16: The Mercy of God’s Silence (Part 1)

The subject of our current meditation during this Year of Mercy is the Mercy of God’s Silence. It seems like a strange subject, one that seems so contradictory. How can silence be merciful? Is it not more merciful to act, to verbalize? If God cares about us, then why should we be comfortable with His silence? What does the silence of God mean?

In the Gospel of Matthew, we have a description of the silence of God. The passage below takes place immediately after the joyous entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, after the Passover supper in which He instituted the Mass and the priesthood. It takes place after one of his nearest and dearest, Judas, has decided to act against Him. Let’s look at the words of the Evangelist:

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, "My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me." He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will."

When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, "So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, "My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!"

Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open. He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again. Then he returned to his disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand when the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. Get up, let us go. Look, my betrayer is at hand." (Matt. 26:36-46)

Here is Jesus, prostrate in the Garden of Gethsemane, surrounded by the darkness of night, by the anticipation of horrible suffering and death. His three closest followers are asleep, adding their silence to the silence of the Father. Jesus’ suffering began in that garden. In fact we are told by St. Luke: “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (Lk. 22:44)

In Jesus’ suffering, He was seeking an answer. He was making a prayer, petitioning the Father to relieve Him of the events of the Passion and death He was soon to suffer. And here, at the most pivotal time of His life, His beloved Father is silent. How can this loving God and Father, who loved Jesus beyond all telling as St. John’s Gospel tells us (“For the Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he himself does, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed.” (Jn. 5:20) how can He be silent?

Why the silence? How could God not answer His Son? Why the silence of sleep? Peter, James and John witnessed the Transfiguration: should they not also witness His agony? What does all of this mean, both to our salvation and in our own lives?...