A place apart

Our Gospel reading this Sunday reports that Jesus took His disciples to "a deserted place." Various translations call it a "solitary place," "secluded place," "remote place," "quiet place" or simply "a place apart." The Gospels show us with great detail the activities of Jesus and His disciples in preaching, teaching and healing. Here we receive a glimpse into another part of their lives only occasionally mentioned in the Gospels, as they withdraw to a "place apart" to renew themselves in prayer.

We all need a "place apart." We are faced each day with the increased velocity of change in our society. There is the rapid microwave-like intensity of news stories that dominates the headlines for a week and then disappears, only to be replaced by other stories likewise frantically reported. There are the challenges to our faith that come not by direct attack but by the "soft persecution" of ridicule, trivialization or indifference. There are the challenges of seeing our loved ones depart from the very Gospel they were baptized to embrace, lured by a culture that, if not hostile, is at least agnostic about the life of faith.

Without a "place apart," we can be whipsawed by events, ideas and opinions that leave us numb and overwhelmed, not knowing how to react. The "place apart" gives us a chance to go into the "wheelhouse" of our soul and learn to respond in faith rather than to react in emotion to events in our life.

That "place apart" can be a parish adoration chapel, presence before the tabernacle, a daily time of quiet prayer or regularly scheduled deep reading of sacred Scripture to pull all the threads of our life together around Christ.

We all need a "place apart."

Our "place apart" also gives us a chance not only to strengthen and sort out the life of our soul but to step back and view the quality of our engagement with others.

The prophet Jeremiah in today's first reading speaks against the shepherds (or leaders) of Israel for not bringing people to the Lord but driving them away. It is very easy for us to criticize the leaders in the church and the state in our own time while letting ourselves "off the hook." We can let ourselves "off the hook" because we, too, are shepherds in one way or another. Parents are shepherds to their children. Adult children are shepherds to their aging parents. We can be shepherds to our colleagues at work, to fellow students at school or to our neighbors. We all have someone who looks up to us. We are also shepherds to them. In fact, our shepherding can be more potent and effective than that of the official shepherds.

The "place apart" gives us a chance to see what kind of shepherds we are to people around us. Are we drawing people to the Lord or driving them away? The "place apart" is where we can look deeply into the quality of our own shepherding.

We all need a "place apart."

Finally, the "place apart" is not a place of isolation but of unity. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians that gentile and Jew are now one in Christ with equal access to the Father. Our "place apart" gives us the chance to recognize our unity with others. Through prayer and reflection, we unite ourselves with people all over the world who also are struggling to be faithful to Christ, who also are seeking to strengthen their Christian identity and also desiring to be guided by the Holy Spirit to engage the wayward spirit of our times.

So, in summary, our "place apart" gives us the space to enter the "wheelhouse" of our soul in responding to our time; it gives us a space to reflect on the quality of our relationship with others through our words and example; it gives us a place where we can experience our deep baptismal unity with all who are taking their discipleship seriously.

Our "place apart" does not isolate us. In fact, it unites us more deeply with the Lord and with others.

We all need a "place apart."

Fr. Krempa is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015