February 27, 2021
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father,
who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret,
will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
Have you ever been tempted to lead a monastic life, even for a short period of time?
Even though I consider myself a gregarious person, as a Roman Catholic by confession, I have always had a fascination for seclusion. How do some people withdraw from the world, retire to a secluded place and spend the rest of their life in prayer, solitude and contemplation, away from the vicissitudes of the secular world? What is at the root of their calling? How did it come about? What inner strength drives them to renounce the challenges, but also the many pleasures of a mundane life? Do they seek refuge with Jesus because they desperately long to get closer to him or are they, more prosaically, turning their back on a world they struggle to fit into? Can you imagine leading a secluded life, following the same pattern of seven canonical hours day-in and day-out, starting early in the morning with lauds and ending in the evening with compline before retiring to your cell? I must admit, that as much as I admire their devotion, I could not withdraw from the world completely, I need other, more mundane avenues to get closer to the Lord.
What does the Gospel tell us about Jesus’ relationship with solitude?
All through the New Testament it is obvious that taking time for silence and solitude is a consistent part of Jesus’ ministry. Many passages refer to this, I quote only one: But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16).
T.A. Torrey, the American evangelist, notes that Jesus prayed early in the morning as well as the whole night, that he prayed both before and after great events of his life and that he prayed “when life was unusually busy.”
Why did Jesus need to withdraw and pray in solitude? Why would he need to go to a desert or to a mountain top to pray? Did he need to feel closer to his Father? Did he need to reach out to him before starting the next phase of his mission? Was it to gain strength ahead of the trials he was to experience; to gain fortitude before facing the ultimate sacrifice on the cross? Probably for many of these reasons.
How can we practice solitude and get closer to God, while still remaining part of the secular world and enjoying all that life can offer