In one of the “Star Wars” trilogy, there is a dramatic scene that involves Ben Kenobi, the guru and mentor of the hero, Luke Skywalker; in the middle of a battle with Darth Vader to fend him off and allow Luke’s escape, Ben stops fighting when he sees that Luke’s escape and safety are assured.
In the middle of the duel, Ben pauses, stands peacefully erect and switches off his saber. It was not a retreat or surrender in defeat, but an act of peaceful accomplishment and triumph; it is a kind of peace that this world does not normally give.
It is an act of entering into another realm, a sense of solitude as it takes a person to another level that is unique and personal. In this sphere, the person meets his/her destiny, mission, or God.
This is like the moment we often see Christ enter in the Gospels, his withdrawing into solitude and prayer before or after a major event. This comes with intense activity and even struggle, but always Christ emerges more resolute in his mission and clearer in understanding of who He is.
Three facets of Christ
This Sunday’s Gospel is one such dramatic moment in the life of Christ. He withdraws after he hears about the death of John the Baptist—his cousin and one of his closest friends, and probably a mentor who helped him understand his own mission and identity.
Christ must have been so overcome by grief and awe as he contemplates his own destiny that he had to withdraw and pray.
We see how Christ emerges with greater clarity and power. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” he declares as he resumes his mission with greater conviction and zeal.
I was sharing reflections about this in my Thursday Mass and also with my partner, Jerry Bennett, in my work in the Integrated Public Service Department of ABS-CBN. I realized that today’s Gospel again shows us the three facets of Christ: the man of service or for others; the man of prayer; and the man with a mission.
I asked whether our lack of moments of solitude and prayer accounts for a certain shallowness that leads to the lack of constancy in what we do to address our personal growth as well as that of our communities and our country.
Does this explain our ningas cogon mentality, the propensity for flavor-of-the-month attitude? Are we good starters, but fail to follow-through and to sustain? Worse, are we poor finishers? Mea culpa.
Think of the times we felt we were ready to change the world and dedicate our life to a cause after a good retreat or a moment of enlightenment. These are genuine moments of grace, no doubt, but after a few weeks, a few days even, the glow wears off and the zeal wanes. Mea culpa.
Or consider how many resolutions we have made to diet and/or to exercise, working on it diligently for months, until these fade into weeks, and days, and finally they are no more. Mea culpa.
I think of all the good projects we start every time there is a burning issue, be it the tragedy of a calamity or a raging socio-political issue like the Napoles/pork barrel scam; how these make so much noise and receive tremendous support, only to end up in the dustbin of forgotten causes. Where hundreds and thousands gather, in time you see but a handful. Mea culpa.
Do we fail to sustain and to bring things to completion because we don’t take to heart the moment of grace and enlightenment?
Two parallel examples come to mind. One is the parable of the sower and the seed, how the seed does not bear fruit because of the bad soil, the rocky or the shallow soil. The other is the story about Ignatius of Loyola when one of the rivals of the Society of Jesus was elected pope.
Pope Paul III—who granted the approbation of the order—died and his successor was Cardinal Carafa who did not hide his opposition to the Society. When news of Carafa’s election as pope reached Ignatius, it is said that Ignatius turned pale.
He went into the chapel and prayed for several minutes. He emerged with an air of peace and serenity. He said he was certain the Society would continue because God wants it.
Ignatius, not surprisingly, possessed fantastic leadership qualities that were partly nurtured by his ability to withdraw into solitude and prayer. His closest collaborator described him as gifted with “great energy in undertaking extraordinarily difficult tasks, great constancy in pursuing them, great prudence in bringing them to completion.”
This is a gift. It is divine grace that touches the human element and spirit—man cooperating with God and allowing His grace to transform the human into the divine.
Grace works on nature, but solitude and prayer can transform nature.
As Christ himself showed, being a man for others or a man of service is not enough. One has to be a man of prayer and the necessary solitude to nurture this. I believe that it is this moment of solitude that connects and raises us to a sense of mission.
When that happens, we can switch off our sabers in the battle with our Darth Vaders, standing peacefully erect without fear or doubt, knowing we have dedicated our self to something, to someone, to God, and somehow made this world a better place.
It is our act of peaceful accomplishment. It is our way of saying—without judgment of others—“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”