Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, July 18, 2021
Holy Ghost Church – 5:00 Mass
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23:1-3,3-4,5,6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34
In today’s Gospel we’re taken back to the time when Jesus’ apostles had completed their first successful missionary journey.
After accompanying Jesus for a long time they were sent out on their own to be his ambassadors, to announce his message, testifying to its truth. In his name they healed the sick and cast out demons. In today’s gospel they returned to tell him all they had done.
We know from the other evangelists that this moment of reunion was full of rejoicing and energy – the apostles had experienced the power of God working through them, moving people’s hearts through their words and deeds.
And how does Christ respond when his missionaries return from their exciting and busy adventure? He takes them aside to rest, to be with him again in the quiet intimacy of their small community. Jesus knew that in spite of their enthusiasm, their journey had taken a toll on them. He knew that what they needed was to join him on retreat.
The lesson for us today is obvious, but it can be so hard to put into practice: busy people need to balance their activity with contemplation, with time spent in personal conversation with the Lord. Time spent alone with him to recharge.
Sometimes we can wonder why we get so emotionally and spiritually exhausted by the busy-ness of our lives. It’s because we aren’t recharging our spiritual batteries. The temptation we experience in our busy lives is that we just don’t have time to pray, or that saying a quick Our Father as we run from one activity to the next is enough. It isn’t enough.
Stress, discouragement, and other crippling emotions can wear us out if we aren’t spending quality time daily with Jesus. Only our friendship with Christ provides us with the strength and wisdom we need to be truly successful, successful not just in the roles we play, but in who we are beneath those roles.
Without prayer, study, and time alone with God, our well soon runs dry – we will have nothing substantial to offer others. It is rightly said that we can only give that which we ourselves possess. This is why it’s so important to have a regular daily prayer life and to go away on retreat at least once a year. Time away with Christ is not just for priests, deacons and nuns…it’s for all of us!
How can we share God’s love with others if we ourselves do not nurture our relationship with him? Like any friendship, any relationship that is fruitful, we must make time to know our friends, to be with our loved ones so we can understand their needs, their desires, their joys and their disappointments.
Just as we need to spend time with friends in order for our relationship with them to grow in both understanding and love, so do we need to cultivate our friendship with Christ through an intentional daily prayer life. We need time alone with the Lord to share our thoughts and our concerns with him. Only after being refreshed and strengthened by time alone with Jesus, can we bring the fruits of this friendship to others.
Our action, our work, must be sustained by prayer. Daily prayer. Our culture here in the United States tends to stress the importance of action, of getting things done, more so than it values prayer, quietly listening to God, but the two really are meant to go together. Leading an active life without a well-established daily prayer life, complimented by time away on retreat, typically leads to frustration and burnout.
Jesus himself led a full and active life, but that activity was fueled and inspired by prayer – and if that’s the case for him, the Son of God, how much more should it be the case for us!
Prayer and action – these are the two sides of the coin of our Christian life. We must care for both ourselves and for our neighbor. But even though both are equally important for our spiritual maturity, in today’s world one side of this coin is harder to do than the other.
We find it easier to be focused on getting things done, checking off everything on our to-do lists, than we do spending time with God. We can get so busy with our checklists that it’s easy to lose sight of those things that are really worthwhile doing, building essential relationships that we might not see as really important because they don’t directly help us get ahead in our career or accomplish our material goals. Maybe we think that Johnny’s football practice or Susie’s soccer tournament is more important than going to Mass because, you know, it could lead to a scholarship at UT.
The fast and superficial pace of life in the digital world also makes prayer harder, because prayer requires discipline. There are so many things to distract us, so many Facebook posts and emails to read, that when we try to pray we often find ourselves distracted. Several months ago I essentially stopped using Facebook because it was interfering with my prayer life. I’ve also set up my email to automatically unsubscribe or delete messages that come to me unsolicited. I’ve had to ask people who have me on “their list” to take me off, explaining that I just can’t deal with being bombarded with jokes and political commentaries. It’s just too distracting.
We need to pray daily, to have a daily quiet time when we can speak to Christ, pray for our loved ones, reflect on the scriptures, or read a good spiritual book. That means carving out time for prayer. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time – ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes at night is a good start – but it has to be consistent. Prayer has to become a habit.
So my question for all of us is this: Are we balancing our busy and often hectic lives with time for prayer each and every day? Are we getting away on retreat at least once a year to recharge our spiritual batteries?
Prayer and action are both essential elements of the Christian life. Jesus was a very busy person and yet he made the time to pray. He made it a priority. Are we willing to do the same?
God bless you.