(Originally published in our spring newsletter)
By Fr. Jeff Barnish, St. Bernadette Parish, Westlake, Ohio
"Only one who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy truly knows the Lord” (Pope Francis, March 7, 2015, address to the Communion and Liberation movement).
“But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6).
In the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, just before He teaches His disciples the “Our Father,” Jesus invites them to encounter His Father in the solitude of the inner room. His invitation arises from the depth of His intimate knowledge of the interplay between the Father and the human heart. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to agree with Jeremiah when he writes “More tortuous than anything is the human heart….” Among its tortures are the myriad of voices vying for its attention, pulling it in a thousand directions. For many, myself included, the poustinia house at Christ the Bridegroom Monastery incarnates the inner room of Jesus’ imagination, where the human heart and the Ancient of Days meet in secret, far from the din of the world.
The voice of the Father is so often the still, silent voice that Elijah encounters at Mount Horeb. It is easily missed in the cacophony of the culture. The noise of the present age so often drowns out the merciful whisper of God. This is why Jesus invites us to encounter God in the inner room and why the poustinia exists. The silence of the poustinia house amplifies the Voice of Mercy and opens the human heart to be “caressed by the tenderness of mercy.” The Father does not typically compete with the other voices of our daily lives by raising His own. Instead, He waits patiently to meet us alone, apart from the multitude. The Father knows that the inner room provides the ideal setting for us to receive His initiatives of love.
Our world can be a weary one and it wears on us. Though Christ has risen, triumphant over sin and death, we remain subject to the afflictions of a world that is already and not yet. In this Year of Mercy, our Holy Father invites us to believe that our sinfulness and suffering comprise the privileged place of encounter. Yet, if we do not quiet the deafening voices that numb our anguish, we will be unable to hear the murmur of the merciful Father.
I’ve had the privilege of finding refuge in the silence of the monastery and the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch a number of times since my ordination last May. One of the lines from the Rite of Ordination that has stayed with me from that day comes from the prayer of ordination itself in which the Bishop prays, “May they be joined with us, Lord, in imploring your mercy for the people entrusted to their care and for all the world.” Most days, the priestly call to implore mercy has left me all too aware of my own need for that same mercy. It is this realization that drives me to the footsteps of the monastery, seeking the gentle mercy of Jesus. There, in the quiet of the upper room, the Voice of Mercy is audible.