March 15, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 6:30-33.
The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.
This follows the commissioning of the Twelve to go out the surrounding villages two by two with authority over unclean spirits and a report that Jesus had become so famous that Herod took note. The last verses here lead into the feeding of five thousand.
Salesian priest Francis Moloney in The Gospel of Mark notes that the disciples came back and reported to Jesus all they had done — what they had taught the people, the healings they had effected, and the exorcisms they had performed. It was all me, me, me. He believes that’s why Jesus wanted to take them away so that he could reorient their thinking, to get them to understand that all they had done was accomplished by the authority that he had given them. He — and by extension, God — was the source of their success. He writes, “Mark has already portrayed the disciples’ inability to understand who Jesus is. He further shows that they have difficulty in grasping who they are.
John Shea in Eating With the Bridegroom writes that going to a deserted place for rest was akin to rest on the Sabbath. “To come away to that place means to return to the Source, to be nurtured by God….Rest is Sabbath rest, learning how to be sustained by the goodness of Creation, a Creation rooted in God. Rest does not mean inactivity but acting in consort with Creation, with the Spirit of the Creator who is already acting. The overall project is the learn how to receive divine energy and nourishment, energy and nourishment that drives the mission.”
Isn’t that the purpose of spiritual retreats such as Christ Renews His Parish? It’s not the time for rest and relaxation; it’s the time for reflection, for discernment, for aligning one’s self with God’s spirit, with the ultimate intent of allowing ourselves to be used as God’s instruments as He directs. It’s a process that Barclay calls “the rhythm of the Christian life. The Christian life is a continuous going into the presence of God from the presence of men and coming out into the presence of men from the presence of God. It is like the rhythm of sleep and work….[N]o man can live the Christian life unless he gives himself times with God.” The flip side of the coin is, “Prayer that does not issue in work is not real prayer. The rhythm of the Christian life is the alternate meeting with God in the secret place and serving men in the market place.”
There is an allure to resting with God, to replenishing one’s spiritual energy. It can be tempting to remain there trying to tune out the world. Or I’ve heard myself lament being drawn back into the world, reality, following a retreat or even a vacation. That’s not what God has in mind for me, though. He wants to get back into the fray and do His work, His will. So, it’s fitting that the disciples are immediately challenged by Jesus with feeding 5,000 hungry people not counting women and children.
I am a slow deliberator. I have to think carefully through things before deciding on an action and stepping forward. For a long time since my CRHP formation and weekend I’ve been trying to discern what it is that God wants me to do. How does He want to use me to accomplish His kingdom? I’ve thrown out some ideas to Him that have come to mind. His response has been sort of like, “Hmmm, that’s OK.” But I wasn’t hitting on anything that was exciting Him. That’s another way of saying that I wasn’t listening to Him; I was listening to myself. He was polite but sitting on the sidelines patiently waiting for me to turn to Him. It’s like Moloney wrote — I wasn’t grasping that the source had to be God, not me.
It’s funny how He communicates with me. This time it was in the form of a photo that appeared in the newspaper a month or so ago. A photo of an elderly woman celebrating her birthday. Looking at that photo suddenly made clear what it was that God wanted me to do. He had answered my prayer and gave me the energy and nourishment to move forward, to be His instrument, to act in consort with God as Shea put it.
It’s always a good idea to find a deserted place in order to rest with God. But the point is not to give myself a break from people; it is to prepare me for greater service. It turns out in this reading that the disciples weren’t given the luxury of time to rest, because Jesus had compassion for the people hungry for his word and healing. So many in our world are in need of compassion. God will give me the energy I need, but first I need to find time to be with Him in a deserted place and listen for His instructions. Otherwise, I’m just listening to my own voice.