5th Sunday of the Year Job 7:1–4, 6–7; 1 Corinthians 9:16–19, 22–23; Mark 1:29–39
Pause and Be Still! Amidst the turmoil in his life, Jesus took time off to pause and pray. So should we.
Several years ago Outdoor World magazine carried a beautiful article by Barry Lopez.
One drizzly morning Barry got up and went off alone, before breakfast, for a walk in the woods.
As he squished through the pines and cedars, he recalled a similar morning in his boyhood, when he saw his grandfather go off alone through these same woods.
When his grandfather returned, little Barry asked him where he had been and what he had done. His grandfather smiled, put his arm around Barry, and said, “Let’s go get some breakfast.”
As Barry continued to walk in the drizzle, he came to a clearing in the woods. There he knelt down and laid his hands flat against the damp earth. It gave him a feeling of being united with all of creation.
Barry recalled how his grandfather told him that if he ever felt lonely, he should go for a walk in the woods, be quiet, and do whatever he felt moved to do, like kneeling down and laying his hands flat against the earth.
Half-an-hour later, when Barry started back to the house, he felt renewed. He felt recharged. Then he remembered why his grandfather used to walk in the woods in the morning.
Barry’s grandmother once told him it was the way his grandfather said his prayers. He would always end up on the other side of the woods, standing on the beach with his hands in his pockets, listening to the ocean.
Today’s gospel indicates that Jesus used to go off by himself to pray also.
One reason why Jesus did this was the same reason why Barry used to do it: to renew himself, to recharge himself.
Mark’s Gospel says Jesus had spent the previous day healing people. This exhausted him spiritually.
Later on in his Gospel, Mark gives us an insight into the spiritual price Jesus paid to heal people.
A woman who had been sick for 12 years pushed through a crowd to touch Jesus. When she did, she was instantly healed. “At once,” Mark says, “Jesus knew that power had gone out of him.” Mark 5:30
Healing people drained Jesus of power. In a similar way, working with people drains us of power. That’s why we need to do what Jesus did. We need to recharge ourselves, spiritually.
Maybe we can’t do this by going off alone into a woods. Maybe we can’t even do it by going off alone to a quiet part of our house.
But we can do something. We can at least pause momentarily during the course of our day to get in touch with ourselves and to listen to God’s voice in our heart.
Let me illustrate how important it is to do this.
When disaster strikes on a British naval vessel, a signal called “The Still” is sounded. This signal means:
“Stop what you’re doing. Pause. Check your situation. Prepare to do the wise thing.”
Before the signal is sounded, few sailors know what is the wise thing to do. During the pause they learn what it is.
“The Still” has saved thousands of British lives and millions of British dollars.
We too run into emergencies in daily life. We too don’t know what to do immediately. We cry out, “What can we do?” Actually, the best thing we can do is to pause and be still.
Pausing often spells the difference between success and failure.
Today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves: Do we follow the example Jesus gave us in his life? Do we pause periodically to get in touch with ourselves? Do we pause occasionally to listen to God’s voice in our heart?
The musician André Kostelanetz once visited the French artist Henri Matisse. When Kostelanetz got to Matisse’s home, his nerves were frayed and he was exhausted. Matisse noticed this and said to him good-humoredly, “My friend, you must find the artichokes in your life.” With that, he took Kostelanetz outside to his garden.
When they came to a patch of artichokes, Matisse stopped. He told Kostelanetz that every morning, after he has worked for a while, he comes out to his patch of artichokes to pause and be still. He just stands there looking at the artichokes. Matisse then adds:
“Though I have painted over 200 canvases, I always find new combinations of colors and fantastic patterns. No one is allowed to disturb me in this ritual. . . . It gives me fresh inspiration, necessary relaxation, and a new perspective toward my work.”
Each one of us must take to heart Matisse’s advice to André Kostelanetz. We must find the artichokes in our life.
Or to put it another way, we must do what Barry Lopez did. We must go off alone once in a while for a morning walk in the woods.
We must do what British sailors do in crisis situations. We must pause and be still.
We must do what Jesus did. We must get up early, occasionally, and draw strength from prayer.
This is the message of today’s gospel. It is an important message. We may sum it up this way: “Amid the turmoil of his day, Jesus took time to pause and pray. So should we.”
Let us close with a prayer:
Slow me down, Lord. Slow me down!
Ease my pounding heart; quiet my racing mind; soothe my frayed nerves; relax my tired muscles.
