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Friday, July 10, 2009

“Jesus said to the apostles, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’” (Mark 6:31)

“SOUL-SURFING” – July 19, 2009
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 6:30-34
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

For many, summertime affords a needed rest from the stresses of life. While students and teachers may revel in a few months of freedom from academia, others of us may spend briefer periods away from whatever it is that causes us to feel like hamsters jogging feverishly on an exercise wheel in a wire cage. Indeed, we all need time away to refresh ourselves and replenish our resources before returning to the daily grind. Consider the following true story as related by a compassionate home owner:

“An older, tired-looking dog wandered into my yard. I could tell from his collar and well-fed belly that he had a home and was well taken care of. He calmly came over to me, and I gave him a few pats on his head. He then followed me into my house, slowly walked down the hall, curled up in the corner and fell asleep.

“An hour later, he went to the door, and I let him out. The next day he came back, greeted me in my yard, walked inside, resumed his spot in the hall and again slept for about an hour. This continued off and on for several weeks.

“Curious, I pinned a note to his collar: 'I would like to find out who the owner of this wonderfully sweet dog is and ask if you are aware that almost every afternoon your dog comes to my house for a nap.'

“The next day he arrived for his nap with a different note pinned to his collar. The new note authored by the dog’s owner read, 'He lives in a home with 6 children, 2 under the age of 3. He's trying to catch up on his sleep. Can I come with him tomorrow?'” (Original source unknown)

What a resourceful dog! And probably a desperate one! Finally, though, the exhausted animal found a friendly neighbor willing to accommodate an hour’s nap in a quiet corner before a refreshed return home to resume duties as mascot and guardian to a pack of young, demanding kids. Indeed, I imagine we can all identify with that dog and also with his weary owner’s plea, “Can I come with him tomorrow?”

In the gospel passage we hear today, we find the apostles also “dog tired.” Crowds of the curious and desperate were following Jesus and the apostles. Recognizing their weariness, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’” (Mark 6:31) So, escaping by boat, the twelve found respite from the multitudes swarming them. As the gospel further relates, though, the crowds tracked them down and soon located the apostles. Indeed, rest may have been brief, but it was enough to refresh them and equip them to meet the needs of the crowd that once again surrounded them.

And if Jesus and the apostles needed to get away from the demands of life for a while, surely do we. Whether it be a whole summer off from school or even the briefest hour’s nap, rest affords us the opportunity to catch our breath and regain perspective. I was given such a respite during the first week of June when I gathered with 75 members of our religious community at King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, PA, for our triennial Provincial Chapter. Though not what most would consider a vacation, these 5 days of meetings did provide a break from the routine demands of both home and hospital, my place of employment.

Funny, though, what can constitute rest! Used to spending my days traversing many miles of hospital corridors, these days in Wilkes-Barre found me confined for very long periods trapped in tight auditorium seating while long-winded voices droned on and on about little of consequence. My bum got numb as did my mind. Surely, though, was it a rest from the intense discussions about life and death that were daily fare at the hospital.

Another challenge: while attending the Provincial Chapter, the 75 of us were housed in Alumni Hall, one of the recently renovated college residence halls. Divided into apartments, each containing 4 bedrooms with a shared bath, kitchenette and lounge, such an arrangement may have been sumptuous for a kid out on his own for the first time. It was rather more a challenge for us oldsters, though, as we waited our turn to use the bathroom. Sagging beds with plastic mattresses also reminded us of the comforts we’d left behind. I awoke each morning tangled in the sheets that refused to stay tucked beneath the slipping, sliding mattress. Before I left Wilkes-Barre, I wrote myself a reminder to bring a set of fitted sheets from home the next time I had to stay overnight at a college.

Indeed, it’s funny what can constitute rest! For a week in June I was held captive with 74 others members of my religious community as together we evaluated the quality of our ministry and common life and then elected new leadership. A too-narrow auditorium seat imprisoned me by day; a slippery mattress tormented me by night. Yet I returned home rested, ready to jump back into the life I’d left behind just a few days before. I’d been given the gift of renewed perspective. I truly loved what had only seemed the endless grind of traversing miles of hospital corridors. It suited me. And my own bed! Though rest was never long assured as I fell upon it with hospital pager at the ready, it was still better than that mattress at Alumni Hall that tried to toss me to the floor each night. Yes, it’s funny what can constitute rest!

This day Jesus offers us the same invitation he held out to the weary apostles, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31) Though it may mean as little as a stolen hour’s nap, it’s refreshment before our return to the demands of discipleship.

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