In the Gospel today Matthew seems to repeat himself
he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. And when evening came he was alone.
If he was "by himself" wasn't he "alone" the entire time?
The distinction in Greek is between idios and monos.
The first means alone but in the sense of separate, separated from others. For many of us this is not a good kind of alone.
The second word for alone comes from the verb to remain. It refers to lack of motion, staying still.
Jesus went off by himself to pray, but it was not until the evening that he reached a state of stillness.
How often do we sit down to pray and we may be by ourself by we are anything but alone/still? We have brought with us all of the days concerns, worries about tomorrow. Some are truly important many are not. But unlike Jesus we are unwilling to just stay with it. The verse tells us when evening came he was alone, monos. We have no idea what time he began to pray, but the implication is that he was there for a while.
Jesus gives us an example of the virtue of patience in prayer. He reminds us that particularly meditation, is not something we can simply sit down and do in five minutes. It make take us weeks or months of practice to learn how to let go of all the stuff running around in our heads and be truly alone with God. In Matthew's gospel Jesus repeatedly goes off by himself to pray. He is showing us by his example that we need both, the communal prayer of the liturgy which we do on Sundays and also we need the quiet time when we go off by ourselves and we patiently wait in the spirit until we are truly still.