7:08 AM 7/22/2018 —
The land shall have a king to reign over it, and reign over it wisely, giving just sentence and due award. When that time comes, Juda shall find deliverance, none shall disturb Israel’s rest … (Jer. 23: 5-6 Knox).
That's Msgr. Knox's lovely translation of the tail end of today first lesson from the Prophet Jeremiah, followed on right away by what is probably the most recognized Psalm in the Bible:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful water he leads me; he refreshes my soul (Psalm 23: 1-2 NABRE).
In my last assignment, the busy season was during the summer, when most people's lives take on a slower pace; but, even for those whose daily routine remains as hectic as ever, we look forward, some of us, to some sort of vacation, no matter how short it may have to be—perhaps even a day trip now and then—to get away from the day-to-day, to take some sort of break and renew our spirits and bodies.
Rest and recreation are important, even for the disciples of our Lord; and, Jesus himself gives us the good example in our Gospel lesson:
And now the apostles came together again in the presence of Jesus, and told him of all they had done, and all the teaching they had given. And he said to them, “Come away into a quiet place by yourselves, and rest a little.” For there were many coming and going, and they scarcely had leisure even to eat (Mark 6: 30-31 Knox).*
And doesn't that describe our lives, sometimes, especially those of us with families and children, or who maybe are working more than one job to make ends meet, or who are caring for an elderly parent, or all of the above? Do we not feel just the way our Lord observed of His own disciples: “coming and going … [with] scarcely [any] leisure even to eat”? And His counsel to them is a lot deeper than may seem on the surface: “Come away into a quiet place by yourselves, and rest a little.”
But our Lord's counsel goes far beyond advice for those who lives are busy and who need a vacation. We happen to live in the most disturbing of times. Moral and social questions, political intrigue, the continuing threat of terroristm, the general apathy of seemingly people of good will toward the moral and spiritual deterioration of our society…. It can wear us down, not just spiritually, but even physically. We try to provide, here at De Chantal, a beautiful oasis where people can come to pray, but it only does good if one is able to pray, and so many of us find it more and more difficult. At some point, if we're going to keep our interior life on track, we need something more than time off from our hectic lives, and some place more substantial than even the most beautiful oasis of prayer and devotion: some place in the heart that is with us always, wherever we may be, to which we can retreat and regroup, and meet there with our Blessed Lord in the peaceful silence of contemplation.
That erudite Father of the fourth century, Saint Gregory Nazianzen, comments that “a cord cannot endure constant tension, and an archer needs to loosen the ends of a bow if he wants to be able to draw it again later on” (Prayer 26). True enough, but easier said than done. “There come days,” says Saint Teresa in all simplicity, “when a single word distresses me and I long to leave the world altogether, for everything in it seems to weary me” (The Way of Perfection, 38, 6). That remark we can all relate to.
And moments like these are for turning to God, because it means that our Lord is very close to us and wants us to take the appropriate remedy: to go to the Doctor of the soul and place all our concerns and anxieties in His Divine hands, to discard our unsettled spirits and loose them in his Divine Heart. “Come away,” says our Lord, “and rest a little,” to which Saint Augustine adds: “See how much God loves us, my brethren, because when we rest, it is really He who rests” (Commentary on the Psalms, 131, 12.).
If anything, the things that disturb us—the reports we read, the images we see on TV, the depressing conclusions we can't help but make when we simply open our eyes and look around—serve as a kind of barometer of how well, or how poorly, we have cultivated the virtues of faith and hope in our daily lives. And what so often happens to us in this situation? We turn away from the very medicine that can heal our wounds, and that medicine is prayer and the grace of the sacraments. I can't count for you the number of times people have come and told me that they've been away from the Church and the sacraments, slacked off on their prayers and devotions, because something happened to disturb them, which is exactly when they should be running to our Lord. Our Lord, Himself, spoke about this:
“Here,” he began, “is the sower gone out to sow. And as he sowed, there were grains that fell beside the path, so that all the birds came and ate them up. And others fell on rocky land, where the soil was shallow; they sprang up all at once, because they had not sunk deep in the ground; but as soon as the sun rose they were parched; they had taken no root, and so they withered away. Some fell among briers, so that the briers grew up, and smothered them” (Matt. 13: 3-7 Knox).
And who are we in this Divine seed catalog? The seeds that fell by the path are those of us who are too easily swayed by what we're told by others, or what we read, or what we watch. The seed on rocky ground are those of us who are not educated thoroughly enough in our faith, so that we have no way to distinguish truth from error. A lot of us are the seed that fell among the briers, the briers being all the disturbing things we allow to distract us: the cares of the world, the slavery to our passions, or, as we've been observing today, the spiritual and even physical fatigue that tempts us to say, “Today I cannot pray; I'm just too upset.”
For those of us in this condition of soul, one could quote the words of Saint Augustine:
What mean you thus to travail and trudge on through these hard and painful ways? There is no rest where you are seeking it. Seek still that which you seek, but seek it not there where you seek it. You seek for a happy life in the very region of death. Not there is it to be found. For how can a happy life be found there, where there is not so much as any life at all? (Confessions, 4, 12, 18; cf. Commentary on the Psalms, 33, 2).
The virtue of Hope is the forgotten virtue because it requires us to rise out of ourselves in humility and abandon ourselves to the tender care of the Heart of Christ, and that requires us to trust in Him. If we can't trust in the Lord, then what on earth are we doing here?
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [says today's psalm],
I fear no evil; for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me (23: 4 RSV).
Perhaps the first step in learning to cultivate that most necessary virtue of hope is found in another psalm, Psalm 62, which contains a resolution and a promise that we can all make to our Lord as we meet him in the Most Blessed Eucharist today: “Nam et ipse Deus meus et salutaris meus; susceptor meus, non movebor amplius.” “He alone is my God and my Savior, my protector; I shall be disturbed no more” (v. 3).**
* Typical of the time in which he worked, Msgr. Knox does not employ quotation marks in his translation, setting apart direct citations by simply capitalizing the first letter of the quote. When reproducing his text, I (sometimes) add the punctuation for the sake of clarity.
** My own translation.