Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21; Psalm 23:1-6; Mark 6:30-34
Some of the best advice I ever got about working in the Church came from a spiritual advisor who encouraged me to “look for ways to unwind” with other clergy and parishioners. He said that part of our job is to teach people by example that we’re not meant to spend all of our time together exclusively at Mass or in meetings; we should make time to talk, relax, laugh, get to know each other, and enjoy each other’s company.
Jesus models this in today’s gospel. Recall that the Twelve had been sent out on a mission to preach, exorcise demons, and heal the sick. Now they have returned, reassembled, and just recounted to their Master all that happened to them on their journeys.
I know from personal experience that there is joy both in the mission and the return. In the mission we use the gifts we have been given in the way best suited for the situation; this is the time to plant seeds as best we can and to pray for their growth. During the mission time we experience all that it has to offer – good and bad – and these affect us for the better and the worse. Our return is the opportunity to share these experiences with each other and in so doing relive the triumphs, laugh at the mistakes or foibles in ourselves, but also to relieve the stress of the problems and see that we are not alone; others along the way have seen many of the same things.
By inviting the Twelve to “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31), Christ modeled the virtue of temperance. Mission and return, as fulfilling as they are, aren’t enough. We also need leisure; not so much a time to play as a time to unwind, to share quiet, personal time with each other and most importantly with Him. There will be no advance in our spiritual life without such a retreat.
Take a moment to picture in your mind what this time with Jesus might look like. Choose your own deserted place – just you, a small group of friends, and Christ. He wants nothing more than to be with you and spend the afternoon. He has no agenda other than you; to listen to you, laugh and/or cry with you, and to enjoy the peace of the moment together with you.
We all know that on this side of eternity that kind of time won’t last forever. The mission must begin anew. In the gospel at that very moment the crowds were searching for them and did find them. In his infinitely merciful love, Christ fed them and will soon teach his Apostles how to do so by the thousand.
But the lesson today is that the mission best begins anew once its ministers are renewed. Our bodies and spirits grow weary and need recharging. Without renewal we risk burning out instead of burning with the Spirit; the same fields that shine for the harvest come to resemble the dark valley of the psalm (Psalm 23:4).
Nevertheless, the letter to the Hebrews assures us that the God of peace furnishes us with all that is good, that we may do his will and carry out what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20-21). The greatest good is Christ, the Good Shepherd who remains at our side and invites us to come away by ourselves and rest awhile. Only there, beside the restful waters where he restores our soul, can we the sheep once again become the shepherds he has called us to be.