and go out to meet those who seek you?  (Saint John of the Cross, Sayings of light and love, 2)


Blessed and Holy Lent!

Carmel of Tangier

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