Today’s Gospel picks up with the disciples’ returning from a successful mission of preaching, casting out demons, and healing the sick. Jesus invites them to take a little rest and to go to a deserted place to pray. However, just as Jesus and the disciples begin this “rest,” the crowds are pressing upon them, hungering and thirsting for more. Why does Jesus offer a time of intimacy to His own, but immediately after does nothing to rescue them and take them away from the onrush of the crowd? How do we reconcile these two things?
If we listen, these are questions that closely affect our lives, our needs, our desires. They bring us back to a desire of the Lord, to a need to remain with Him, who is always dedicated in some way to open Himself to others. A true encounter with the Lord that does not make room for the need of a brother does not exist.
Therefore, Jesus welcomes His own back from their mission; and He welcomes them by inviting them to an intimate experience. To tell of this intimacy, Mark uses two expressions. The first is “aside” (Mk 6:31). There are several places in the Gospel where Jesus calls His disciples “aside”: to explain the parables to them (4:34); to show forth his glory at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (Mk 9:2); and to answer some of His disciples challenging questions (Mk 9:28; 13:3). In calling His disciples “aside,” Jesus also nurtures His friendship with them and creates a space of mutual listening and sharing, as often happens among friends.
The second expression is “desolate place” (Mk 6:31): the place apart where Jesus guides them is a place of retreat, a solitary place. The desolate place is not a place for relaxation; rather, it is the place of struggle, of thirst and hunger, of temptation and journey. It is the place that God chooses so that His people may grasp the demanding art of trusting and sharing. What is surprising is that this desolate and place apart is not an isolated space to the point of being inaccessible. On the contrary, in the Gospel, it is a place where it is even easier for the people to reach and find them.
Jesus and the disciples are simply called to welcome them, to feel the hunger of the people, to bear the burden of their search for life. They are called to find rest not so much in a quiet solitude, as much as in a welcome of the other. The deserted place is not a vacation spot but a place to open oneself to a thirst and hunger deeper than one’s own. It is this experience that gives meaning, vigor, and strength to life. In this experience, we begin to develop compassion, just as Jesus did when He took pity on the crowds.
Jesus does not desire to escape the people; rather He wants to be with them. He wants His disciples to learn that unless they make time for people, they will never truly find rest. Every escape from reality, from others, is not only not a source of rest, but, on the contrary, it is the source of tiredness, nervousness, frustration. Who knows how much of our fatigue is due to a non-Gospel search for rest, to an incorrect search for relationship with the Lord?
The struggle that the disciples (and we are disciples) are called to make in the deserted place is to find balance. We need to balance our need for intimacy with the Lord with the genuine needs of others. One thing is certain the Lord is not our “private possession” to be jealously guarded and never shared; rather, by sharing in Jesus’ life in prayer and friendship, we learn how to be like Him in being passionate about the men and women of our day. We learn how to be compassionate.
Jesus had sent His disciples out on a mission, and they had returned. That does not mean that the mission is over or that we take a break; rather, the mission is ongoing, because the men and women of today are hungering and thirsting for peace, justice, love, mercy, beauty, and truth. Only Jesus Christ can satisfy the true hunger of the soul.
Because Saint Mark’s Gospel is so short, beginning next week, for the next five weeks, we will hear from the Sixth Chapter of Saint John, the so-called “Bread of Life” discourses. This will afford us the opportunity to delve more deeply into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
The Festival The parish festival is just one month away. While we have made numerous announcements and sent out Flocknotes, we are still in need of volunteers. The festival is much more than a fund-raiser for our parish, it is a way of building community and being engaged. We speak so often of time, treasure, and talent. I realize that many people find themselves in a difficult financial situation after the pandemic, but there is no shortage of time and talent in our parish. Please consider putting your gifts and talents at the service of the Lord and His Church.
Our Patronal Feast The pandemic put a damper on our 75th anniversary celebrations; nevertheless, we are still hoping to do something big for the Feast Day of St. Ignatius on July 31st. We will honor those couples celebrating their 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries at the 4:30pm Mass, and we will have an outdoor Mass at 7pm, with a Eucharistic procession, followed by a night of bonfires, food, and short talk from Rocky Boiman. Again, it’s another opportunity to be together as a parish. There will also be a small “ministry fair”, so that you can get involved and discover opportunities to serve.
Miscellaneous Questions Recently, I received an anonymous letter which asked a few questions. The first dealt with my plea for ushers and greeters. [Incidentally, I have had no inquiries or responses to the appeal.] It asked: what has happened to the ones we had? For starters, we didn’t have many to begin with. Many were elderly and have opted, after the pandemic, not to carry on in the ministry. One family changed parishes. Others are willing to do it, but only occasionally, not consistently, and not weekly. Thus, the need is great for ushers and greeters to create an atmosphere of hospitality.
A second question posed was: why does the music group at 10:15 only sing every other week? My expectation is that our full-time music director, Patty Stretch, should play at least two Masses on Sunday; it’s not an unreasonable expectation for a full-time position. She almost always plays at 8:30 Mass. That leaves only 10:15 and noon Mass at which there is music, but we have many music groups. Thus, the Celebrate Group will play at 10:15 on the 1st, 2nd, and 5th Sunday of the month, while Patty Stretch will play the 3rd and 4th Sundays. At noon Mass, the Good News Chorus, which Patty directs, will play the first two Sundays of the month, and the N’Spirit Group will play the last Sundays of the month, when Patty is playing at the 10:15 Mass.
A third question was: where are the servers? We have not been able to train servers for nearly two years, and the servers we had need to be re-trained. At the end of the school year, names were collected of those interested in serving, and server-training will be scheduled shortly, beginning with the re-training of older servers and continuing throughout the year. Fr. Christian and the seminarians will lead this effort in conjunction with the Worship Commission.
A fourth question was whether the collection is safe. The answer is Yes. The ushers that we do have are very attentive to the collection and immediately deposit it in a safe place. We have had no reported incidents of theft recently. We have a very secure campus with cameras at the entrances, and many parishioners look out for one another. At least 40% of giving (sometimes more) now occurs online.
Some final questions were “When can we bring the wine back?” and “Why can’t we use those little cups like other churches? Why is that so difficult?” First, as Catholics, we never speak of the Precious Blood as wine. I do not foresee the distribution of Holy Communion under both species in the near future. The current Archdiocesan guidelines, following the pandemic, do not permit it. I believe many people still have a lot of fear about drinking from a common chalice.
Second, while other ecclesial communities use those little cups, those other communities do not believe in the Real and Substantial Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. To many of them, it is simply wine or conveys a symbolic presence. We Catholics do not believe that; this is also why our chalices “must be made from precious metal” (GIRM, 328), not plastic or glass or some ceramic which could absorb the Precious Blood. Thus, it is difficult to use throwaway plastic cups when one believes in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist as Catholics do. When a Catholic receives the Host, he or she receives the “whole Jesus” in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. We speak of the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of all life in the Church, not something transient or disposable.