Sunday, February 8, 2015
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Tme (B)
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
It is not difficult for us to understand, or at least to think that we understand, Jesus' decision to leave, to be alone, far from all of his work and from all of the requests made by the whole town...gathered at the door of the mother-in-law of Simon. As a man, and so like us, Jesus Christ had his limits, the need to rest so he could find the strength to continue his work. Even though, being God, and so being the very source of all strength and energy, he would not have lacked the power to heal the sick and deliver those possessed by demons, he had all the same fundamental human needs, not the least of which is rest from work. And so, we cam imagine that, at the beginning of his earthly ministry, non yet accustomed to the crowds needing his help, Jesus found a moment for himself, a quiet moment of self-care.
However, such a reading, whatever truth there may be in it, misses something crucial about the life of Jesus. Jesus did not rise so early, he did not go off to a deserted place, to find and renew the strength necessary to take up again the healings and deliverances of the people of the town. As we read, after Simon and those who were with him had found Jesus and told him that the whole town was looking for him, Jesus revealed to them that he had no desire to return to those healings that he had dome in the city. Even though he had compassion for the people, his priority was that purpose for which he had come — the preaching of the Good News, of the Gospel. That is to say, his mission, his being send, more precisely his being sent by the Father, and so even more his identity as the Son, the Son send into the world by the Father but never absent from him — this mission and this identity, not his tiredness nor any kind of self-care, were at the heart of Jesus' prayer in the deserted place, early in the morning.
We, of course, are not sons of the Father by nature, and we have not been sent in the same way, with just the same saving mission of the eternal Son of God and his Paschal Mystery. We are, however, rightly and truly sons of the Father by our baptism; we are also, by our baptism and our confirmation, anointed by the same Spirit, and in that same Spirit partakers in the mission of Christ; some of us, moreover, are by our religious vows dedicated to preaching, and it is for us as preachers, no less than it was for Jesus in his earthly mission, to say, Let us go on to the nearby villages that we may preach there also. For this purpose have we come. Given all of this, it is also clear that our prayer, and in a particular way our private prayer, the prayer we make either physically or spiritually "early in the morning before dawn" in a "deserted place" ought to be rooted in this mission — the preaching of the Gospel — and in this identity — the filial participation in the mystery of God.
Brother and sisters, we all have a lot of work to do, and it is easy to feel sorry for ourselves, as though we were with Jesus in the house of Simon's mother-in-law, the whole town gathered at the door asking to see us, asking for our time and our energy. It is understandable that after our work, and after that sense that our work has been, and perhaps always will be, beyond our ability to accomplish, we desire a time, some time, brief or long, in which we can get some rest, be entertained, taste that dolce far niente during a few hours of idleness. It is understandable, and considering the weakness of our humanity, probably even justifiable. However, during these quiet moments, whether early in the morning or late at night or in a momentary pause between our daily tasks, we have even greater need of prayer. We need a life of prayer rooted non in the desire for energy to do even more work, nor in the desire to stop working and enjoy idleness, however necessary these both may be. What we need is a prayer rooted in the awareness of our identity — an identity received by the grace of the sacraments, an identity which we renew every time we celebrate the Mass and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, an identity of being sons of God, partakers of the eternal life of the living God.
Filial prayer is not in the life, of course, a magic solution for our fatigue. Job's question is in a certain sense the question that will remain until the end of the world: Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings? Filial prayer does not take away the difficulties that belong in this world to our mission. We ought rather to say with St. Paul, If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! Filial prayer, however can be, and it ought to be the source of our joy whether we are at work or at rest, in drudgery or in play. We are sons of the Father, and by grace and love, we can taste, even today, here and now, the sweetness of the immortal life of the Trinity, the life promised by our Savior, Jesus Christ.