The Sixteenth Sunday of the Year
22 July 2012
My dear friends,
When Napoleon was appointed First Consul, it is reported that he often worked a sixteen-hour day and he expected that the Council of State would have the stamina and zeal to match this. One fan of his remarked in admiration : “God made Bonaparte and then rested.” An old Count is reported to have commented : “God should have rested a little earlier.” If God has set aside time for rest, it looks, from today’s Gospel, as if his Son has misread the instructions.
The apostles have returned from their missionary work. When Jesus hears their report he says ; “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” With so many people coming and going, the apostles cannot find time to eat. So they climb into a boat and set sail for where they will find peace and quiet.
But quiet places can be hard to find when people insist on keeping you company. The escape attempted by Jesus and the apostles does not succeed. The people can see where the boat is heading and their great need gets them there first. So the apostolic party disembarks and give themselves up. By not turning the boat around and by not sending away the crowds Jesus is giving the apostles a lesson in the strength of God’s love and care for his people. When the people seek Jesus when he is seeking privacy, there is no question which need has priority. The needs of the people come before his own. That is the way of the Lord. That is the kind of God that Jesus reveals to us. That is the kind of compassion and rating of priorities which Jesus expects his apostles to show in their turn.
This Gospel passage is not an argument against rest or relaxation. The original plan of Jesus for the apostles underlines the importance of spending time apart and the value of rest and recovery. The apostles are not automatons; they have to rest sometime. If no rest is taken, if no time is set aside for recovery and renewal of energy, the apostle will end up burnt out with nothing to offer others but guilty exhaustion. And that is of no use or benefit to anyone.
We all need to get away, to be by ourselves, and to have our time of quiet. For many people solitude may be seen as a state of discomfort and pain. We may run away from it to seek companionship and something to do. It may even be viewed as odd or an indication that there is something amiss. The man who retires to a room, shuts the door and sits down surrounded by silence may be pursued with questions like “are you sick?” or “why are you mad at me?”
Some people, finding themselves alone, may not be able to cope. Resting can make some feel guilty while solitude makes others uncomfortable. This is specially so, if we have been brought up to honour a work ethic that equates idleness with laziness. Stillness is something we can learn to be comfortable with in the passage of time. God speaks to us in stillness at least as often as he does in the urgent cries of other people. To hear the voice of God sometimes we may have to be at one with the stillness.
Once St. Anthony was relaxing with his disciples outside his hut when a hunter came by. The hunter was surprised and mildly shocked when he came upon the scene. He rebuked Anthony for taking it easy. It was not his idea of what a monk should be doing. Anthony called him over and said, “bend your bow and shoot an arrow.” The hunter did as instructed. “Bend it again and try another.” The hunter did so and continued to do so again and again.
The hunter eventually turned and said, “Father Anthony, if I keep my bow always stretched, it will break.” “So it is with the monk,” replied Anthony. “If we push ourselves beyond measure we will break,” it is right from time to time to relax our efforts.
+Liam S. MacDaid