Teach me the art of taking minute vacations, of keeping in touch with myself, of listening to the voice of God and drawing from it new light, new strength, and new courage.
Slow me down, Lord. Slow me down!
Series II 5th Sunday of the Year Job 7:1–4, 6–7; 1 Corinthians 9:16–19, 22–23; Mark 1:29–39
The Bald Soprano Prayer normally takes one of three forms: meditation, contemplation, conversation.
Eugene Ionesco wrote a play called The Bald Soprano. In one scene a man and a woman are seated in a waiting room of an office. They appear to be total strangers.
After sitting there for a while in total silence, the man decides to strike up a conversation.
As the conversation progresses awkwardly, the audience discovers that some remarkable coincidences link the lives of these two apparent strangers.
Both were born in Manchester, England. Both have one child, named Alice. Both now live in London on Bromfield Street. Both live on the fifth floor of the same apartment building. And here’s where the audience gets the big surprise. Both live in the same apartment.
The two people are husband and wife.
When the shock—and humor—of the situation subsides, Ionesco’s point emerges. The married couple in the waiting room really don’t know each other. They live together, but they don’t know each other deep down. They are—in a very real sense—strangers.
What is true of the couple in the waiting room is unfortunately true of many Christians and Jesus Christ. Many Christians today are like the man and the woman. Their relationship with Jesus is largely on the surface. They really don’t know Jesus deep down.
Outwardly they appear to be committed to Jesus. They wear a gold cross around their necks. They go to church on Sunday, and they obey the commandments. But deep down inside, they really don’t know Jesus.
Why is this the case? Why don’t they know Jesus better? Why don’t they relate to him more personally?
For instance, why don’t they relate to Jesus the way Jesus himself related to his Father?
One reason is that they don’t do what Jesus does in today’s gospel. They don’t take time to communicate with Jesus the way Jesus communicated with his heavenly Father.
To put it in another way, they don’t take the time to pray, as we find Jesus doing in today’s gospel. We read of Jesus:
Very early the next morning . . . he went out of town to a lonely place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35
Let’s take a closer look at prayer and what it involves.
A high school student wrote the following as part of a homework assignment:
“One day after playing in the park, I went to a nearby fountain for some water. The cool water tasted so good, and I felt refreshment enter my tired body.
“Suddenly, I began to think. ‘We need water to drink. But where does water come from?’
‘Clouds!’ I thought. ‘But where do clouds come from?’ ‘Vaporized moisture.’ This went on until I got no answer—or rather, until I was left with just one answer: God!
“For the next couple of minutes, I just lay on the grass looking up into the sky, marveling at what God must be like.
“Then I talked to God for a little bit in my own words. After that I went home.’’
That young person’s experience illustrates the three forms that prayer to Jesus can take: meditation, conversation, and contemplation.
Let’s begin with the first form: meditation. A good name for meditation is mind praying. We simply do what the student did. We think about some idea. For example, we think about Jesus and what he must have been like.
In other words, meditation is simply taking some idea and exploring it prayerfully with the mind.
This brings us to the second form that prayer to Jesus can take: conversation.
A good name for conversation is heart praying. We simply converse with Jesus from the heart, the way the student did. We converse with Jesus the way we would converse with a good friend.
In other words, conversation is simply conversing with Jesus prayerfully from the heart.
This brings us to the third form that prayer to Jesus can take: contemplation. A good name for contemplation is soul praying. In contemplation, we don’t think about anything or say anything. We simply rest silently in Jesus’ presence, the way the student rested in God’s presence in the park.
In other words, we simply enjoy Jesus’ presence, as we would a piece of music or a sunset. As one person put it, “We simply look at Jesus and he looks at us.’’
In brief, then, prayer normally takes one of three forms: meditation, mind praying; conversation, heart praying; or contemplation, soul praying. Often these three forms are so interwoven in the same prayer that it is hard to say where one begins and the other ends.
Let’s close with a story:
Shortly before Father Dan Lord, the great leader of youth, died of cancer, a young person asked him for advice on how to pray.
Father Lord said to the young person:
“Keep it simple. Pray to God as your Father, to Jesus as your brother, and to the Holy Spirit as your constant companion.’’
And we might add, pray to them the way Jesus invited us to love: with our whole mind, our whole heart, and our whole soul.
Series III 5th Sunday of the Year Job 7:1–4, 6–7; 1 Corinthians 9:16–19, 22–23; Matthew 1:29–39
Making Jesus present Be for our world what Jesus was for his world.
