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Come away and rest

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Have you ever made it to the end of a week feeling completely exhausted from doing good work, only to find that the emails and phone messages keep stacking up? As the saying goes: “The reward for good work is more work.” Such is the case for the apostles in our Gospel today (Mk 6:30-34). They’ve been out and about preaching, teaching, forgiving sins and healing in Christ’s name. Apparently, it was wildly successful. 

As they return to share graces with Jesus, the crowds come, too. We’re told the apostles didn’t even have time to eat. As a result, Jesus invites them to come away and rest for a while, but the multitude following is clever and beats them to the location. Their persistence shows precisely how much each human heart, ours included, longs for Jesus and the peace he brings. All this sets the scene for the multiplication of the loaves and fishes next Sunday.

It’s notable that Jesus invites his apostles to rest with him. This is not a suggestion, but a command from the Lord. Often, we focus on the fact that Jesus instructs us to go out and preach to all nations, to “do” bold things for God. Yet, that is only one half of the coin. Just as often (if not more), the Christian faith is about spending dedicated time resting in the presence of Christ. The image of Mary and Martha comes to mind. 
When living our faith, it becomes all too easy to constantly “do” things for Jesus without a specifically dedicated time of quiet prayer and rest. The culture of the world amplifies this, because it identifies us primarily not by who we are (in Christ and his church), but rather by what we do (to earn our keep).  The temptation is to identify ourselves with some idea of our “usefulness,” even for Jesus. Time spent in prayer reminds us of the truth: We are named and live in Christ not because we’ve earned it, but because we rest in his love, grace and mercy.

Further, unless we make time (we must make time) to rest in the Lord through prayer and quiet, we’ll find that our “work” for God or others quickly grows tedious and joyless. We may even burn out. How often we become frustrated or grumpy because we’re overworked and “running on empty.” We simply can’t be Christians unless we allow Christ to fill our hearts in these moments of purposeful quiet. That said, if we do make this time to rest in Christ, we usually find that all our other activities are nourished by it as well.

This passage also reminds us that it is OK to set healthy boundaries for ourselves, to make sure we take essential time to rest, eat right, exercise, etc. It is OK to leave those emails unanswered once in a while.  After all, as humans we are both body and soul. In order to thrive in grace, we need to care for both.   Often, people speak as if setting healthy boundaries for prayer, rest and self-care is something selfish.  Nonsense. On the contrary: When we take time away to care for ourselves, body and soul, we allow God to build us up to better serve those we love in the long run. 

Where might God be calling you to rest in him this week? A better sleep schedule or healthier diet? Perhaps a visit to our diocesan retreat center or a pilgrimage to a local holy place such as the Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg? Or perhaps just taking five to 10 minutes out of each day with him in quiet, resting in his presence in Scripture or the Blessed Sacrament?

Fr. Miserendino is parochial vicar of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021