Avoiding Life's Excesses - Do We Talk Too Much?

Sunday of Week 18 in Ordinary Time - Year A

Mt. 17:1-9

Sometimes we think of saints as super-human, near-perfect, people. But were they really like that? They were special people, certainly, but human nonetheless and heirs, therefore, to the same weaknesses of the flesh as the rest of us, even though we see them most often in stained glass or placed on pedestals.

But there is at least one saint whose human failings are very familiar to us. His name was Simon; we know him as Peter. The New Testament paints him as warm-hearted, outspoken and adventurous, whose enthusiasm often ran ahead of his judgment. One of his distinguishing characteristics was a tendency to talk when he should have been listening!

An example of this particular trait is found in Matthew's account of the Transfiguration of Christ. The face of Jesus "became as dazzling as the sun, and his clothes as radiant as light." Then suddenly, from out of nowhere, Moses and Elijah appeared and began to talk with Him. It was a breath-taking experience, filled with majesty and wonder.

The disciples James and John were dumbstruck – but not Peter. True to form, he began to talk. The way the narrative is written strongly suggests that he broke right into the conversation that Jesus was having with Moses and Elijah. It was one of the rare moments of history, when Jesus, the Son of God and perhaps the two greatest men of the Old Testament, had the floor and our friend, the saint we all know and love, Simon Peter interrupted their conversation.

And it seems that he continued until God intervened. Saint Matthew says, "He was still speaking, when suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them. Out of the cloud came a voice that said, 'This is My beloved Son on whom My favour rests. Listen to Him.'" There is a touch of humour in that solemn and sacred scene. It is almost as if God told Peter to shut up and listen!

Reflecting on this event, there comes to mind a number of places where the Bible emphasizes the value of silence. The book of Proverbs says, "Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent." (17:28) The prophet Habakkuk wrote, "The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him." (2:20) And a verse in Ecclesiastes says, "There is a time to be silent and a time to speak." (3:7) The art, of course, is deciding which is which. It was in this respect that Peter had difficulty - and so do we.

However, we must remind ourselves that silence in itself is not necessarily a virtue. It may be cowardly, for example, or it may be sullen. When the Bible stresses the value of silence, it has in mind not simply the absence of speech, but an inward attitude of serenity and receptiveness. That is what Peter was lacking that day on the mountain. His incessant talking was an indication of his inward turmoil. In describing this same event, both Mark and Luke add the editorial comment that Peter did not know what he was saying. It was clearly not the time to speak. It was the time to be silent. In this regard, every one of us can identify with Peter. He may have been more vocal than we are. Nevertheless, we share a similar problem. Like Peter we need a spirit of serenity and quietness in our lives.

It would be a good thing if we could face our daily duties and periodic problems with a spirit of composure. Inward quietness is a desirable goal but, all the while, we find it hard to achieve it. Perhaps a good place to begin would be back there on the mountain where Peter's inward turmoil poured out in a torrent of words. The voice that interrupted him that day said, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him." Listening to Jesus would be a good starting place for us. No one was ever more qualified to speak on the subject of inward quietness than He was. I am sure that is where Peter found his own serenity. He learnt it from Jesus, not in an hour or a day, but over the years. He just kept listening to His calm, steady voice.

Lord Jesus, is it possible that we could become like that? It would, at least, seem to be worth a try! Let us listen to the voice that said, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him." We listen to many other voices, and much of what we hear destroys what little serenity we have. Why not turn off the noise, stop the chatter, and listen to You, the One who mastered the art of inward quietness.