Simon and his companions went out searching for Jesus. Mark 1:36
A missionary was excited. She was about to begin the most important class of the year.
It was a class for children of new Catholic families. The reason it was so important was that the class was to be about Jesus. She began by saying:
Today I want to tell you about a man you must meet. He’s a person who loves you and cares for you, even more than your own family and friends.
He is a person who is more kind than the kindest person you’ve ever met. He’s a person who wants to help you, in any way he can.
Suddenly, the missionary noticed a little boy in the back of the room, waving his hand and getting more and more excited by the minute. Finally, unable to contain himself any longer, he blurted out, “I know that man! I know who you’re talking about. He lives on our street; he’s the reason why my family is Christian.”
I like that story, because it describes in a simple way what we Christians are called to do. We are called to make Jesus present in our world, just as that man made him present to the people on his street.
What does it mean to make Jesus present in our world?
Of all the Sunday Gospels, today’s illustrates better than most what it means to make Jesus present in our world. It means to show forth the same compassion Jesus did. He reached out to heal people who were sick, either physically or spiritually.
It means to show forth the same prayerfulness Jesus did. He got up early, before daylight, to go off by himself to pray.
It means to show forth the same witness Jesus did. He went throughout all of Galilee preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom by his example and his word.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these three dimensions of Jesus. First, the compassion of Jesus.
In October 1967, John McCain took off from an aircraft carrier for North Vietnam. Minutes into his flight a SAM missile blew off the right wing of his A-4 plane. As he ejected, his body hit part of the plane, breaking his right arm and knee. He landed in a shallow pond in the middle of Hanoi.
An angry mob fished him out of the water and started stripping off his clothes. A man smashed rifle butt against his shoulder, breaking it. Another man stuck a bayonet into his ankle and his groin. Then something amazing happened.
A woman—probably a Hanoi nurse—began yelling at the crowd to keep it from harming McCain further.
Then she knelt down and applied bamboo splints to his arm and his leg. Then an army truck arrived. As they prepared to load him on the truck, the nurse gave him tea to drink.
That woman’s courage and compassion is an example of the courage and compassion Jesus showed forth and calls us to imitate.
This brings us to the prayerful dimension of Jesus. Again, a story illustrates how we are called to similar prayerfulness:
Bob Westenberg was on his early morning walk when a garbage truck pulled up beside him. He thought the driver was going to ask him for directions.
Instead, the driver pulled out a photo of a small boy, saying, “This is my grandson. He’s on life-support in a Phoenix hospital.”
Thinking the driver was begging for money to help cover the hospital bill, Bob reached for his wallet. But the driver wanted something
much more than money. He said to Bob, “I’m asking people on my route to pray for my grandson. Would you help us pray for him, please?” Bob promised. The driver thanked him and drove off. From an unpublished article by George Pence
That driver’s commitment to prayer is an example of the commitment that Jesus had and calls us to have.
Finally, there’s the preaching, or witness, dimension of Jesus as he went throughout Galilee preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom by his example and his word.
Like Jesus, we too are called to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom, regardless of who we are.
Young Ruddell Norris was aware that every Christian is called by Baptism to preach the Gospel. But he had a problem: he was very shy. How could he preach it?
The solution he hit upon was ingenious. Each month, he spent a percentage of his earnings on Catholic pamphlets and placed them in hospital lobbies and other similar places. One day he overheard someone say, “My introduction to the Catholic Church came in a strange way: through a pamphlet I found in a hospital lobby.”
Overhearing that was a great blessing for Ruddell. It was as if an angel spoke to him, saying, “Jesus just wanted to let you know that your efforts are bearing fruit.”
And so today’s Gospel provides us with a graphic picture of our Christian calling. We are called to be for our world what Jesus was for his world.
Concretely, this means we are called to show forth in our lives the same three dimensions that Jesus did. We are called to show forth the compassion of Jesus—as did the woman in Hanoi.
We are called to show forth the prayerfulness of Jesus—as did the driver of the garbage truck, asking prayers for his sick grandson.
We are called to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom by word and example—as did Ruddell Norris, in spite of his shyness.
This is our calling as Christians—to be for our world what Jesus was for his world.
This is the good news contained in today’s Gospel. This is the good news Jesus invites us to take to heart and implement in our lives. This is the good news our world is hungering to hear and longing to see lived out by us in our everyday life.