Retreat and recreation - Sunday reflection
Posted: Thu, 15 Jul 2021 14:02
Reflecting on the Gospel for 16th Sunday of Year B, Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy highlights the value of taking time to step back, rest, refresh ourselves and contemplate.
After the excitement and the 'buzz' of the apostles being on mission, this week we are presented with the aftermath of such activity: there is need for rest and recuperation. As so often happens in the ministry of Jesus, we see his care and concern for the total wellbeing of his followers. They need teaching, example, food, rest and comfort. Today shows us just how important is the need to look after each other: we need to take time away from all the plate-spinning that modern life can offer. They came back from their work experience and wanted to share their success and their problems, but they found themselves immersed into ministry once again; they become consumed with the activity of mission—'There were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his disciples didn't even have time to eat' (Mk 6:31).
Speaking from personal experience, burnout is not a good or healthy place to be: we can become so consumed with the desire to be involved in the mission, that our relationships can suffer, notably our relationship with God and the significant ones in our lives. Jesus does not call us to be glorified social workers—we are blessed with a solid system of social care in our land. Equally we have first rate teachers and youth workers working very hard across our land. As Christians, as followers of mentors such as Nano Nagle and Don Bosco, we strive to offer a chance for reflective contemplation. However, if we cannot see the need for this quiet time in our own lives, then how can we help others?
In my ministry as a school chaplain, I am indebted to Heads and School leaders who saw the need for retreat time, either residential retreats in wonderful resources such as Savio House Bollington, or offering time out from busy curriculums to give students retreat time in school. All schools want the very best for their students, as they help them through the hurdles of national curriculum and public examinations. As the lockdown showed us, schools do an outstanding job: schools never closed and, very quickly, teachers had to learn new and exciting ways to engage students in online learning. We learnt about 'digital poverty': those who did not own a laptop or computer; those who were trying to also work from home, while their children needed to access their learning, often with inadequate internet capability, and shared devices.
I hope that, in the rush for an essential catch-up for many students, that we never lose sight of our need to offer our students retreat time. COVID-19 was like a giant pause button placed on the whole world: I hope it gave you a chance to see where your priorities lie. We all need that time out and that is why recreation is so blessed: we co-operate with the Almighty in RE-CREATING the world. 'Save the Children' offer a series of poems on their website written by children across the world, recounting their experience of lockdown. Eleven-year-old Lincoln wrote of his feelings in the heart of lockdown:
Life was always fast-paced, we never slowed down,
Until everything stopped when Corona came to town.
Now all is quiet and there's peace all around,
We've looked in our hearts and kindness we've found.
We learn now with mum, this is a new feature
But we can't wait to get back to our teacher.
I miss Sea Cadets, school, my friends and my dad,
I miss sharing the fun times and that makes me sad.
We've had social distancing picnics, social distancing walks,
Social distancing hugs and social distancing talks.
I'm looking forward to getting away,
The beach, the hotel and a perfect holiday.
When it is? I'll throw my arms open wide,
And shout to the world, WE CAN ALL GO OUTSIDE!
Don't give up hope, the end is in sight,
If we all stick together, we'll all win this fight
Jesus sees the busyness of his friends: they are so caught up in the mission that they cannot eat. His solution is to go to a lonely place so that they can rest. It is also important to see the context of the passage offered today: prior to this incident, Mark relates the brutal death of John the Baptist. A prophet and friend in ministry is taken, and Jesus is naturally in grief. As much as the apostles needed their retreat time, Jesus needed that time of peace too. He offers them a boat ride, a little cruise on the lake, but those who need him guess where he is going. Mark presents the pastoral dilemma that so many of us involved in ministry have to face: does Jesus ignore the crowd or does he offer support? These people have come out to the wilderness to find compassion and support.
The text translates the Greek word '' 'splanchnizomai' as 'pity' (see Mk 6:34); it is unfortunate as 'pity' cannot convey the urgency and deep emotion of splanchnizomai. 'Pity' gives the impression of condescension: I offer you pity from my lofty and superior height. For Jesus, nothing can be further from the truth: with true 'splanchnizomai', he reaches deep within his own spirit of compassion and offers unconditional care for these lost ones.
We are invited to reach out, with true compassion, to those who are equally lost today—for most of us, we will not have to look very far. There are many people who are scattered in the deserts of our world today. Those who have been robbed of their dignity, who have been abandoned, those on the margins, or those who feel judged and rejected for any of a thousand reasons. But the lesson Jesus offers us in this Gospel reading is the same that he modelled for the Twelve that day in the desert: we are also to approach these scattered sheep with pity and compassion, with deep emotion and affection, and invite them into the flock of our Good Shepherd.
As always in our lives, we need a strong sense of balance in the plate-spinning of pastoral care that we are called to. Authentic pastoral ministry is a call to share that deep compassion of Jesus, a call to share the 'splanchnizomai' that Jesus invites us to share. We reach out to those who are lost and we are honoured to share in their pain; Henri Nouwen invites us to follow that example of Jesus:
When he noticed that the thousands who had followed him for days were tired and hungry, Jesus said, I am moved with compassion (Mk 8:2). And so it was with the two blind men who called after him (Mt 9:27), the leper who fell to his knees in front of him (Mk 1:41), and the widow of Nain who was burying her only son (Lk 7:13). They moved Jesus, they made him feel with all his intimate sensibilities the depth of their sorrow. He became lost with the lost, hungry with the hungry, and sick with the sick. In Jesus, all suffering was sensed with a perfect sensitivity.
Henri Nouwen: Compassion, 2000
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB